West Brom's Stoke Hoodoo finally coming to an end

Posted by Matthew Evans

AP Photo/Malcolm Couzens/CSMWest Brom's Stephane Sessegnon was denied twice in one-on-one situations by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on Saturday.

It seems that West Bromwich Albion have overcome their hoodoo against Stoke City, at least away from home -- the Baggies are now unbeaten in four games at the Britannia Stadium. What reaffirms this is that West Brom came away from Saturday's 0-0 draw disappointed that they only got one point, a result that they would have taken in a heartbeat a couple of years ago.

Stephane Sessegnon has been superb for West Brom since arriving on Deadline Day from Sunderland, but if there could be one criticism of his displays so far, it would be that he should have more than the one goal he has this season. Sessegnon found himself in a one-on-one situation with Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on two occasions, and it was the goalkeeper who came out on top in both of those moments.

Sessegnon created both chances for himself with his superb dribbling ability, while he also created a similar opportunity for Morgan Amalfitano. He too was denied by the superb Begovic, although an usually poor first touch from the onloan right winger made the opportunity a lot more difficult than it should have been. It is perhaps the one area that Albion are lacking. With a natural goal-scorer in the side, West Brom would have won that game at a canter.

Despite the disappointment at West Brom only getting a point, the performance offered yet more signs of encouragement this season should be a successful one. When West Brom play Stoke, they struggled to impose their own style, instead being sucked into the type of game in which flourish. Saturday was the complete opposite -- Albion imposed their style of play from the off, with their best spell coming in the opening half-hour.

The Baggies were keeping control of the ball, with Victor Anichebe initially causing all sorts of problems for Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross with his power and hold-up play. Anichebe's influence declined as the game went on as the Stoke pair started to dominate the physical battle. But the way Anichebe started is what allowed Albion to flourish and set the tone for the rest of the game, with Stoke forced into mostly counter-attacking moves.

The midfield pairing of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu were another reason for West Brom's flow of attacks. Yacob seems to be back to his best after a slow start to the season and the midfield battle that took place in the draw was the type of situation in which the Argentine flourishes.

He was constantly breaking the play up, either with a tackle or being in the right place to make an interception before quickly moving the ball on. The statistics back up the importance of Yacob in the clash, with Stoke, with the Argentine contributing to West Brom 100 percent success rate in tackling, while Yacob also completed an outstanding 39 of 43 passes attempted, giving him a completion rate of 90.7 percent.

Earlier in the season, it seemed that Yacob would have to be dropped from the side in order to give West Brom some creativity in the middle of the park. Steve Clarke's reverting back to the 4-2-3-1 formation, in addition to the signings of Sessegnon and Amalfitano, has allowed Yacob to once again flourish.

There is no longer a burden upon him to provide a creative impetus, which has allowed him to return to doing what he does best. With his displays agains Manchester United, Arsenal and now Stoke, Yacob has once again made himself one of the first names on Albion's team sheet. But if Yacob was good Saturday, Mulumbu was absolutely outstanding, easily the best player on the pitch.

The Congolese international has been a pivotal figure under every coach he has played for at Albion. But his performance against Stoke was, I believe, the best he has put in for West Brom. Up against a tough midfield pairing of Charlie Adam and Steven N'Zonzi, Mulumbu's all-action display meant they barely had a look in all game.

Mulumbu's play was the very definition of box-to-box -- one moment he was winning the ball in front of his own penalty area, the next he was attacking Stoke's penalty area and creating chances for his team-mates. He was the controversial figure in the match, being denied a blatant penalty when Adam tripped Mulumbu after picking up the ball from a short corner and driving into the box until Adam's foul that never was. M

Mulumbu nearly managed to top off his man-of-the-match display with a goal, curling a left-footed effort just wide from 25 yards out. It would have been fitting if Mulumbu was to win the game, as he was head and shoulders above any of the other outfield players from either side.

West Brom look to have put their sluggish start to season firmly behind them, with Yacob and Mulumbu returning to form and the outstanding creative talents of Amalfitano and Sessegnon coming to the fore. All Albion need is to find the right forward for this system and they will continue to flourish, perhaps even managing to beat Stoke along the way.


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