West Bromwich Albion centre-back Semi Ajayi believes the Baggies’ celebrations following their stoppage-time winner against Peterborough United at the weekend showcases the ‘togetherness’ of Valerien Ismael’s squad, speaking to the Express and Star.
The West Midlands outfit have enjoyed a near-faultless start to their Championship campaign, drawing a tough opposition in Bournemouth away from home on the opening day before winning their other four league games of the season.
Although a 6-0 home defeat to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup near the end of last month could have been detrimental to their confidence, Ismael opted to field a much-weakened starting lineup and had already stated that his focus was firmly on promotion.
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They responded perfectly at London Road on Saturday evening, fighting until the end for all three points, remaining solid in defence and finally getting their winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time through Ajayi’s tap-in to take them level with Fulham at the top of the table.
This was the perfect moment for the Baggies, who now go into the international break in the automatic promotion spots and have set themselves up perfectly for their next set of games, after already overcoming a tough opponent in Sheffield United in 2021/22 and snatching a point from Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.
Speaking about the celebrations after the late goal on Saturday night, with boss Valerien Ismael sprinting down the touchline to join in, match-winner Ajayi said to the Express and Star: “Not really (surprised by Ismael’s celebration), he is a bit of a mad one.
“It was like he was on the overlap!
“When I turned around and saw him there I wasn’t actually that surprised. He was buzzing.
“It was good fun. I don’t think I’ve had a manager I’ve played for celebrate like that before.
“But it was good to see. It shows we have got a togetherness. Everyone is fighting for each other.”
The Nigerian international started the season on the bench with Dara O’Shea, Kyle Bartley and loanee Matt Clarke ahead of him in the pecking order at that point.
But an injury to the latter has allowed the 27-year-old to regain his spot in the starting lineup and if O’Shea’s recent injury against Portugal is as bad as it looks, manager Ismael may need him to start for the foreseeable future.
After their relegation last season, West Bromwich Albion could have easily had a hangover from that like Sheffield United seemingly have, but a number of shrewd additions in the summer has helped their cause and the players have been given a new lease of life under Valerien Ismael.
At The Hawthorns, there is now a clear playing style, an identity and a clear goal to work to with promotion the clear target this season. After their start to the season and the excitement surrounding their manager, anything less than promotion for the West Midlands outfit would be seen as a disappointment.
As things stand though, they look nailed on for an automatic promotion spot alongside fellow recently-relegated side Fulham and team spirit is a key ingredient to any promotion push, so fair play to the West Brom boss and his players for creating this tight-knit culture.
Many people criticised the Baggies’ board’s delay in making a managerial appointment this summer but bringing in Valerien Ismael looks to be a game-changer for a side who will not only be wanting to win promotion to the Premier League, but also stay there.
The 45-year-old will want to oversee this long-term project – and if they are to achieve their goals – they will need to retain their team spirit throughout the next few seasons. Their late winner against Peterborough has only helped to boost morale further.