West Bromwich Albion 3-2 Birmingham City Six Things: second half surge sees Baggies beat Blues

West Brom celebrate – www.wba.co.uk (Credit: Adam Fradgley)

Jake Livermore’s thunderous strike kept West Brom’s automatic promotion hopes alive on Friday night, as they recorded a 3-2 win over Birmingham. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Birmingham’s bright start

Garry Monk’s side responded spiritedly to a tough week by starting strongly at the Hawthorns. With Gary Gardner anchoring the midfield, Michael Morrison commanding from the back and Maxime Colin returning from injury to offer class at right-back, Blues  looked well-structured. The visitors threatened down the right with Che Adams running the channels with intelligence as well as pace, while the skilful Connor Mahoney caused problems for Conor Townsend. From a series of corners, they took the lead: Gary Gardner escaped Chris Brunt’s attentions to head into the ground and the ball bounced past Sam Johnstone on seven minutes.

West Brom’s static midfield

West Brom’s caretaker manager, Jimmy Shan, picked three central midfielders in Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Jake Livermore, with an average age of 32. Because neither of the trio are particularly quick or mobile, there was a lack of movement in the early stages of the build-up play and that was why they struggled to bring elite Championship strikers in Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle into the contest. Full-backs Mason Holgate and Conor Townsend were often short of options in possession and thus had no choice but to punt the ball down the channels, a trend which the away side were rather comfortable with.

Speedboat or (Robson)-Kanu?

To Shan’s credit, he rectified a perceived selection mistake at half-time, when he replaced Morrison with Robson-Kanu. The Welshman’s graft in advanced areas meant Morrison, imperious in the first half, was forced back far more after the break and that shift allowed Albion to bring the likes of Rodriguez and Gayle into play. The latter looked particularly bright and delicately nodded home on 47 minutes, escaping David Davis’ attentions from Brunt’s accurate wide free-kick.

Blues dropping deeper

It came against the run of play when, on the hour mark, Lukas Jutkiewicz got to the back post from Mahoney’s corner to head home; aside from that moment, Birmingham lacked the energy to sustain the high line that had worked well in the first half. Although they were unlucky to concede the penalty from which Rodriguez coolly equalized – Mahoney’s foul on Kyle Edwards had been just outside the box – they defended poorly. Gayle ran the channel on 74 minutes and after his initial dinked cross was headed away by Harlee Dean, the same defender had to charge down Jake Livermore because Davis did not look sharp enough despite being closer; Livermore’s venomous strike flew past Camp to win it.

Mixed night for Monk’s men

Derby day defeat will of course disappoint Birmingham, who are now in a relegation battle after the nine-point deduction for financial irregularities leaves them five points clear of the drop, now having played a game more than their rivals. However, there are positives that Monk can take from his sides first half performance, because they looked superior to serious promotion contenders before the interval; strong performances from Colin, Gardner, Mahoney and Jutkiewicz also offer something to build on. However, Blues remain reliant on high-pressing to gain control and it is important that they find ways of keeping the opposition out without exerting too much energy. Beyond the current campaign, they either need stronger individual defenders or more players providing more accuracy in possession. For this relegation battle though, Monk must work with what he has.

Shan West Brom do it?

Victory for West Brom means they have begun Jimmy Shan’s time as caretaker manager with three consecutive victories, a run that has moved them within four points of the automatic promotion places before Sheffield United and Leeds play games in hand. Although results have been positive, performance levels do not appear to have changed hugely. Albion still look like a team that blows hot-and-cold within games – and has the quality to make their hot spells count – but can these types of displays be successful against better teams? Few would argue with Shanbeing given the job until the end of the season, however, whether his side will be strong enough to break into the top two – or defeat possible play-off semi-final opponents Aston Villa – remains to be seen.