Over the past two games at The Hawthorns, something spectacular has happened. West Bromwich Albion have stepped away from playing a completely defensive game to adopting a more direct approach. They’ve held onto the ball better, and created more than both of their opponents, Newcastle United and Stoke City.
Why is this spectacular? Well, simply, that hasn’t been the way West Brom have played this season. For anybody that has watched West Brom play this year they will argue that they have been poor and boring to watch; and they’d be right. Before the Newcastle game, West Brom had not managed to create more than 15 shots in a single game and over the season had actually had fewer shots than any other team in the league.
Despite this, and despite style of play, West Brom have never really found themselves in trouble this season, and it seems unlikely they will be fighting any dangers of relegation come the end of the season. However, that could have been different. Had Newcastle beat West Brom on December 27th, both teams would have been on 20 points, only one point off the relegation zone.
But the could haves and would haves are irrelevant because, when they needed it most, West Brom put in their best performance of the season. And with that performance came two shining lights; Victor Anichebe and, more importantly, Stéphane Sessegnon.
Anichebe has struggled at West Brom since his arrival, having suffered a ridiculous number of injuries, and it’s easy to feel sorry for the big Nigerian as even on his return to the team, giving a man of the match performance, his appearance ended with him falling to the floor with another injury.
Signed on the same day as Anichebe, Sessegnon has also found it difficult to cement a place in the West Brom team. Since Tony Pulis arrived at The Hawthorns, Sessegnon has fallen down the pecking order, finding the likes of Craig Gardner often being picked ahead of him, and finding more time on the bench than the pitch. He has also had fall outs with Pulis, with one reportedly resulting in a near £400 taxi ride from Newcastle back to the Midlands.
Despite this, or maybe even in spite of this, Sessegnon has remained at the club. He has kept on training, and, when he has had a chance, he has done well. When he gets a full 90 minutes, West Brom also tend to do better, having won four of the six full games he has played this season.
Sessegnon alters the way that West Brom play, and forces Pulis to step away from a more defensive approach. He takes on players, and creates more chances than most due to opening up play. Quite simply, on his day, he can be unplayable. And, currently, he is just that.
Newcastle found a player wanting to prove a point, Stoke found a player who had proved that point, neither could handle the trickiness of the player from Benin. Both games saw West Brom create more than they had all season before, and hold on to the ball better than they had all season before. Simply, when Sessegnon plays well, West Brom play well.
Sessegnon’s return to prominence does give Tony Pulis a selection headache, with James McClean returning from suspension, but, for as well as McClean has done it would surely be foolish to drop Sessegnon on this form. Perhaps more exciting for West Brom is the prospect of Salomon Rondon returning from suspension and playing in the same team as Sessegnon.
Rondon has arguably fallen victim to the Pulis style of play, getting limited chances and, therefore, not scoring anywhere near as many as hoped for. Sessegnon’s attacking nature may be the best thing for both players, as not only will he create chances for the Venezuelan international, he will move forward with the play, finally giving Rondon an outlet and someone to play on to.
The biggest challenge of all will be Tony Pulis sticking with a more direct and attacking approach, but he can take comfort in knowing that defensively West Brom are well enough set up that they should be able to cope if they find themselves on the back foot.
But, hopefully, for West Brom fans and those that watch football regularly, Pulis maintains with the style of play as shown against Newcastle and Stoke, and continues to utilise the form of Sessegnon, helping to make West Brom not quite the negative, boring team they were.