Advertising

Analysis: Reassuringly resilient West Brom learn from the Megson school

West Bromwich Albion | Published:

When Albion first won promotion to the Premier League under Gary Megson, their campaign was built on 1-0 wins.

Albion were determined to see the game out. (AMA)

The Baggies won 17 games by that scoreline in 2001/02, including 15 in the league.

Seven of them came in the final 17 fixtures, as Megson's men finished strongly with 11 clean sheets from those matches.

This is not a unique phenomenon. When Leicester pulled off their 5,000/1 miracle three years ago, they won 1-0 just once in the first half of the season, and kept just three clean sheets before Christmas.

But in the second half of that famous campaign, the Foxes kept 12 clean sheets and won six games 1-0, including four in a row in March and April. It was grit which saw them over the line.

Darren Moore was part of Megson's team that ground their way to the promised land 17 years ago.

He has espoused a different approach in his first full season in charge, and even though the goals have dried up a bit of late, his side remains the division's highest scorers with 60 goals from 30 games.

But this was not the swashbuckling goal-fest we have come to expect – it was a victory schooled in Megson theory.

It was Albion's first 1-0 win in the league this season, and even though it wasn't the best free-flowing football this team has produced, it was reassuringly stubborn and eminently professional.

Advertising

We are reaching the stage of the season where performances are becoming less important than results, but watching this side take the sting out of the game in the second half was encouraging.

The Championship promotion race is shaping up to be an almighty dog-fight this season between a number of teams.

You need grit in that scenario, an ability to grind out results by the odd goal even when the front-line is not firing all on cylinders.

Albion did that on Saturday, and under pressure too, following two games which they had thrown away, and one win in seven in all competitions.

Advertising

Afterwards, both Moore and Stoke boss Nathan Jones over-egged how well the Potters played.

Jones claimed Stoke controlled the second half because they enjoyed plenty of possession, ignoring the fact it's possible to control a game without the ball, as Albion did.

Ryan Woods and Joe Allen may shuttle the ball around prettily, but Stoke lack any cutting edge up front and have now scored just three goals in their last eight league games.

Their only two plans seemed to be, cross it into Sam Vokes, or give it to Tom Ince and hope he could dribble past everyone.

Vokes is a formidable striker, and the £7million January signing will probably have joy against others in this division.

But that is precisely the sort of test Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi relish.

They go to bed dreaming of towering headers, it is their bread and butter, and they had Vokes on toast for pretty much all of this game.

This is part of a wider development though, and not just down to Stoke's limp attack. (James McClean should not be played centrally.)

Having kept just a single clean sheet in their first 22 league games, Albion have now kept four in the last eight.

There's no question they are tighter at the back, and based on their composure on the ball, far more confident in each other.

Further forward and all eyes were on the new boys.

Jacob Murphy and Jefferson Montero look capable of providing a much-needed injection of pace, although both will need time.

Murphy started brightly but faded, particularly after getting kicked. Montero deserves credit for reading the game situation and helping play down the clock.

But it was Stefan Johansen, the Norway captain, who could be the shrewdest signing of deadline day.

If Johansen was a cricketer, he'd be Ben Stokes. An all-rounder with a pinpoint delivery and an eye for a run, he's also up for the fight.

The 28-year-old is already looking like the missing piece in Albion's midfield, and immediately endeared himself to the fans by chucking his debut shirt into the crowd.

His arrival, coupled with the emergence and re-emergence of Rekeem Harper and Sam Field respectively, could allow Matt Phillips to play further forward if necessary.

Once Phillips and James Morrison return from injury, Albion's squad starts to look formidable.

And when you have Dwight Gayle (16 goals) and Jay Rodriguez (15 goals) up front, you are guaranteed to score.

The Baggies have only drawn blank three times in the league this season, and haven't done it at all since November's victory over Leeds, which looks increasingly like being the turning point of the campaign.

This victory was also a mini-landmark moment, because it came after a small blip in form and integrated the new signings into the team.

Losing Harvey Barnes and Phillips in quick succession was bound to have an impact, but now the Baggies are recovering. And just in time.

We are in the thick of a frenetic February now and Moore's men have got five games in the next 18 days, four of which are against top 10 opposition.

There is little time to rest on the laurels of this victory because Nottingham Forest are in town tomorrow.

This endless churn of mid-week fixtures can throw up variables, and Moore may have to change his team tomorrow, but play with the same steel as this crop did in Stoke, and the Baggies will have a good chance of winning another vital three points.

Advertising

Top Stories

Advertising

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News