West Brom's Tactics Against Everton Show Why They Will Miss Shane Long

Ed WatsonContributor IJanuary 21, 2014

Shane Long when he played for West Bromwich Albion
Shane Long when he played for West Bromwich AlbionMichael Regan/Getty Images

West Bromwich Albion earned themselves a point last night at home to Everton, but was their performance evidence that they will miss striker Shane Long for the second half of the season?

Let’s start with arguments that support West Brom’s decision to sell Long to Premier League rivals Hull City last week.

Long came close to signing for Hull on transfer deadline day in September last year. Since then, his career off the pitch became an ongoing saga of an unresolved new contract. As far as West Brom are concerned, they have accepted a more than reasonable offer for a player that wasn’t going to sign a new contract unless they paid him a lot of money.

On the pitch, stats aren’t supporting a case to keep him, either. He ranks halfway down West Brom’s average match ratings this season, via Opta stats on whoscored.com. And while his three goals makes him the club’s second top scorer, it’s not the most amazing return from 11 starts.

But here’s why West Brom will miss the 26-year-old, who has proved himself to be a well thought of player in the Premier League, with recent interest from Newcastle, Stoke and Tottenham Hotspur.

Pepe Mel admitted in his post-match interview with Sky Sports that now that Long has left, he is looking for a striker. George Cushnie highlighted to B/R readers last week that the club could struggle both for goals and to find a replacement.

On evidence of last night’s game, though, had contract situations been resolved between Long and West Brom, he would have been a very nice fit into a Pepe Mel team.

Where West Brom really caused Everton problems was when the two strikers closed down the Everton back line effectively and gave their midfield and defence the chance to push up.

Nicholas Anelka did this well for the opening 10 to 15 minutes, but once he and strike partner Matej Vydra began to sit back a little, that was when Everton played their best football and caused West Brom problems—scoring in the process.

Cue the second half, and the introduction of Victor Anichebe—they looked a different side. West Brom closed the Everton back line down better. He gave them a focal point up front, allowing them to play through the middle and work the Everton defence.

So why would they need Shane Long if it was Anichebe who made the difference?

Anichebe has started just five games this season. If he can keep himself fit and keep up the level of performance he showed last night, then West Brom are onto a winner.

With the addition of Long in the front line, though, they would have someone who will close defenders down for 90 minutes, run the channels and take some of the pressure off the midfield.

As Baggies Blog via Metro points out, Long doesn’t hold the ball up well enough to play as a lone striker. However, in a pairing alongside the flair of experienced Nicholas Anelka, or promising youngster Saido Berahino, having a player that will close down defenders and run into strong attacking positions could prove a lethal combination.

Long showed against Aston Villa, that on his day, he isn’t half bad when it comes to doing his main job—scoring goals. Of course, that was one stand-out performance, but it was in a one up front system.

If he had the chance to play as part of a front two under Pepe Mel he’d be able to play the role of supporting striker, feeding his strike partner from the attacking positions he creates down the channels, instead of having to hold the ball up for incoming support.

The fact is the four strikers, Anichebe, Anelka, Berahino and Vydra are all capable of keeping West Brom in the Premier League should they play at their best consistently.

But if, as Mel says, they are looking for a striker; seeing the aggressive, closing down high up the pitch style that they played last night, the perfect player with Premier League experience to fill that gap is Shane Long.

Off the pitch, with his contract situation and the price offered by Hull, the decision to sell him makes perfect sense. But on the pitch, the reality for West Bromwich Albion appears that the striker they are looking for is, in fact, the most recent departure from the club.