Express & Star

Carlos Corberan issues SOS call to West Brom's Semi Ajayi after AFCON defeat

Albion boss Carlos Corberan issued a defensive SOS to Semi Ajayi to return to the Black Country immediately after last night's African Cup of Nations final defeat.

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The club made arrangements to bring the Nigerian defender home as soon as possible after the showpiece clash against the hosts in the Ivory Coast after more injury concern. Ajayi's side were beaten 2-1 despite leading.

Kyle Bartley (calf) was withdrawn at half-time in the 2-2 draw at Ipswich and could miss a couple of weeks. Albion are otherwise short at the back.

“No, as a club we need to make our best to bring the players immediately after the games they play, because the players have the commitment with the clubs,” Corberan said.

“They have accepted the international opportunities, but as soon as they finish they need to come here because the team needs both players right now.

“Still we have Erik that we didn’t use today for a type of game, so he is still there. Hopefully Semi comes back faster and ready to compete.

“I cannot tell you how long it (Bartley) can take but right now if you lose two weeks, you lose four games. So even if the injury is two weeks we are talking about four games and a half, that’s the pity for injuries in these games.”

Albion host Cardiff tomorrow looking to build on their impressive record at The Hawthorns after almost earning a statement victory in Suffolk.

But Corberan’s fifth-placed side had to make do with a point thanks to Omari Hutchinson’s stoppage-time equaliser after fine Tom Fellows and John Swift goals twice gave the visitors the lead at Portman Road.

The performance and result was overshadowed, however, as striker Daryl Dike suffered more potential injury hell after just 10 minutes on the field. The head coach confirmed his American frontman had injured his Achilles, the other that recently kept him out for more than eight months.

Defender Ajayi, an ever-present in the Super Eagles side that stormed to the final, will return to a crucial period for Albion, without Bartley for a couple of weeks and having loaned youngster Caleb Taylor to Bolton on deadline day, something the Spaniard labelled as a “risk” in favour of the youngster’s development.

Southampton also visit The Hawthorns on Friday night before midweek action next week, too, at Plymouth.

Fitness-dependent, Ajayi could slot in immediately alongside Cedric Kipre against Cardiff. Corberan also has veteran Erik Pieters, who he prefers to use in a defensive three, and the option to drop influential midfielder Okay Yokuslu into the backline, as he did at Portman Road – though the boss admitted afterwards his side missed the Turk’s qualities in midfield.

Ajayi is not Albion’s only concern returning from the African continental tournament, with winger Grady Diangana also expected back on these shores today.

The winger started for the first time in the competition as DR Congo were beaten on penalties by South African in the third and fourth-placed play-off on Saturday night. Corberan is also hopeful for his smooth and fit return, though Albion are more stocked in forward areas.