West Bromwich Albion 3 - Swansea 1
Albion climbed to seventh in the table thanks to a convincing win over Swansea at the Hawthorns. Craig Dawson's suspension and Jonny Evans' injury meant a bit of a reshuffle, with Alan Nyom getting a chance to show what he can do in his "proper" position at right back, Jonas Olsson getting a rare start at centre half and Chris Brunt dropping to left back leaving a gap in midfield to be filled by Nacer Chadli.
After failing with two first half attempts, Salomon Rondon got the breakthrough early in the second half when he headed home a free kick from Matt Phillips. Eleven minutes later he headed home again, this time from a Chris Brunt cross, and Albion fans had barely finished celebrating when he scored an almost identical header for only the second ever Premier League headed hat trick (Duncan Ferguson having got the first back in 1997) and, we think, the first Albion headed hat trick since Garry Thompson in 1984 against Nottingham Forest.
The only blemish was a consolation goal for Swansea that they barely deserved, Wayne Routledge prodding home after Olsson's slip, and Gareth McAuley nearly made it even more uncomfortable when his attempted clearance had to be saved by Ben Foster's arm.
Clearly possession is overrated; Albion managed to win with just 39% and are now on track for around 54 points.
Tough game for us this after the efforts away at Chelsea. I thought we really struggled to click together for the first 30 minutes or so - understandable with changes and tired legs.
We obviously missed Evans for his quality and patience on the ball, and our midfielders didn't/wouldn't go and have the ball off our centre backs so it was quite hoof happy. I also thought that Dawson's absence showed how I think about 80% of our goal kicks or long passes are often aimed out to him to win the first header.
We were quite deep and allowed Swansea a lot of time without really pressing but without really allowing them in behind us either. We were also quite narrow with Chadli and Phillips coming inside a lot and Phillips was also clearly under instructions to play deeper and cover Brunt's pace.
Gradually as the half wore on we pushed up a bit and having won the ball higher up the pitch, Rondon really should have sent us in at half time 2 nil up, or certainly scored from his first one-on-one and worked the keeper when he was played through again.
Second half we upped it a bit - in fairness to Fletcher I thought he led the charge with this, bravely pushing us 10 yards further forward.
The 3 goals in 10 minutes from Rondon's head showed up Swansea's severe defensive issues - although he took them all really well.
With spare time to go and us looking a bit leggy I thought Gardner was a bizarre sub to make again - I'd have found a way to get Leko on the pitch to give us a threat going the other way. Almost immediately afterwards they scored a very soft goal and it made it more uncomfortable than it might have been.
I do worry that Leko isn't getting the minutes he needs for his development but also on merit because he has looked very capable when he has played.
So we weren't at our best but credit should be given for the way we ground it out. This was a bigger game than Chelsea or Man Utd.
Swansea look doomed - the better team for large periods, in truth we could have won this 5-0. They can't defend and Williams looks a massive loss to them.
Subs all did their bit - they all came on and ran around without really improving us.
So finally, the event we'd all been waiting for has come to pass. After what seems like an eternity, West Bromwich Albion have, once again, put out a proper right back, at right back. Now yes, the churlish amongst you might point to the fact that we were pretty much forced into doing so but, to counter that, one could ask how many times have you thought you knew the obvious team, only to see the obvious not deployed.
So then, to the changes. Evans's injury and Dawson's suspension saw a return to the staring XI of Olsson and Chadli. No, no, hang on: Chadli hadn't be found to have spent his formative years as a right back, but not far from it, for he was to start the game as the wide right player when Brunt was moved from there to left back so as to allow (drum roll please) Alan Nyom, right-back by trade, to play at right back. Cue the song maestro...
It only took Nyom eight minutes to show that he was more than capable of doing an overlapping right-back's job, as well as performing the more traditional full-back stuff with aplomb, in what was a fine showing throughout the game.
Some early reports on the game suggested the first half was a drab affair, however around the ten-minute mark, Siggurddson, Swansea's dead-ball threat would pull a save, albeit a comfortable one, out of Foster, after which Albion swiftly moved upfield where the move ended with Chadli driving a cross into the six-yard-box, and, whilst our lone striker was unable to get on the end of it as he tried to get between a couple of defenders, he was adjudged to have gotten close enough to not getting on the end of it, for a goal kick to be awarded.
