West Bromwich Albion 2 Stoke City 0
Brandon Thomas-Asante’s spectacular goal may have grabbed the headlines on Saturday evening, but the turnaround that Carlos Corberán has engineered in just 18 days at the Hawthorns is even more eye-opening. Victory over Stoke City means that Albion go into the World Cup break on the back of three successive wins, a feat they hadn’t achieved since August 2021.
Fans and coaches of most other Championship clubs would have regarded the Albion squad with envy during the summer, notwithstanding the weakness in the striker department, but as the season progressed and results didn’t come, the quality of those players came more into question. However, less than three weeks after Corberán walked into Albion’s Walsall Road training ground, belief within the camp and amongst the fanbase is a long way to being fully restored.
Kyle Bartley, a player who I thought couldn’t come back from his red card at Millwall, has put in two towering performances, scored two goals after a spell of more than 12 months without finding the net, and has enjoyed his name being sung in adoration by Albion fans once again. John Swift has suddenly become the talented number ten we thought we had signed, while Conor Townsend and Darnell Furlong look to be close to the form made them a key part of the promotion team from three seasons ago.
While CC has evidently brought in some new ideas, I think the principal thing that he has done is sort out the basics – Albion now look like a team that has been coached, with players who understand their role and what is expected of them. It does make you wonder what Steve Bruce and his coaching team were doing each day. I defended Steve Bruce based on what he had done in the past, and knowing how the squad as a whole had struggled since lockdown under several coaches, but having seen what the new man has achieved in such a short space of time, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.
Obviously, had Bruce been sacked in the summer, Corberán would not have been available, so from that point of view, perhaps the timing of his departure has been fortuitous. Unfortunately, it has left the Spaniard with an incredibly difficult task to get Albion into promotion contention this season. Since his appointment, I’ve heard many comments from pundits and Albion fans to the effect that survival would be enough for this campaign – I feel that most will have a more optimistic outlook after three wins on the bounce.
The game itself was a comfortable victory. Despite Alex Neil’s claims that the injury to Nick Powell was pivotal, the hosts could have easily been well ahead by then and a three- or four-nil result would not have been unfair such was Albion’s domination. The Baggies knocked the ball around with confidence, pace and skill, and for the first time in months, they were a threat from every set piece. Bartley’s opener was a fantastic bullet header, and his effort before that was equally impressive but thumped back off the crossbar.
Obviously, the stand-out moment of the game was the goal by Brandon Thomas-Asante, his first since the penalty against Birmingham City almost two months ago. Comparisons with famous goals by Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale are not overstated, albeit the stage is not quite so elevated, but it is one that will live long in the memory of those that witnessed it. The 23-year-old striker was already popular with the Baggies fans following his debut goal and his general levels of effort and enthusiasm he shows every time he is on the field – this goal will further endear him to the Hawthorns faithful and we all hope that he can become a lasting positive legacy from the Bruce era.
While the overall performance was a massive positive, the other notable event was a brief cameo appearance from Daryl Dike who came on for the final few minutes. It was a significant moment in the American’s rehabilitation, and let’s hope that he continues his fitness work during the break and is raring to go by the time Albion play Sunderland in four weeks’ time.
As has been said before, the month-long break in the Championship season will be of benefit to the squad despite the fact that it interrupts a good run of form. Corberán has confirmed that the squad will head out to Spain for some warm weather training and that the focus will primarily be on organisation rather than fitness, and I am sure he will have plenty of ideas and principles that he will be drumming into his players over the coming weeks.
Having eked their way out of the bottom three, Albion could be back in it by the time they play again given that the teams below them will all have played before the Baggies’ next match at Sunderland on Monday 12th December. Confidence should be high, however, and Albion have only lost on one of their last seven visits to the Stadium of Light. Furthermore, you can sure that the players will be superbly prepared for the match – the only way is up!