With Valerien Ismael’s West Bromwich Albion side heading into Friday night’s fixture having suffered their first defeat of the season last time out, the Frenchman would have undoubtedly been hoping to get the Baggies’ automatic promotion push back on track with a win in the West Midlands derby against Birmingham City.
While it was by no means the most convincing victory in the world, Albion just about managed to get over the line, with Karlan Grant’s strike 15 minutes from time being enough for Ismael’s side to take all three points, with the 1-0 result sending the Baggies to the top of the Championship table.
However, rather than the match-winning Grant or any of West Brom’s clean sheet-keeping back three, it was Conor Townsend who stole the show against the Blues, with the 28-year-old playing an influential role in Albion’s win from left wing-back.
Having been deployed on the left-hand side of the West Brom back three in recent weeks, covering for the injured Matt Clarke, the return of the previously stricken centre-back facilitated Towsend’s move back to his more natural position on the pitch.
The £1.8m-rated man did not disappoint, boasting 83 touches of the ball – more than any other player to feature in the match – completing both of his attempted dribbles and having three shots at the Birmingham City goal, as well as making two interceptions and three tackles.
The left wing-back also attempted a whopping 13 crosses and six long balls over his 90 minutes on the pitch, and while only three crosses and one long ball found their intended target, the 28-year-old’s sheer number of attempts demonstrates just how much of a creative influence he was in the match. That was something which ultimately saw him lose possession of the ball 32 times.
While this latter stat can be viewed in a negative light – as, in the black and white of it, the defender gave away the ball more often than any other player on the night – it’s worth taking into account the fact that a player such as Trent Alexander-Arnold has lost possession an average of 23.4 times per game so far this season. Therefore, it can also be used as a barometer for how many risky and defence-splitting passes a player attempts.
This was certainly the case for Townsend against Birmingham, with The Athletic’s West Brom correspondent Steve Madeley stating his belief on Twitter that the £14k-per-week full-back looked “confident on the ball” and was “full of running” in the fixture – as well as claiming that the choice to award the defender the Man of the Match award was the “easiest decision of the night.”
While Townsend’s SofaScore match rating of 6.8 saw him statistically rank as Albion’s joint third-worst player to start against the Blues, in reality, the wing-back’s efforts over the course of the 90 minutes deserve much praise indeed.