EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reckons there is value to be found in opposing West Brom – despite their thumping victory over Leeds.
One To Watch – Value to be found in opposing WBA
West Bromwich Albion’s 4-1 win over title contenders Leeds United on Saturday teatime represented a massive boost; and at times in a dominant second half, they looked an almost unstoppable force.
Before that though, the Baggies had accrued just one point from four – that solitary point coming at home to Blackburn, when the closing quarter of an hour saw them fail to beat 10-men with an auxiliary goalkeeper.
So, was this demolition a clear sign of a team ready to storm to the top of the Championship, or was it simply a freak result?
Reality, in fact, lies somewhere in between. While this impressive performance is one Albion deserve great credit for, it is also an indication of their style.
West Brom’s attack is very strong.
Hal Robson-Kanu is beginning to re-capture the form that saw him star at Euro 2016 with Wales, Jay Rodriguez is a Premier League calibre striker, Matt Phillips is a direct runner while Harvey Barnes is a prodigious talent who has lit up the division.
It speaks volumes that Dwight Gayle, who has scored 32 goals in his last 45 Championship appearances, was left on the bench against Leeds; though still the poacher could not be kept off the scoresheet.
With a devastating blend of pace, quality and incision in that final third, their best performances have come when they have got the ball into those forward areas quickly.
They have scored more than once within a 15-minute period on a remarkable 12 occasions this season.
They achieved that feat twice within the same game against Norwich, QPR, Reading and Leeds; and managed three in a quarter of an hour against those teams minus Norwich plus Bristol City.
That shows West Brom are at their most dangerous when they have just scored.
They also love playing in the second half – 28 of their league goals have come after the break, which shows that when play becomes stretched, they tend to profit.
Issues creating from deep
What the euphoria of that victory over Leeds perhaps masked was that their distribution from deep was very poor: goalkeeper Sam Johnstone had a passing accuracy of just 39% in that game and centre-back Ahmed Hegazi, 50%.
That vulnerability was not placed under the microscope because they were able to score their goals by efficient pressing and quick transitions.
It is however, potentially problematic when they play games in which there are few opportunities to steal the ball and they will be asked to break teams down over longer periods of possession.
In eight encounters with teams that have completed fewer than 300 short passes, they have attained just 10 points; a rate of 1.25 per game which would put them below Stoke and Bristol City in the standings.
Plus, they have only scored nine first half goals this season – just nine teams have netted fewer – which indicates they can struggle in a tight climate in which both teams are fresh and have a calculated mind-set, rather than an impulsive one.
The betting angle
After the thumping of Leeds, Albion have been cut to 6/4 for promotion with most outlets.
That is a grand show of faith in a team that remains in poor form relative to competitors and finds itself in the middle of a seven-point gap between first and 10th.
There could, therefore, be value in opposing Darren Moore’s side while their stock is high.
There’s eight Championship teams who average fewer than 300 short passes per game.
Two of them, Ipswich and Rotherham, host the West Midlanders between now and Christmas and are likely to be available at generous prices; the Tractor Boys, for example, are currently as big as 39/11 in some markets to enjoy success on the Friday after the international break.
Equally, there’s mileage in opposing goals for West Brom in the first half of games; trends suggests that’s not normally the point at which they find their flow.
They are currently 10/11 with some outlets to fail to score in the first half at Portman Road in 12 days.
While West Brom have the potential to go up, they can be opposed either in terms of their first half prospects, or against opposition not consumed by possession.