Trio of games crucial after loss

Posted by Matthew Evans

Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesVictor Anichebe's last minute goal was a bit too little, too late for West Brom against Manchester City.

West Brom's next three games are now crucial encounters following their 3-2 defeat to Manchester City at the Hawthorns.

- Report: West Brom 2-3 Man City

Albion only have three league wins this season, two of those coming from home games against Crystal Palace and Sunderland, the bottom two sides in the division. Their next three games pit Albion against Norwich, Cardiff and Hull, sides who will be in and around The Baggies at the end of the season. Steve Clarke will be targeting two wins from the home games while he will also be hopeful of getting at least a point from the away game with Cardiff.

While talk of Clarke being under pressure is premature, these games will have a large influence on West Brom's fortunes this season, certainly more so than games against the top sides. Despite how far The Baggies have come in recent seasons, and Clarke's attitude to these games, picking up points against the top sides in the division are still just "bonus" points.

It was the performance that was more disappointing than the result. In the first twenty minutes, Albion showed far too much respect for Manuel Pellegrini's side. It was only once West Brom went 2-0 down that The Baggies started to press and get into the face of City a bit more, but by that point it was too late. Man City were just able to coast through the rest of the game, not ever really getting out of second gear.

The absence of Youssuff Mulumbu was certainly noticeable; this was the kind of game where Clarke would have loved to employ the Mulumbu/Claudio Yacob midfield axis that provided the backbone to many of West Brom's better performances in his tenure. Yacob was outstanding after the initial onslaught from City, but without Mulumbu alongside him, he was left to break up play by himself.

Chris Brunt played alongside him and I thought he did well in a position that isn't his natural one, but he's never going to be able to dominate Yaya Toure in a midfield battle. The hustle and bustle style of Mulumbu would have been more effective than Brunt's ball-playing ability.

The two late goals made the match look a lot closer than it actually was, with the final score-line certainly flattering West Brom. While their second half performance was more like the kind of display that Clarke expects from his players, they were still kept at arms' length. On a couple of occasions, West Brom worked some decent openings, but as has been the problem for most of this season, they lacked that final bit of quality in their delivery or finish.

Morgan Amalfitano was probably the biggest culprit. The Frenchman has been very impressive since arriving at the club, but he struggled to produce a decent final ball in his time on the pitch. He seemed to have the beating of Aleksandar Kolarov, but too often he tried to go past another player when it wasn't needed or put in a cross that could be dealt with easily by the City defence.

One positive from the game was the impact of Victor Anichebe and Matej Vydra when they came on. Anichebe scored his first goal for The Baggies by rolling Martin Demichelis with his strength before finishing clinically. Vydra has had few opportunities since arriving at The Hawthorns, but he looked lively in his cameo, linking well with Anichebe and creating both of West Brom's goals.

The defeat to City has left Clarke with some interesting decisions to make for the game with Norwich at the Hawthorns on Saturday. The first of these is at the back, with Jonas Olsson suspended for the game after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season. Clarke has the choice of Craig Dawson or Diego Lugano to partner Gareth McAuley at the heart of the defence. With Lugano being the man covering centre back from the bench, I expect it will be him who is given the nod.

This would mark the Uruguay captain's first start in the Premier League and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pace of the game, which was something he struggled with on his debut against Newport in the Capital One Cup. But in the next round he played well and coped with the pace a lot better, against a much better side.

Another dilemma comes in midfield. Mulumbu returns from suspension and should come straight back into the side. Clarke then has to decide whether to return to the Mulumbu/Yacob axis or choose a more creative player in that role, like Brunt or James Morrison. If Clarke goes for Yacob, he then faces another decision to make.

Saido Berahino was once more very impressive playing from the wide left, looking a constant goal threat and adding pace to Albion's attacks. It comes down to a straight choice between him or the more experienced Brunt, who offers a greater creative outlet with his quality from dead ball situations.

These decisions will give an indication as to how Clarke intends to approach the game and with the need for victories getting ever greater, I think Clarke will look to take the attack to Norwich from the off.

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