Five talking points from West Brom's win over Preston
Albion beat Preston North End 4-1 at The Hawthorns on Saturday. Here are five talking points from the game.
1 BAGGIES HAVE A CHANCE WITH GAYLE AND RODRIGUEZ UP TOP
The decision to play Albion’s lethal strikers in a front two paid off, and they struck four goals between them. They are deadly when partnered up top together, and have 20 goals from 13 games as a front two this season.
That’s compared to 22 goals from 22 games when one or the other has been played wide. Leaving them in a two is a must for the play-offs, and with that sort of firepower up top, the Baggies have a chance against anybody.
2 COULD STEFAN JOHANSEN FINALLY FILL THE HARVEY BARNES ROLE?
There were high hopes for the Norwegian following his arrival in January, but he failed to live up to the hype at first.
However, he is now looking fully up to speed and had his best performance in an Albion shirt on Saturday. Clocking up more than 10km, he also had a hand in two goals, and provided support to the front two.
He may not be as spectacular as Barnes, but finally the Baggies have an attacking midfielder to fill that void. He also has experience of promotion via the play-offs...
3 THE 3-5-2 HAS RETURNED AND COULD BE HERE TO STAY
Playing three at the back was anathema before Christmas, but that’s when Albion were committed to a passing game under Darren Moore. With a more pragmatic approach under James Shan, it looked far more solid.
Knocking it forward quickly suits the towering centre-halves who were more comfortable without the burden of playmaking on their shoulders. Mason Holgate, Matt Phillips and Kieran Gibbs are all more than capable of playing wing-back too.
4 KIERAN GIBBS STRENGTHENS THE LEFT HAND SIDE
Conor Townsend deputised admirably, and winning the penalty against Birmingham City was crucial, but Gibbs offers more class and composure at left wing back as well as a more clinical attacking threat.
He was sensibly removed on the hour mark in order to manage his hip injury. The Baggies are heading for a three-game season, and desperately need their starting XI fit and firing for the play-offs.
With that in mind, Townsend could still have a role to play in the run-in, in order to help protect Gibbs.
5 IS SHAN THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?
The caretaker boss can be proud of his contribution so far, because 12 points from six games is top two form. He’s made a series of inspired decisions, and struck a winning formula on Saturday that delivered one of Albion’s most convincing wins of the season.
Even the defeats cannot be laid at his door. His players were bullied at Millwall and then ignored his no-risk instructions at Bristol City. He may need an experienced hand to help guide him through, but he’s certainly impressed so far.