Billy Jones starting to excel

Posted by Matthew Evans

Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United/Getty ImagesBilly Jones became the first English player to score this season for West Brom with his strike against Newcastle.

Well it wasn't the goal-fest that I predicted but West Brom's 1-1 draw with Newcastle at The Hawthorns still had its fair share of excitement, with Billy Jones outstanding for the home side.

- Match report: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle

There has been some doubt over Jones' capabilities as a first choice Premier League fullback. Since signing last summer on a free transfer from Preston, most fans have been impressed with his attacking ability but question marks remained over his defensive skills. All too often it seemed that goals were resulting from moves on his side of the pitch.

Since returning to the side after Steven Reid picked up an injury, Jones has shown none of these defensive frailties. He has dealt with the aerial threat of Stoke and West Ham admirably, while also getting man of the match against the smaller, more technical players of Arsenal.

Having said all that, it was his attacking that earned him a lot of praise today. He and Goran Popov were the two players forced to provide width for West Brom, as the wide midfielders Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans played very narrow. In the first half, Jones really should have had a penalty. James Perch committed a foul inside the box but the referee instead gave a free kick.

In the second half, Jones got his reward for a fine display by getting West Brom's equaliser. It was a nice move from the Baggies, one which Jones was involved in himself before finishing it off with a calm stroke past Rob Elliot. It was a thoroughly deserved goal for Jones, his first for the Baggies and the first by an English player for Albion this season.

The match was the very definition of a game of two halves. In spite of the penalty that should have been, West Brom were terrible. Their play lacked any cohesion or imagination, they couldn't keep the ball, tackles were being shirked and there was some downright awful defending. Players who are usually so reliable were very below par, particularly those at the core of the side.

Gareth McAuley is West Brom's player of the season-elect but the Northern Irishman was nowhere near his best. He hardly managed to pass the ball to his own teammates, while one passing exchange between him and Jonas Olsson nearly gifted Newcastle a second goal. In general, the defending was all over the place, not something that has been associated with The Baggies in recent times. Were it not for some good saves from Ben Foster, Albion could have quite easily been out of the game.

The Newcastle goal came from an uncharacteristic Claudio Yacob error. The Argentine international is normally so calm when receiving the ball in his own half but it was taken off him and from that Newcastle took the lead.

It was evident that Yacob and West Brom really missed the presence of Youssuff Mulumbu in the middle of the park. The midfielder takes a lot of the pressure off Yacob as he is an easy out-ball; Mulumbu will take it forward and drive, shifting defence to attack. No other West Brom midfielder has this in their locker.

Steve Clarke must take a lot of credit for the tactical change he made at halftime, taking off Yacob and replacing him with Shane Long. It was certainly a risky move, as it meant moving Chris Brunt to the centre of midfield with James Morrison. The two are good passers of the ball but in terms of breaking up play, they are very limited.

Fortunately with the change, Albion's approach also differed. The movement of the ball was a lot quicker. The Baggies looked to get the ball into wider areas and stretch the Newcastle defence a bit more, rather than clustering the middle of the park with bodies. Long put in his best performance for a good while. He didn't really have a chance to score but his pace meant West Brom could get in behind the Newcastle defence and allowed him to link up well with both Romelu Lukaku and Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Clarke has shown this season that he is not afraid to take a bit of an attacking risk with his substitutions, but questions must be asked of why in recent times West Brom have become such a poor first half side. The previous two games have seen slow starts against West Ham and Arsenal, starts that ultimately cost The Baggies those games.

The players never seem to come out with any real urgency to their game; they sit back and defend rather than looking to take the game to the opposition from the start. It's hard to tell the reasons for this. It's not formation as Clarke has tried a 4-4-2 and a 4-5-1 but the first half performances have been the same.

The head coach said prior to the game that the players had a lot of pent-up frustrations after having only two games in 34 days. They certainly didn't show it in a first half that was below par and lethargic.

Luckily, Clarke seems to be able to get his troops fired up at halftime, as comebacks against the likes of Aston Villa, Swansea and now Newcastle have shown. West Brom are now only one win away from beating their record Premier League tally, which will be a fantastic achievement.

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