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Steve Bruce: West Brom have been too open

Manager Steve Bruce revealed the subtle change to move John Swift deeper into midfield helped Albion address defensive issues.

Marcelino Nunez of Norwich City and John Swift (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
Marcelino Nunez of Norwich City and John Swift (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

The Baggies put in their best defensive display of the season in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Carrow Road, where it took an unfortunate second-half deflection – which Bruce felt should have been chalked off for handball – to peg back the visitors.

Bruce’s side have managed just one clean sheet in 10 Championship games this season and have been much to easy to score against. Saturday, though, was their best attempt at a resilient and resolute display as the Canaries went frustrated.

It was a different fixture to most the Baggies have faced so far this term. It was only the second league game, after Middlesbrough away on the opening day, Albion did not have more of the ball, with Norwich happy to dictate.

With that in mind, the visitors tweaked their approach from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a variant of a 4-3-3 and 4-5-1. Attacking midfielder John Swift, who usually plays just off the striker, was brought back to play alongside Jayson Molumby and Jake Livermore – on this occasion in for Okay Yokuslu – in midfield.

Bruce said of changing the system: “We have to be better defensively and I decided that (the system) was the way we were going to go.

“It was quite refreshing that we were 1-0 up instead of 1-0 down after 10 minutes because we’ve done that six times out of nine matches leading up to Saturday. You’ve got to get the balance right between attack and defence and we were much more solid (at Norwich).”

Bruce’s summer change away from Valerien Ismael’s back five to a 4-2-3-1 was designed to help Albion address their alarming lack of chances and goals last term.

But the manager feels his side have tipped too far in the other direction – too easy and too soft to play and score against.

“Maybe changing us helped that,” he said when asked what worked defensively on Saturday. “That was the thinking behind it. Maybe I’ve left us too open to play against teams. When you analyse it we’ve given poor goals away, we had to make sure we were better defensively to give us a chance.

“We’re in the top six for goals scored even though we might be in the bottom three. We have to get it right defensively.

“If we can get the balance right from last year, where we couldn’t score a goal. Defensively we were alright but I do believe the way we’re playing is the way forward.”

Changes in personnel and position did not stunt Albion’s backline in Norfolk. Experienced free transfer Erik Pieters came in at left-back with a mature and assured display Bruce branded ‘classy’.

His addition shifted full-back Conor Townsend to centre-half in a surprising move, but Townsend was seldom troubled and put in a couple of crucial challenges.

Bruce also shuffled his pack on the other side of defence. Taylor Gardner-Hickman dropped to the bench following games against Burnley and Blues with Darnell Furlong recalled.

Furlong had to deal with Norwich’s liveliest customer in Villa loanee Aaron Ramsey and had an up-and-down afternoon up against the talented teenager.

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