Only in football management can converse logic such as a headache make a job easier – but that is exactly the scenario facing West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray when it comes to choosing his defenders.
With Abdoulaye Meite due to return to full fitness and with Leon Barnett, Ryan Donk and Jonas Olsson having impressed greatly at various times this season, he is in a selection dilemma.
Mowbray said: “Competition for places in any area of the pitch is good for the squad – but if you have players playing well and good players waiting for an opportunity, it’s an ideal scenario, so long as those out of the side see that those in the side are doing the job. It makes my job easier.”
The rising confidence and performance level of Albion’s defence could not have been better timed. Manchester United at Old Trafford is the next challenge awaiting the Baggies in the Premier League.
It is a fixture which, understandably, attracts caution.
Mowbray added: “I’m wary of singing our praises to loudly because we go to Manchester United next and sometimes you can get kicked up the backside if you think you are doing okay.
“I think the secret to football is recognising that and just working hard to improve every day, forming good habits and developing an understanding.
“At the moment we are doing okay – but when I analyse the games we have played it’s not as though our opponents are not having shots against us or create chances.
“I saw a stat the other day that said Scott [Carson] has made the most saves out of any keeper in the division, which suggests teams are getting to us so we are not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination and have to concentrate in what we are doing.
“Even though we have won a few games you have to look past the results.
“I say that when we get beaten, as well.
“You have to look at the performance and at the areas where we can improve.
“That’s the mantra that we follow.”
One noticeable change was the pragmatic approach to defending adopted by Donk who, for all his pleasing footballing abilities, would unashamedly punt the ball long or into the stands when the circumstance dictated.
Albion have struggled to close games out from winning positions this season by failing to compromise their open game as and when the situation demands.
With Donk’s approach now embedded in the back four, the chance of the Baggies being susceptible to late goals seems diminished.
His decision-making was greatly appreciated on the bench, especially from Mowbray and Mark Venus, defenders not adverse to the no-nonsense approach.
“It’s football intelligence,” said Mowbray.
“We spoke to the players about trying to score late on when we were leading 3-2 against West Ham and obviously these lessons are dropping in.
“We didn’t have to score another goal, and I have no problems with my teams taking the ball into the corner or just passing it across the back to keep possession.
“Ryan knows that want my defenders to pass it out from the back but if the situation determines that they put their boot through it and stick it in row Z then that’s what they have to do.
“They were obviously determined that was the time to do that and I was sitting on the bench thinking ‘well done, son’ because the ball is then 85 yards away from our goal.
“He made the right decision. It’s not compromising our belief or philosophies.
“Don’t get me wrong, if he had done that in the first ten minutes, I’d have been very unhappy with him.
“But winning football matches is what we have to be about and if we’re in a position to win the game we need to make the right decisions in the right areas of the pitch.”