Former West Bromwich Albion striker Kevin Phillips believes Dara O’Shea’s long-term injury will be a ‘blow’ to the Baggies’ title hopes during the 2021/22 campaign, speaking in an interview with West Brom News.
The 22-year-old was on international duty with the Republic of Ireland when he came off worse in a challenge against Portugal at the start of the month, leaving him with a fractured ankle that is set to keep him on the sidelines for four to six months.
This was unwelcome news for Valerien Ismael’s side who had already lost loanee Matt Clarke to a hamstring injury, though he could potentially return in the next week or two ahead of schedule.
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But due to O’Shea’s injury, West Brom have already decided to dip into the free-agent market, recruiting centre-back Kean Bryan after seeing him leave Championship rivals Sheffield United on the expiration of his contract at Bramall Lane this summer.
He made 13 Premier League appearances in what was his breakthrough season for the South Yorkshire side last term, coming in and performing respectably in the absence of Jack O’Connell, but opting not to sign the contract offer on the table from the Blades.
With this and Clarke’s potential return, O’Shea’s injury may not be the huge blow it was when the news first emerged. But former Baggie Kevin Phillips still believes he will be a big miss and in an interview with West Brom News, he said: “I feel so sorry for the kid, he’s been one of their most consistent players.
“Whatever position he’s been asked to play in he’s given his best and he’s played very, very well.
“There’s always a risk when a player goes on international duty. As a manager, you’re crossing your fingers that one of your most consistent players doesn’t come back injured but unfortunately, that’s what’s happened.
“That’s why I’ve always said you need cover in areas, you need two players for every position.”
You can see where Phillips is coming from on this one, because he’s been exceptional at the back and also proved to be a threat in the attacking box this season, scoring against Bournemouth and Sheffield United this season.
His stature and Darnell Furlong’s long throw-ins could have been an iconic duo and a magnificent weapon in their armoury to use throughout the campaign, but in the worst-case scenario, he will not be back until March when the majority of the season has already been played.
There’s every chance they may take the full six months to ease the Irishman back into training considering how important he is to the side. Any further injury from trying to rush him back would be an even bigger blow – and if they can keep the likes of Bryan, Ajayi, Bartley and Clarke fit – he shouldn’t need to be rushed back into action.
Considering how well his system is working thus far, it would be strange to see manager Ismael change his formation, so it’s vital he keeps as many of his centre-backs healthy for the remainder of the 2021/22 campaign.
It could be the difference between an automatic promotion spot and a place in the play-offs – and after avoiding the latter last time following two Brentford losses at the end of the 2019/20 season – they will want to do so again. Ismael has bad memories of the play-offs from last season with Barnsley, after all.