West Brom recorded back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time this season on Monday evening and it largely was thanks to a blinding call from Sam Allardyce.
The 66-year-old was left with plenty to ponder following his side’s emphatic 5-2 win over Chelsea last weekend. Callum Robinson fired a huge message to the Baggies boss by bagging a brace from the bench at Stamford Bridge, whilst Blues loanee Conor Gallagher was available for selection again having not been able to face his parent club.
However, Allardyce tweaked his backline, reverting to a back four rather than the five which largely kept the Blues at bay. The decision saw Semi Ajayi ruthlessly axed but it certainly paid dividends.
After such an impressive display at Stamford Bridge, you could forgive Big Sam if he stuck with the same lineup, but Robinson had to fit in somewhere and unfortunately for the 27-year-old Ajayi, it was he who made way. Instead, Albion’s commander opted for a central defensive partnership of Kyle Bartley and Dara O’Shea.
Southampton dominated possession (61%) and had had a whopping 14 attempts at goal throughout the 90 minutes, but that pairing stood firm to thwart the threat on offer from the likes of prolific goalscorer Danny Ings and wily veteran Theo Walcott. The Baggies centre-back duo lost just two of 17 duels between them and also combined for ten clearances, as per SofaScore.
Given the lack of height on offer from the opposition, it’s no wonder the 6 foot 4 colossus was axed, but had the final result gone the other way, Allardyce would’ve undoubtedly come under fire as Ajayi is a hugely popular fan favourite at The Hawthorns.
Many times throughout their promotion-winning campaign last term, the Baggies faithful were quick to laud the Nigerian as an absolute “bargain” and emphasised how he must play every game, as seen in this piece from Football LeagueWorld.
He went on to make the Sky Sports EFL podcast’s Team of the Year, where Keith Andrews said of the 27-year-old: “When you look at Ajayi and what he’s achieved; how quickly he’s settled into the team, he’s become a leader and a massive player for them. He’s been a revelation, the way he’s taken to a team striving for promotion and the partnership he’s built up with Karl Bartley has been very impressive.”
More recently, Ajayi had been a rock for Big Sam, helping keep Manchester United to just one goal whilst he has found the net twice in big occasions. He bagged that all-important equaliser at Anfield and also scored in the West Midlands derby win over Wolves.
“Watched Ajayi a few times and he’s getting better all the time,” gushed West Ham legend Trevor Sinclair in January. “[He] steps in really well and threat in opposition box. Talent.”
To risk dropping the £9m-rated beast was certainly a massive call to make from Allardyce, but on the evidence witnessed on Monday evening, it proved to be a masterstroke decision from the West Brom manager.
Ajayi could well fit it hard to get back into the starting XI after Bartley and O’Shea’s domination against the Saints.
AND in other news, Forget Maitland-Niles: THIS Baggies star stole the show at the Hawthorns…