‘At no point’ Why West Brom had the last laugh in win over Luton Town – Paul Suart
As West Brom’s players gathered for a team-talk, as their FA Cup fourth-round replay was about to head into extra-time one voice was heard above all others.
It wasn’t that of Darren Moore, Albion’s head coach at the time. It was Graeme Jones, Moore’s ‘second-in-command’ whom the players had huddled round for tactical pointers and motivational messages.
That moment was very much a snapshot of the dynamic that existed under the double act at The Hawthorns.
Jones held the title of assistant head coach, but was essentially running things. It was his vision to play out from the back with a three-man defence.
A ploy that cost West Brom many cheap goals and was eventually scrapped in favour of a flat back four and a not-so-fussy philosophy in possession drawn straight out of Moore’s rookie coaching manual.
A few short weeks after that telling cup clash in February, Moore and Jones were shown the door. Even before that time, Jones had agreed to take over at Luton, where he and the Baggies became reacquainted yesterday.
Jones wasn’t the only Albion old boy in Luton’s ranks. Martin Cranie, a trialist last summer, and Callum McManaman, Tony Pulis’ first signing as Baggies boss, started the match.
West Brom academy graduate Izzy Brown was among the subs, but there was no place for Brendan Galloway, another of Pulis’ signings.
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Almost inevitably, one of the four was involved in Luton’s opener. Cranie crossed for Harry Cornick to hand the Hatters a first-half lead.
So many old faces, but it was a new hand – albeit one well known to head coach Slaven Bilic – that turned the tide for Albion.
On his first league start for the Baggies, Grady Diangana, a half-time substitute for Kyle Edwards, scored twice in three minutes to turn the match in a flash.
Neither arrived via exploitation of Luton’s expansive approach under Jones. One was a superlative strike, after Diangana dropped his shoulder to create a yard of space.
The second was all about improvisation with Diangana arcing his run to redirect Filip Krovinovic’s deflected strike.
With no hint of a back three, only a discernible desire to play the possession game Jones had wanted to employ in the West Midlands, Luton huffed and puffed but found no way back as the Baggies starved them of the ball.
At no point did the 1,000-strong travelling contingent of Albion fans aim a dig in Jones’ direction or display a grudge against the man who derailed Moore’s first mission in management.
They didn’t really need to. The last laugh was theirs.