West Bromwich Albion came up against one of their toughest tests yet against Millwall at the weekend and it proved to be a test that they couldn’t get three points out of.
Four wins on the bounce in the Championship followed their opening match draw against AFC Bournemouth, and the Baggies had to settle for the same fate they achieved against the Cherries back in August.
Valerien Ismael has been hamstrung in defence by injuries to Matt Clarke and Dara O’Shea and their absences may have played a part in the Midlands side failing to defend a cross which saw Dan Ballard cancel out Kyle Bartley’s opener.
With the score 0-0 at half-time, Ismael made an alteration with winger Grady Diangana being withdrawn for Jordan Hugill, despite using his clever play to win a penalty which Karlan Grant ended up spurning.
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Diangana has started five out of the Baggies’ six league matches so far this season but has been withdrawn relatively early in four of them, and his departure at half-time on Saturday caused some confusion amongst fans – which Ismael has now cleared up.
“It was more tactical,” Ismael said, per BirminghamLive.
“I said to Grady it was nothing against him, but we needed more bodies on the pitch.
“Jordan made it brilliantly. This is exactly what I said. We need to adapt. We need to make sure we’re more flexible in our way to play.
“We needed to put more pressure on the centre-back, and at some point in the second half, we had great situations through Jordan when we could score.”
Millwall’s defence is always a tough nut to crack with many big players there, so it’s a surprise that Hugill wasn’t perhaps used from the start.
Bringing Diangana off – a player who was threatening when he got the ball as evidenced when he won his side a penalty – may have been the wrong move though.
He has lightning pace when he gets going and bringing him off after just 45 minutes may be something that Ismael regrets in hindsight.
The match is in the past now though and there’s nothing that can be done to change the end result – but fans will now be aware as to why Ismael made the decision and in a way it makes sense, with Hugill serving it up to the Lions’ defenders with his physicality.