Brave changes pay off for Downing

Posted by Matthew Evans

A point at White Hart Lane Thursday for West Brom was a good result, but because of their poor recent form, it didn't really change their fortunes.

This season, Albion have been pretty adept at taking points from games where they aren't expected to get anything, having done so against Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and now Tottenham following their 1-1 draw. However, taking only one point from three very winnable games against Norwich, Cardiff and Hull meant that the point at White Hart Lane wasn't really enough.

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It seems West Brom find it easier to play against the top sides than against teams in and around them. This maybe down to the fact that the bigger sides will look to attack in large numbers, which in turn gives Albion more space and the opportunity to play on the counter-attack. Against sides on a similar level, particularly at home, the onus is on West Brom to take the attack to the opposition and break them down, which they can struggle with.

That's not to say there wasn't plenty of positives to take from the draw. The first of these positives being the way some of the Baggies fringe players performed. It was clear from previous fixtures that some fresh blood needed to be injected, simply to provide some new ideas. The likes of Matej Vydra and Zoltan Gera were given their first starts of the season and the duo showed signs of developing a good understanding that was first forged when they combined for the equaliser against Hull.

Vydra is the only senior striker on Albion's books who hadn't been given a chance to start in the League this season. But a couple of impressive performances from the substitutes bench, coupled with the general poor form or absence of West Brom's other strikers, meant he simply had to be given a chance. Vydra seems to offer a completely different dimension to the Baggies' other strikers; he looks to play off the shoulder of the last defence and makes runs in behind rather than playing in front of the defence like Nicolas Anelka or Victor Anichebe.

With the Czech international up front, West Brom seemed to play a more attractive style than in the previous few weeks, when Shane Long has been employed up front. When Long plays up front, Albion are far too quick to try and find the Irishman with a long ball, which often just leads to the opposition winning the ball back and attacking again. Vydra doesn't have the same aerial ability as Long, nor does he make the same runs, so Albion were forced to adapt.

In Zoltan Gera, Vydra had the perfect foil. There is no one else in the Albion squad who possesses Gera's level of guile and quality in the final third. The Hungarian is capable of providing a final delicate pass, bit of movement or shot on goal that West Brom have been lacking in recent weeks. Gera's recent injuries and his age (34) mean he is unlikely to be able to start a long run of games. But even if he is just coming off the bench, Gera will be an important player for Albion in the second half of the season.

Great credit must also go to caretaker manager Keith Downing for the tactical changes he made, going completely left-field and employing a 5-3-1-1 formation that seemed to catch Spurs off guard as much as it caught the West Brom fans off guard when the team was announced. Whenever a manager makes a bold move with his selections, questions will inevitably be asked before the game, and this selection did leave many fearing the worst, with key players such as Gareth McAuley, Billy Jones and Youssuff Mulumbu all on the bench.

However, the players Downing bought into the side all performed well, which meant that the formation worked and he is getting credited rather than criticised for his selections. Diego Lugano looked far more comfortable as part of a three-man central defensive unit. It was also a good opportunity for Craig Dawson to stake a claim for a more regular slot, and he did himself no harm with a solid performance at the back.

There was the aforementioned Vydra and Gera, while James Morrison and Morgan Amalfitano also returned to the side. It is no surprise that those two were far more impressive at White Hart Lane than they have been recently, as the ball was kept on the floor rather than being sent sailing over their heads.

Not only was the selection effective for this game, but it may also prove a moment of genius in regards to West Brom's next game, a bottom-of-the-table clash with West Ham on Saturday. I'd expect Jones, McAuley and Mulumbu to return to the side; keeping those three fresh may mean they are able to go that extra yard in what is a crucial fixture. I'd also expect to see Gera drop out having started his first game for over a year, probably for Stephane Sessengeon. A win for West Brom in their final fixture of 2013 would be a good end to what has been a year of struggle.

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