West Brom’s worst possible nightmare was realised on Saturday afternoon when Dwight Gayle was sent off for a second bookable offence.
The striker scored a brilliant opening goal against Aston Villa after capitalising on a mistake from Glenn Whelan, but it was his own rush of blood that may well have cost his side in their bid for promotion.
Last weekend’s game could turn out to be his last in an Albion shirt. The forward will return to Newcastle this summer with his future unclear.
In his absence, the burden will fall on Jay Rodriguez, who is not shy of goals himself having notched 22 this term. Gayle has scored 23 times though so his suspension will be felt right throughout the team. With this in mind, how can Jimmy Shan fix this crisis to ensure Albion come through the play-offs?
With no Gayle then Shan will have to change the system. There is no way he can rely on a formation which has seen him play two strikers, simply because they only have one option.
However, the Baggies boss can still use elements of the way he’s set up his team in the past. As usual, plan A sees Albion deploy three centre-halves, but with two wingers in the side, it means there is only room for a duo in midfield.
As a result, Rekeem Harper will likely miss out again so the tried and tested combination of Stefan Johansen and Chris Brunt will start. Unfortunately for Albion, they will likely have to rely on transfer flop Jacob Murphy on one wing and Matt Phillips, who looked short of fitness last Saturday, on the other.
The former simply hasn’t been good enough after arriving on loan, scoring just twice. Now is his time to shine, though, particularly as Jefferson Montero has barely played since his own January move.
Going into the second leg, West Brom will need goals. As such, our second plan sees them go more attacking, changing the system to a four-man defence. This means that Kyle Bartley could drop out.
With Albion possibly exploring the option of an attacking formation then Johansen can be utilised in a number ten role, just behind Rodriguez. To offer a more balanced nature Sam Field may come into midfield.
However, the sole issue lies with Shan’s attacking options. Albion don’t have enough depth and because of that, they’ll be reliant on Murphy to finally discover some form.