A faint glimmer of hope in a season of misery at West Brom

Albion put in their best performance under Sam Allardyce during a thrilling draw against Manchester United.

Okay Yokuslu of West Bromwich Albion (AMA)
Okay Yokuslu of West Bromwich Albion (AMA)

The Baggies still have a mammoth task on their hands if they are going to get themselves in with a realistic shot of securing Premier League survival.

But the display against United did at least make you feel Albion are now going in the right direction under their Dudley-born boss.

Here we look at four talking points from the clash against Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.

Midfield steel

On his full debut, Okay Yokuslu confirmed what Albion fans have known for a long time – that this team has been in desperate need of a natural holding midfielder.

Before the visit of Manchester United, both Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers had been utilised in the role.

But both those players will happily admit that is not their favoured role or their best position.

Yokuslu, though, is that gatekeeper Albion need with the Turkish international impressing both in and out of possession in what, in this writer’s opinion, was a man-of-the-match display against Manchester United. The 26-year-old read the game well, allowing him to make a number of crucial interceptions.

His passing was also impressive – something Sam Allardyce demands from his holding midfielders.

The reality is Albion’s back four was better protected against Manchester United than it has been during any other game this season.

But while Yokuslu was excellent, it’s important to stress Ainsley Maitland-Niles also played his part.

The Arsenal’s loanee’s display wasn’t as eye-

catching. But he still showed his box-to-box qualities and took up some important positions in front of the back. The England international will only get better. And when you throw in Conor Gallagher’s energy and work-rate, Albion look to have a stronger midfield three.

Mbaye Diagne shines

Albion haven’t had a holding midfielder like Yokuslu this season and they also haven’t had a striker like Diagne. The Senegal international opened his Baggies account with a fantastic goal that saw him completely outmuscle Victor Lindelof.

The hunger and desire Diagne showed to win the ball and power home his header was a joy to watch.

He then showed his athleticism and strength once again when he bundled his way through Harry Maguire before forcing David de Gea into an outstanding double save. In truth, Diagne should have left The Hawthorns having netted a brace. If he had, there is every chance Albion would have won the game.

But this was still a very impressive display and one that showed – with the right service – the Galatasaray loanee will score goals.

More VAR controversy

Manchester United were given a second-half penalty at The Hawthorns after referee Craig Pawson judged Semi Ajayi had dragged down Maguire in the box. The England centre-back was clearly offside.

Nevertheless, VAR chiefs in Stockley Park decided not to look at that and instead sent Pawson to his pitch-side monitor to look at Ajayi’s alleged foul once again. Thankfully, the referee deemed the Nigerian international hadn’t done anything wrong and the right conclusion was reached.

A bit of hope

In the minds of most Albion fans, the Baggies have already left themselves with too much to do this season. But it was still lovely to sit down on Sunday evening following a good performance and some much-needed positivity.

The additions of Robert Snodgrass, Maitland-Niles, Yokuslu and Diagne have undoubtedly improved the squad. And it seems certain the team will improve and put in better performances the longer the campaign goes on.

But they are miles behind the likes of Newcastle, Brighton and Burnley in the race for survival. They also have a vastly inferior goal difference.

There is one ray of hope, the next four games – against Burnley, Brighton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace – are all against relegation rivals.

If Albion get a significant points haul from those matches, they will put themselves back in with a shout.

Those games, though, really are going to be season defining and determine what division the Baggies are in next season.

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