Positive substitution proves priceless against Palace
STEVE Clarke admitted he took a risk by bringing on Saido Berahino against Crystal Palace but was delighted the move set up Albion’s third win of the season.
The Baggies lost Billy Jones to injury after 30 minutes with the game goalless.
But rather than replace the former Preston man like for like with a defender, the head coach switched right-sided midfielder Morgan Amalfitano to full-back and brought on forward Berahino in front of him.
It meant that Albion’s right flank had an attacking look – and the gamble paid off.
England Under-21 international Berahino broke the deadlock a minute before the break with his tenth goal for club and country this season and Gareth McAuley made the points safe by heading home a corner seven minutes from time.
“I don’t know who’s going to take the credit for that one!” joked Clarke, who was more interested in saluting his players’ application than taking any personal praise for the substitution.
“First and foremost, I was disappointed to lose Billy so early in the game.
“I thought it was a little bit too early to bring on a defender so I risked it a little bit by moving Morgan to right-back.
“I checked to make sure he was comfortable playing at right-back, which he was, and Saido came onto the pitch.
“Saido did what he does best. He only really got one clear chance in the game and scored from it.”
Berahino’s potency in front of goal will no doubt earn rave reviews but Clarke was just as pleased with his work ethic.
He added: “As well as Saido’s goal threat, he does his job for the team. That’s really pleasing.
“I put an attacking midfield player to right-back and brought on an attacking player in front of him.
“Saido always does his defensive work and he did a fantastic job on that front today.
“Defensively, both Saido and Morgan deserve a lot of credit.”
Today’s game was played in blustery conditions that were not conducive to free-flowing football but Clarke was more bothered about the points than the performance.
“I don’t think the game would have been a great spectacle for the fans but it was an important win,” said the Baggies boss, whose team have moved up to 11th place.
“It was really windy and the conditions were difficult.
“Neither team really got to grips with them. Also, for some reason, the pitch played a little bit slow.
“But for us the most important thing was to get back on track and get three points at home.
“We had to be patient.
“We saw how Keith Millen shaped Palace up at home to Arsenal last week and they did very well.
“They restricted Arsenal to few opportunities and we knew that would be the case again today.
“Fortunately for us, we got the goal just before half-time and the only disappointing thing was that we didn’t get the second goal sooner.
“We had some really good counter-attack opportunities and we didn’t make the most of them.”
Clarke was also pleased to see Northern Ireland team-mates Chris Brunt and McAuley join forces with deadly effect for the second time this season.
“Chris and Gareth have become a formidable combination on corners,” said Clarke.
“It was similar to the goal we scored at Fulham.
“Along with all of his other attributes, Chris has got a fantastic set-play delivery.
“We felt the game would be tight, difficult and not a great spectacle because there was a lot riding on it for both teams.
“Sometimes, a set play can be the difference so Chris’ delivery was very important today.”