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Jimmy Shan: Rekeem Harper left out for tactical reasons

Jimmy Shan says out-of-contract teenager Rekeem Harper was left out of the Albion squad on Saturday for tactical reasons.

Rekeem Harper. (AMA)
Rekeem Harper. (AMA)

Harper was a surprise omission from Shan's squad at Villa Park, having starting the previous four games for the Baggies.

In the build-up to the match, reports emerged that Tottenham and Norwich were both keen on the 19-year-old who is out of contract in summer.

Harper has been offered a new deal by the Baggies, who have held on-and-off talks with his representatives since January, but he is yet to sign.

Shan said he left Harper out because he wanted to sit deeper at Villa Park and nullify the opposition.

“It was just down to personnel and selection," he said. “We came with a game plan to sit a bit deeper and be a bit more compact and maybe have more of a defensive head on.

“Can Rekeem do that? Of course. But there were other players in his position that I felt were better suited for that role and responsibility.

“Rak is a powerful young boy, very good in the half-turn and he can play forward.

“He is probably more of an offensive midfield player than one that will sit in and screen and deny."

Albion will have to be more adventurous at The Hawthorns on Tuesday night, because they need to beat Villa to go through to a final at Wembley.

When Shan was asked if that change in approach might suit Harper, he said: “The games come thick and fast so there’s not a lot of recovery time that you can spend on the grass. So everybody is in contention."

Shan was disappointed with two refereeing decisions at Villa Park on Saturday.

Not only did he think Dwight Gayle's sending off was harsh, but he also believed the Baggies should have had a penalty when Tammy Abraham and Jack Grealish combined to shove Mason Holgate to the floor.

And the caretaker boss believes Abraham feigned injury to make sure a spot-kick wasn't given.

"It's a penalty on Mason Holgate all day long, there's no intent to win the ball by Abraham," said Shan.

"I think he's been very cute in the manner that he knows he's in the wrong and he stays down on the pitch and plays he's injured.

"All day long for me that's a clear cut penalty for a foul on Mason Holgate."

Albion sat back and frustrated Villa for large parts of the game before a Conor Hourihane effort from outside the box and an Abraham penalty turned the tie on its head.

"I was quite comfortable in the approach," added Shan. "The boys took on the game plan and executed it very well. We've been done by a strike from distance and a penalty."

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