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West Brom talking points – Daryl Dike change, formation, protecting lead and play-off chances

Albion's play-off push took another away-day knock in south Wales last night as Carlos Corberan's men were pegged back by Cardiff.

Carlos Corberan instructs his side from the technical area at Cardiff City Stadium (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images)
Carlos Corberan instructs his side from the technical area at Cardiff City Stadium (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images)

Daryl Dike's early opener, his seventh goal of the season, looked like it might be enough for a first win on the Baggies' travels since mid-January, but Sory Kaba nodded in after the hour to equalise.

We asses a handful of talking points from an eventful night at Cardiff City Stadium, where a point felt more like a defeat for travelling Baggies in the driving rain.

1. That substitution

It raised eyebrows as goalscorer Daryl Dike's No. 12 lit up on the fourth official's board a little more than 10 minutes into the second half. It was more surprising still when his replacement was utility man Adam Reach.

Dike didn't appear injured and wasn't – head coach Carlos Corberan confirmed afterwards Dike was struggling to be competitive and match up to the physical battle due to fatigue. He has played three consecutive 90 minutes, which was a giant step forward after previously being rotated post-injury.

Brandon Thomas-Asante was Albion's only natural option on the bench but Corberan was told by physio staff 35 minutes was inadvisable after a hamstring lay-off. Clearly, after Sory Kaba headed the hosts level, the Spaniard's hand was forced and he had to risk Thomas-Asante in search of another goal.

Reach is not a naturally attack-minded player, perhaps Tom Rogic could have been an option, but Corberan felt his energy in a three-man midfield could be beneficial and Jed Wallace and John Swift would occupy Bluebird defenders.

The Reach for Dike change has drawn no shortage of debate and criticism. The head coach felt Dike could not continue and was told Thomas-Asante wasn't ready. To an extent, his hands were tied.

2. 'Protecting 1-0'

This has been levelled at Corberan after Albion appeared unable to build on their early lead and go for the jugular to put Cardiff to bed and seal the points.

Albion's last two wins, both at home and against the Championship's bottom two, have been 1-0, though different in how they played out. Against Wigan the hosts did enough – they struck the woodwork four times – to be out of sight. That wasn't the case against Huddersfield, whose limited ability saw them unable to bite back at the Baggies.

Corberan offered up that he saw his side 'protecting a lead' rather than hunting a second in south Wales last night. When asked if that was by design he dismissed it and suggested home boss Sabri Lamouchi's half-time change altered the game's dynamic.

Six of Corberan's 14 Albion wins have been 1-0, a reasonable percentage. Context matters, sometimes these might be by design – but a lack of a killer touch and, at times, willingness to go for goal more can be costly.

3. Formation change

For the first time since his first couple of games in charge Corberan moved away from the 4-2-3-1 that has brought him much joy at The Hawthorns.

Instead, Albion went 3-4-1-2 with John Swift operating just behind Jed Wallace and Dike. It looked like working a treat early on, Albion were useful on the ball and smart and diligent without it. The movement was good.

Cardiff countered and the half-time change earned them a foothold in the contest. When asked about the interesting change of shape, Corberan suggested it was more to counter the hosts' set-up – though they surprised with youngster Isaac Davies starting – than anything else.

There were, though, enough encouraging signs with a back three. Corberan was often versatile with his formations at Huddersfield, and another string to Albion's bow in terms of systems will be useful. The inclusion for the first time in the league for more than six months of defender Semi Ajayi, who came through unscathed and did well, is a bonus.

4. International break

Two-and-a-half weeks to stew on a frustrating draw is not what anybody wanted, least of all Corberan, his staff and players.

However it does feel, last night's result-aside, to have arrived at a perfect time for Albion to re-sharpen themselves physically and refocus minds for the big run-in – nine games left and eight in a chaotic April.

How Albion use and respond to this welcome break could be make-or-break in an uphill push to make a late charge on the top six.

The Baggies responded very well to the four-week World Cup break last time and similar in terms of wins and points is required here. Much change on the availability front is unlikely, though Alex Palmer and Kyle Bartley may both return – but more importantly is a recharged group of regulars ready to go again.

5. Top-six chances?

It would be wrong to say they are over but the challenge has become ever greater. A margin of five points could increase over the weekend with rivals in action.

Albion have 55 points with 27 left to play for. The tally to secure a play-off spot has generally fluctuated between 70 and 80 points since 2000, at times lower and closer to 70, at times beyond 75.

Corberan's side would feel hard done to if they reach 75 points by taking 20 from the final 27 available and don't make the grade.

That return of five or six wins, though, would require a signification improvement away from the Black Country with five of the nine fixtures away from home. It should be noted, however, that top-six rivals Millwall (April 1), Sunderland (April 22) and Norwich (April 29) all come to fortress Hawthorns.

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