Clement primes the contenders

Gillingham 0 West Bromwich Albion 2
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The Independent Football

Whether West Brom have the quality to do better in the Premiership than they did last time is not a question to ask this early in their challenge to get out of the First Division, which they now lead. But the way they completely dominated Gillingham at Priestfield Stadium yesterday bodes well for their optimism.

So far this season Albion's determination to regain Premiership status has generally manifested itself at home where they remain unbeaten, but away they usually concede more goals than they score.

Yesterday all that changed. Their manager, Gary Megson, said that they anticipated that Gillingham would give them a tough battle, "because they are a capable side".

In the event, Albion lanced the game's problems before half-time, Megson's fears were not justified and Gillingham looked anything but capable.

Having seen Gillingham's returning Marlon King slice a third-minute shot close by the far post, from player-manager Andy Hessenthaler's typically precise pass into the penalty area, and survive a similarly dangerous rasping header from Mamady Sidibe, at first Albion settled into the midfield congestion.

Gillingham began by having the better of that area and turned their possession into the greater number of luke-warm opportunities. Neither goalkeeper came under heated pressure, however, until the 26th minute.

Gillingham's keeper, Jason Brown, could not have done much to deny Albion taking the lead because the rest of the defence got caught wrongly thinking that Scott Dobie was offside as he chased on to a long ball from Phil Gilchrist. Dobie ran on and calmly beat the oncoming Brown.

Only three minutes later, Gillingham found themselves further disrupted from what had seemed to be the makings of a productive day. Having given away a free-kick some 25 yards out, they assumed that their extended wall would be sufficient. Instead it was comprehensively beaten when Neil Clement found a gap and avoided Brown low at the near post.

The absence of Jason Koumas from Albion's attack seemingly was costing them little, while Gillingham's King could make nothing of the chances he was offered. Meantime, Albion simply waited to spot more opportunities to break away at pace before consolidating.

It was obvious that Sidibe and King versus an Albion back-four that, as the game wore on, was reinforced at any sign of danger, were not only outnumbered, but outwitted. Sidibe was replaced in the second half by Trevor Benjamin but the tactical situation remained unchanged. Albion were comfortably in control defensively and Gillingham were offering too few ideas.

Even when defending a less solid lead than they held here, Albion are usually a capable unit. Gillingham continued to ring the changes, bringing on Tommy Johnson to add some width, but it was in the centre of the attack where nothing went right.

If Albion can continue to show their more positive attributes away from home and then take such impressive control in defence they will surely remain contenders for automatically regaining their place in the higher division.

As for Gillingham, Hessenthaler admitted: "When we go a goal down we just don't have enough to respond."

Gillingham 0 West Bromwich Albion 2
Dobie 26, Clement 29

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 8,883