West Bromwich Albion 4-1 Preston North End Six Things: ruthless Gayle blows Lilywhites open

Dwight Gayle bags a hat-trick – https://www.wba.co.uk/

Dwight Gayle scored a hat-trick on Saturday afternoon as West Bromwich Albion’s final third quality saw them defeat Preston North End at the Hawthorns, thus stepping closer too booking their place in the play-offs and all but ruling out the visitors in the process. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Preston’s misuse of Stockley

In the first half, Preston’s midfield trio of Ryan Ledson, Daniel Johnson and Paul Gallagher was deep, meaning the initial balls into target man Jayden Stockley tended to come from the away side’s own half; he therefore struggled to get any change out of Ahmed Hegazi, Craig Dawson or Kyle Bartley. Apart, that is, from a moment midway through the first half, when he strained to just miss out on a deep-flighted cross from right-back Darnell Fisher, who was one of the few Preston players who tried to improve the quality of service. North End looked vulnerable in transition, too: with the languid Johnson and the seemingly unfit Gallagher starting in the same midfield due to Pearson’s absence, North End were over-reliant on the terrier-like Ledson when it came to guarding against counter-attacks – and Ledson could not do it all on his own.

Albion’s 16-minute triple-salvo

Despite scoring three first half goals, West Brom’s distribution from deep was actually relatively poor – Sam Johnstone’s kicking left something to be desired and one could say the same about Bartley, Hegazi, Dawson and Jake Livermore. Those trends meant Albion did not get the ball into the final third much, but when they did, they used it as well as any other team can in the Championship. From the centre-circle Chris Brunt played a wonderful diagonal ball for Dwight Gayle to sneak into the gap between Ben Davies and Josh Earl and fire home first time on 27 minutes. Gayle then grabbed his second moments later, drilling low from the edge of the box after his teammates had capitalized on Earl’s stray pass, before Jay Rodriguez rifled home a third following a fortuitous through ball from the lively Stefan Johansen. On this form, Albion justify 3/1 quotes on promotion with matchbook bonus code for 2019.

North End’s second half spell

Alex Neil’s side had slightly more structural control after the energetic Callum Robinson replaced Gallagher. He and fellow substitute Sean Maguire looked bright for a 15-minute spell after the interval, during which Alan Browne and Lukas Nmecha came to life. Browne showed a moment of trickery before seeing a shot blocked, while Nmecha squared to the back-post for an opening that Robinson could not quite latch onto. Albion were not fully focused at that point and, had they been punished, the final half-hour might have not have been the cruise control it became. Preston ultimately failed to threaten and they arguably missed the presence of Stockley, having got high enough up the pitch to deliver what would have been accurate balls into him.

Gayle the hat-trick hero

Preston’s defending for West Brom’s fourth goal was not particularly impressive; they had the majority of their on-field XI defending the six-yard box yet still allowed Gayle to turn home from close-range – perhaps a case of two many players trying to do similar jobs, leading to disorder. The home side’s number 16 though was deserving of his hat-trick; without being a prominent influence in general play, his ability to dart ahead of his opponent and quickly find half-a-yard of space in a packed penalty box remains unparalleled at this level. The Newcastle loanee’s treble should do wonders for his confidence and that could be a major plus once their play-off spot is mathematically confirmed.

Lilywhites out of the running

Robinson bagged an injury-time consolation goal, which the Aston Villa academy graduate deserved for his efforts, but the match was perhaps not the fairest representation of Preston’s capabilities. They went into this match having lost two of their best players, ball-winner Pearson and direct forward Tom Barkhuizen; they had also lost a realistic chance of making the play-off places and some would say they had lost their manager’s full dedication, with rumours of Neil being in contact with West Brom regarding the permanent managerial position. With a low-budget and a small-squad, they do not have the quality in depth to perform without every key player available and everyone at the club fully motivated. On the plus side, they already have a strong recruitment setup, a vibrant young team and, if Neil goes, would be an attractive proposition for an up-and-coming manager in the Championship next season.

Baggies set for Play-Offs

With 12 points from six games under Jimmy Shan’s interim guidance, it would make sense to give him the opportunity to lead them at least into the Play-Offs; any incoming manager would need to get to know the squad for this crucial period. Against likely Semi-Final opponents Aston Villa, West Brom might have more difficulties than we saw here getting the opportunities to create a high-quality of chances because a better opponent is likely to use the ball more intelligently than Preston did. Without a reference point, Albion need to find ways of working on their build-up play from deep. However, the quality of deliveries here from Mason Holgate and Brunt, the final third link-up from Johansen and the success of Gayle and Rodriguez operating centrally gives them something to build on for those crucial May encounters.