July 23, 2024

The win over Hull and West Bromwich Albion’s current form are on…

JC: As a group, we examined the games that remained before Coventry. Hull has been playing exceptionally well, Southampton has returned from its international break, Cardiff is in the top six, Ipswich, Sunderland, and Leicester all appeared to be tough tests that, if completed, might have determined how Albion would perform this season.

Every time you think it might be too much, like in the case of Hull. At the beginning of the week, I thought that four points from Hull and Coventry would be a good return, but obtaining six points, scoring five goals, maintaining the momentum, and making it ten points from a possible twelve is an extremely impressive return.

That’s when you take into account that they will be playing this series of matches with one or two fewer players after losing John Swift in the last block’s final game. It speaks volumes about Carlos’s performance and the team’s commitment to his requests and philosophy of play.

After overcoming the hardship of having injured players miss so much of the season, you begin to wonder what might be possible now that they are gradually adding players back into the lineup (Semi Ajayi came on and scored on Saturday, Sarmiento came on, and Swift and Maja aren’t far away). They remain in a very advantageous position. Right there, they are.

Without being present, what I witnessed on Saturday was an excellent outcome, but Matt Phillips’ goal was truly magnificent. It takes skill to score a goal that appears to be a counterattack even when you have complete possession control. They invited the Hull press, manoeuvred around them, and gave the impression that they were exerting control over the situation. It was very clever.

The goal itself, the passing, the dummy from Wallace, the cross from Diangana, the finish from Phillips. It was an outstanding goal – as good a team goal as The Hawthorns has seen in many years. They’re playing so, so well. How long can they keep it going and remain at the top?

Now that Albion’s injuries appear to be improving, Carlos will soon have some enjoyable issues to deal with.

JC: It was at its worst four or five weeks ago. Swift and Maja were already out, and Sarmiento was added—those are your two summer acquisitions and your top scorer. Since April, Dike has not been in. Since the preseason, Reach has been unavailable. You start to fear the worst when Kipre starts to shine against QPR because Carlos did not seem pleased with that after it happened.

Thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as that and he’s carried on playing, but generally it seems like they’re slowly turning the tide on the injuries – getting players back, making players available to Carlos so that he’s not having to rely on academy players who have limited experience.

You’re hoping that no more injuries occur while you’re getting these players back. Diangana, Wallace, and Thomas-Asante have been asked to go repeatedly as the only senior options, so there has been a lot of emphasis on them. However, that burden may be lessened now. Everyone should benefit from that, and Carlos will have options on the bench for each game.

Maja will be back after the international break, Swift might be a week later and Dike hopefully will be back at Christmas time. That would be enormous, to have those three players anywhere near it and to ensure that everyone else stays fit in the meantime, the picture will be rosy for the festive period.

JC: We were on telly at Leeds early on – against a relegated club. Then we were on telly at Blues, so that was a local derby. Then we were on the telly at Coventry, and sort of a derby and two teams who were around it last season. Sky haven’t been to The Hawthorns this season, which is unheard of – we’ve been left alone to Saturday 3pm kick offs, which has been nice.

They’re now a little bit victims of their own success. They’re going well, sneaking under the radar a bit, and eventually Sky will start picking games up. If this game at Southampton would’ve happened a few weeks later, fourth v fifth, it would’ve been on TV I’m sure. Then, between the end of November and middle of December, they have four Saturdays in a row.

Ipswich on Saturday at 5:30, Leicester on Saturday at 12:30, Sunderland on Saturday at 12:30, and Stoke on Sunday at midday. Like going from famine to feast. Fans will get irritated because, logistically speaking, it doesn’t work for many, especially this time of year.

It’s expected that they will perform well, receive recognition, and now they just so happen to be playing teams that are above and below them. It’s a little excessive to have four Saturdays in a row, but circumstances dictate what happens, and a little extra money from Sky won’t hurt.

JC: We played a newly relegated team at Leeds the first game, and I thought we played pretty well. This is the second game against that team. They were still adjusting to the season, so there were a few rough individual performances. They took the lead, but they would have won the game if they hadn’t switched off at the back for a minute.

Ilan Meslier made some excellent saves on the other end of the pitch that evening, in addition to Alex Palmer. Simply put, I don’t think Albion needs to worry about Southampton being a relegated Premier League team this weekend when they play there. There, you are free to go play your own game. Albion can go toe to toe with them, so I don’t think they’ll be afraid. I believe they are accessible.

They are still there or thereabouts now. I did think they would do well this season and rank in the top two. I believe the game might work for Albion because of their ability to hurt teams on the counter. They appeared to have made some progress away from home; they triumphed admirably at Preston, easily at Coventry, and had the opportunity to win at Bristol City and Watford.

Right now, they are just more likely to win games away from home than they were. If they prevailed 1-0 or 2-1, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the world. Southampton is undoubtedly a talented team—they recently defeated Blues and won at Millwall—but Albion will be assured because they know what needs to be done and have Sarmiento back in the lineup, so they might be able to sustain this momentum for a little while longer.

With Albion, it goes rather smoothly. They don’t have by any means the largest team in the Championship, but they do appear to have a fairly stable group of adaptable players who can fit into any kind of system. The Swiss Army Knife seems to have a lot of knives, from strings to Albion’s bow. Carlos has changed them both personally and as a group, which is why.

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