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Analysis: Battling West Brom take their play-off push to the wire

Forty-five Championship fixtures played out of their 46 and Albion can still dream of a place in the play-offs.

Jed Wallace nets Albion's winner (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
Jed Wallace nets Albion's winner (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

Sure, before a ball was kicked this season Baggies would have expected better – and certainly not the drama of slim final-day hopes – but taking into context a rollercoaster season, and how the goalposts moved dramatically, it is a notable effort.

It is not lost on Carlos Corberan where the club was slumped when he adopted it.

The head coach must have wondered what he had let himself in for after defeat against Sheffield United first up left Albion rock-bottom of the Championship. It was so bad some supporters were consigned to League One.

The context had shifted considerably by January. Corberan had remarkably led his troops into the play-off places much earlier than hoped. Hope and expectation changed accordingly. From then it has been a cocktail of highs and lows, setbacks and comebacks, season-ending injuries and barren away form.

Hope looked to be fully dashed around Easter after two measly performances against lowly opposition in the double-header where Corberan, for the first time, called out his players’ effort and fight.

Albion, though, have since managed to banish their hoodoo away from The Hawthorns and despite successive defeats to play-off rivals Sunderland and promotion-winning Sheffield United, a gusty turnaround victory against Norwich City – a club with arguably greater pre-season ambitions than Albion – has taken the Baggies’ push right to the wire.

Indeed it was Norwich that Corberan opted to use as a yardstick in his post-match press conference to illustrate Albion’s push this season.

Saturday evening’s hosts knew, after Millwall, Sunderland and Coventry claimed points elsewhere, that only a victory would keep dreams alive for the trip to Swansea a week today.

Interestingly, one of the most open, entertaining and watchable games at The Hawthorns for some number of months broke out – perhaps an example of two sides feeling that pressure and expectation had loosened, though that wasn’t truly the case for Albion. Norwich’s season had fizzled away dreadfully and the unrest among the away end was clear.

It could have easily been at least 3-3 at half-time but for wayward finishing after some less-than-convincing defending from both.

But Corberan’s men faced heading into the interval 1-0 down after a video Baggies fans have seen all season long played out once more.

The hosts made an absolute meal of putting the ball into the net and seconds later down the other end Josh Sargent was not so wasteful for the Canaries – though he should have had a hat-trick by this point!

Mercifully, and most unlike Albion this season, they hit back immediately and spared the half-time disappointment.

It was the unlikely source of Conor Townsend from 22 yards to draw his side level. The left-back, stand-in captain in the absence of Jake Livermore and Dara O’Shea, curled a peach of a free-kick into the top corner for his first Hawthorns goal.

Townsend isn’t so much a rare goalscorer these days, though. After one effort in four seasons for the club he now has found the net three times since January.

And the hosts completed the turnaround by the 55th minute with a wonderful goal dispatched by the impressive Jed Wallace owing to fine work from Brandon Thomas-Asante. The duo, and John Swift too, were all on their game on Saturday evening and what a difference it made to the side.

The final half-hour was a walk in the park for Corberan’s men. The Canaries didn’t trouble Alex Palmer’s goal once, though the Baggies deserve credit for game management and seeing out the important points to take them to south Wales next week with a glimmer.

There was time, too, for a bit of emotion after club captain Livermore emerged from the bench deep into stoppage time to a rousing reception and chants of his name around The Hawthorns.

Livermore, 33, had not played in the league since early November and on Friday confirmed his anticipated exit upon contract expiry this summer. After six-and-a-half years and in excess of 200 games, the former England man has been an excellent servant and deserved his send-off.

Livermore did hope that it wouldn’t be a send-off and Albion will book a late ticket for the play-offs. They must win in Swansea and hope at least two results go their way – it’s a mammoth ask of very long odds – but among all the permutations it must be remembered where Corberan’s Baggies were all of those dismal months ago.

The road to this point has been rocky but under the Spaniard, despite ever-darkening clouds of off-field gloom, there remains hope.

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