Former West Bromwich Albion forward Kevin Phillips has reinforced what Semi Ajayi brings to the Baggies in an interview with West Brom News, amid criticism of his performance against Preston North End last weekend.
In the absence of Matt Clarke and Dara O’Shea, who are both currently out of action with hamstring and ankle injuries respectively, the 27-year-old has been given a chance alongside Kyle Bartley to impress at the heart of defence.
His first-team prospects have been helped by new signing Kean Bryan’s lack of fitness, with the 24-year-old only linking up with the West Midlands side two weeks ago having not been in action for any side since the expiration of his contract at Sheffield United in the summer.
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Although Clarke and Bryan could potentially be available before the next international break, Dara O’Shea’s fractured ankle, manager’s Valerien Ismael’s reluctance to use Cedric Kipre and his three-at-the-back system could allow the Nigerian international to play a big part in the Baggies’ quest to win promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
They may have only conceded two goals in the last three games, with the second-tier side’s lack of ruthlessness in the final third proving to be their main problem, but Ajayi hasn’t been immune from his critics and was even labelled ‘atrocious’ after the full-time whistle at Deepdale following their 1-1 draw with Preston North End.
However, one man who has no worries about the centre-back is ex-West Brom man Kevin Phillips, who said: “I think he’s (Ajayi) looked solid.
“He does the basics really well. He’s a big unit who’s useful in both boxes.
“They didn’t really look in danger against Derby but the slight concern is that Millwall had four opportunities on target last weekend and West Brom only had two.
“That’s a slight concern but I think Ajayi, with a run in the team, can be a decent player so I have no worries about him playing.”
You can understand why many Baggies fans were frustrated with Ajayi on Saturday, especially for his role in the lead up to Preston North End’s goal.
Whether it was a dive or a reflex action as he tried to draw a foul from Daniel Johnson’s high foot can be debated, but his misplaced header was crucial in the Lilywhites’ opener and it’s those sorts of things that can cost points.
However, the same energy must be applied to their attack who have only scored twice in their last three games since the last international break and should shoulder a sizeable proportion of the responsibility for getting into this drawing rut.
The one positive for supporters is the fact the Nigerian international has enough Premier League and Championship experience under his belt to overcome bad performances and already has a taste of promotion with the Baggies from the 2019/20 season, making 43 league appearances during that campaign.
As Phillips pointed out, he has the ability to be a threat in the opposition’s box too and showed that with a last-minute winner against Peterborough United. This is why fans should continue to have faith in the 27-year-old with their current injuries in central defence, because he has a big role to play despite Clarke and Bryan closing in on a return.