Around 30/35 minutes, possibly following a break in play after Fabianski, the goalie for the Swans with the unenviable record of having conceded the most goals in the division, had gone down for treatment after seeing how far he would bounce of Rondon, if he ran full-tilt into him, Chadli and Phillips swapped sides, which meant that after Nyom's driving run had taken him infield ands across to the left, Chadli, not Phillips, would be on hand to play the loose ball in to Rondon, although he could only shoot straight at the keeper.
On 39 minutes Brunt nearly coughed up an own-goal, whilst, a minute later, Olsson was unable to drag the player he had a hold of out the way, so as to get onside as a free-kick was delivered, and so was ruled offside, which meant that the knock-back header he won which was turned into the net, counted for nothing, as did Rondon's second good chance of the night, coming after Morisson had picked a pocket in central midfield to play the Venuzuelan in, inside the box, however when he couldn't get a right-foot shot off past one defender, moving the ball onto his left didn't quite see him get far enough past a second, and rather than hold onto it, he went for what turned out to be a pretty tame effort instead.
The commentary team were of the opinion that our manager would have had a lot to say at half-time and it clearly made a difference, as two Albion players pushed the ball forwards from the restart, instead of the usual ploy of passing it backwards. A-ttack, a-ttack, a-ttacka-taka-tack!
Five minutes in and a foul on Chadli, as he jinked in from the right, saw Phillips come over from the left to the right to deliver a right- footed free-kick right onto the head of Rondon, left pretty much unchallenged six yards out, although it didn't stay on his head for very long as he bulleted the ball into the net.
There followed a ten-minute spell of not a lot, bar McClean and a couple of Swansea subs warming up but, before any of them could join in, an Albion advance down the left saw Phillips dribble to the edge of the box and then lay it back to Brunt. His first time cross arced along the line of the six-yard box, which also appeared to be the line from which the Swansea back-line decided to step up and catch Rondon, at the back post, offside. Poor idea: even poorer execution. Rondon was once again six-yards out, albeit somewhat wider than for the first goal, with only Fabianski to beat, but no matter: Rondon's second header also beat Fabianski. Three minutes later and he would beat Fabinaksi again, although this time he would have to jump over a defender, who didn't jump as high, so as to direct a third header, from around the penalty spot, into the right top corner, after yet another move down the left had allowed Brunt to deliver another delicious cross.
With the game moving towards the final ten minutes, Swansea gave themselves a lifeline, courtesy of a throughball that left McAuley on the deck, to a player who then nutmegged Olsson on the edge of the box, leaving the Swede on the ground as well, and although Foster did his best to save the clean sheet, his charge into the space around an empty penalty spot, would only see him half parry the ball into a group of players, from where Routledge, who's scored more goals against the Albion than any other side he's scored against, would get to score one more against the Albion.
Five minutes from time, Swansea would spurn great chance to get back within a goal, after a cross from out right went all the way to the far post from where an unchallenged player could only drag it back from whence it came, and finally, right on time, though still some four minutes from the end of time, Foster would have to pull off a reaction stop as McAuley's attempted intervention wrong-footed his keeper, and nearly made for what would have a very nervy end to a game that we had never looked like losing.
But what have we learnt from those enforced changes? Well, there's certainly no need to play a centre-back at right-back anymore, as we've clearly had a proper right-back in the squad for a while now.
We also saw that Rondon can score headed goals that aren't just glancing ones and I think we can probably say that Olsson isn't the replacement needed to cover for Evans, though alongside Evans, he might still be a replacement for McAuley, although, if Nyom can now hold down a place at right-back, after starting off being there in a 3-1 win, Dawson might yet still be young enough to return to being a centre-back for the future. Brunt, as he does for his country, can clearly still get forwards enough from left-back to deliver sumptuous balls with the "wand", whilst McClean just looks lost when asked to play wide right, as he did for a while after finally coming on.
We also learnt that Swansea's average, over their last four away games, of conceding three goals a game, might well now be becoming their norm and not just a trend.
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