Former West Bromwich Albion forward Kevin Phillips believes Baggies manager Valerien Ismael might be tempted to start Darnell Furlong against Middlesbrough tomorrow afternoon, speaking to West Brom News.
26-year-old Furlong was suspended for his side’s narrow 1-0 home victory over Hull City on Wednesday night after being sent off against Fulham at the weekend, denying Harry Wilson a clear goalscoring opportunity at Craven Cottage and missing one match.
With his suspension now served, he is fresh and in contention to return to the first-team squad again for tomorrow afternoon’s clash with Boro at The Hawthorns as the West Midlands outfit enter their final Championship clash before the upcoming international break.
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However, the 26-year-old may have trouble getting back into the first 11 despite starting 15 out of his side’s 16 second-tier matches so far this season, with 19-year-old Taylor Gardner-Hickman performing well in his absence and being the subject of widespread praise for his showing on what was his league debut.
Keeping a clean sheet as well against the struggling Tigers, he could be in line to make his second consecutive start, relegated Furlong to the bench against a dangerous Middlesbrough side.
Despite this, ex-Baggie and pundit Phillips believes manager Ismael may opt for experience over form against Neil Warnock’s men when the teamsheet comes out at 2pm tomorrow.
He said to West Brom News: “It’s a tough one.
“I’m always one for saying if you’ve picked a team and they’ve won, I’m a great believer in picking the same team and letting them go again.
“But I understand why managers make the decisions they do.
“They bring the experienced players back in because they’re vital.
“I wouldn’t like to second guess Ismael’s plan – we try to guess his front-three throughout the season and we very rarely get it right – but it wouldn’t surprise me if he brought Furlong back in.
“Furlong is a very good player and he’s a threat with his long throw, especially if [Jordan] Hugill was to start.
“Personally, I’d go with the same team but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ismael changed it.”
After putting in such an assured display, Taylor-Hickman deserves to start again tomorrow and that would send the right message to his teammates. That message is: if you perform well, you stay in the team regardless of your age.
Putting Furlong straight back in would be a real blow for the 19-year-old after claiming his opportunity with both hands – and after seeing the teenager in action on Wednesday evening – the former would probably understand if he only came back onto the bench.
In saying that, having the 26-year-old in the starting lineup with his experience may be reassuring for some West Brom fans considering the fact they will be facing the likes of Andraz Sporar, Duncan Watmore and Uche Ikpeazu.
A lot has been said about Queens Park Rangers’ attack this season and rightly so with the calibre of players Mark Warburton has at his disposal – but the Middlesbrough trio mentioned also carry a threat and Sporar has adapted well to English move since his move in the summer.
This makes tomorrow’s selection dilemma a real headache for Ismael, who will have to disappoint one of Taylor-Hickman or Furlong barring an injury crisis at the back.