The curtain fell on another unsuccessful season for West Bromwich Albion in a 3-2 loss away to Swansea City on May 8, 2023, the match itself epitomised their season. A brief glimpse of hope followed by sadness and disappointment. A season of few highs and many lows saw them finish 9th in the Championship despite a chance of playoffs on the final day.
A season marred by off-field problems and protests has left Baggies fans worrying for the future, but they need to look for positives in what seems to be a dark time for the club. An exciting young coach and a starting 11 that has shown itself to be capable of winning football matches when fit. This piece will look to focus on those positives and celebrate the players and moments who gave West Brom fans hope.
West Brom’s season started with Steve Bruce at the helm and a 1-1 draw away to Middlesborough. This was the start of a run of games that saw them win only 1 in their opening 14 games. Poor tactics and the persistent selection of David Button saw Bruce lose his job in October, following a 0-0 draw with Luton which left West Brom 22nd in the league. Their form didn’t improve under interim boss Richard Beale either, one win in three games under Beale saw them drop to 23rd and in real danger of relegation.
Then came Carlos Corberan, who following a loss to Sheffield United in his first match in charge oversaw an 11-match unbeaten run at home, putting West Brom in play-off contention. Unfortunately for Corbbean, a mixture of injuries and player underperformance saw West Brom fall short.
A theme of dropping points from winning positions would emerge towards the end of the season. They were leading in matches against Cardiff, Rotherham, QPR, Sunderland and Swansea but only went on to take two points out of a possible 15. If they had held onto just a few of these leads it’s likely they would’ve had a playoff spot secured before the final day. Instead, West Brom will be playing Championship football next season for the third straight year and the fifth year in six.
Player of the Season: Dara O’Shea
You could argue that Okay Yokuslu, Jed Wallace and Jayson Molumby all deserve this award but, none are as influential to the way West Brom plays as Dara O’Shea. Crucial both defensively and in the build-up phase, West Brom seemed to crumble without him. His start to the season wasn’t great and he was a mainstay in the defence that couldn’t stop conceding first with Bruce in charge but as did most of the team his form improved under Corberan.
This a prime example of the idea that if every player in the defence is playing badly the defenders probably aren’t the problem. O’Shea quickly established himself as the most important player in the best defensive team in the league, thanks to Corberan instilling a more stable and compact system than Bruce, which allowed defenders to thrive.
His season was ended prematurely by an injury sustained on international duty in April and his loss is a big reason for West Brom missing out on playoffs. Before his injury, West Brom conceded eight goals in their last nine matches. This number would rise to 14 in nine with O’Shea unavailable.
West Brom didn’t just get worse defensively either. The loss of O’Shea saw them struggling massively in build-up which led to them having to be more direct, sacrificing control. He wins my Player of the Year award for his importance to the team and excellent form since the arrival of Corberan.
Signing of the Season: Okay Yokuslu
West Brom signed Yokuslu on a free transfer following his release from Spanish club Celta Vigo. He joined on a three-year deal and was West Brom’s marquee signing in the summer. Yokuslu was almost solely responsible for any feel-good factor around the club at the beginning of the season. When he was unveiled at The Hawthorns in a pre-season friendly vs Hertha Berlin, it felt as if he could be the one to define West Brom’s season.
He came with a wealth of top-flight experience, including a loan spell at West Brom in the second half of the 2020/21 season, that was expected to be crucial if they were to get back into the Premier League. The Turkish international struggled with fitness initially and didn’t seem to hit form until around November. But after his rough start, he established himself as one of the best players in the league.
There wasn’t a better defensive screen in the Championship last season as Yokuslu was imperious in the air whilst also consistently winning the ball back on the ground. His importance stretched beyond just defending though and his match-winning goals against Preston and Blackpool helped West Brom take the playoff race to the wire.
Goal of the Season: Brandon Thomas-Asante vs. Stoke City (November 12, 2022)
A genuine contender for the EFL Goal of the Season and the open-play goal of Corberan’s reign. Thomas-Asante showcased his confidence and ingenuity with an excellent bicycle kick against Midlands rivals Stoke City.
WHAT A GOAL BY BRANDON THOMAS-ASANTE
— The Second Tier (@secondtierpod) November 12, 2022
Unsung Hero: Erik Pieters
Pieters arrived on a free transfer in the summer transfer window and was expected to offer competition for the left-back position, but, Kyle Bartley’s persistent injury problems meant that he was required at centre-back. Much to the surprise of West Brom fans he made the position his own by using his left-footedness and excellent ground defending to his advantage. He played 36 matches last season, contributing to 14 clean sheets along the way. Likely, his contract won’t be renewed by West Brom but nobody can complain about the 34-year old’s contributions last season.
Most Improved Player: Jayson Molumby
Many were shocked when they found out that Jayson Molumby’s loan deal had a £900k purchase obligation at the end of last season. He didn’t impress during his loan and struggled to get into the starting 11 over Jake Livermore and Alex Mowatt. When he established himself as one of West Brom’s most important players last season, it was a pleasant surprise for the fans.
The ex-Brighton man’s energy was infectious and fans fell in love with the Irishman. One of his most impressive traits is his fluidity on the turn which made him a key part of West Brom’s build-up structure, somewhat surprising if you consider the fact that he was seen as nothing more than a roadrunner during his first season at the club.
Moment of the Season: Brandon Thomas-Asante’s 98th-minute Goal vs. Burnley
West Brom required quality additions in forward areas in the summer so eyebrows were, understandably, raised when they brought in Brandon Thomas-Asante from League Two side Salford City. However, when he came off the bench with West Brom 1-0 down to Burnley, his scoring the equaliser was a real moment to watch.
A debut goal in your first ever Championship appearance after coming off the bench to equalise on 98 minutes.
That must feel incredibly sweet for Brandon Thomas-Asante. pic.twitter.com/uuAhuUpAfW
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) September 2, 2022
The 24-year-old scored 7 goals in 33 Championship appearances this season, and after spells at MK Dons, Sutton United, Ebbsfleet and Salford, it looks like he will have a key role to play for the Baggies as they seek to return to England’s top-flight.
By: Rickylee Griffiths / @rickyleegriffi2
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Adam Fradgley / West Brom