Losing 23-goal striker Dwight Gayle to suspension certainly won’t make West Bromwich Albion’s Championship play-off semi-final second-leg task any easier.

Yet neither is it the death knell for the Baggies’ play-off hopes that contemptuously short Aston-Villa-to-qualify odds of 2/7 suggest ahead of the return tie at the Hawthorns.

At 5/2 to make the final dubbed the most valuable match in football, there’s plenty to like about Albion’s chances even in the absence of their leading scorer.

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Is the importance of Gayle’s absence being overestimated?

West Brom are less beatable Gayle-free

The top line figures suggest West Brom are slightly more effective in terms of winning games when the on-loan Newcastle United man starts.

Albion have won 53 per cent of those in which he’s made the XI this season, compared to 42 per cent when he hasn’t.

However, they’ve also lost a lower percentage of games (21 per cent) when he doesn’t start than when he does (29 per cent).

As such it could be construed that a Gayle-free Baggies are harder to beat when he sits out matches. With 2-0 win enough to take them to Wembley, this quality could be vital at the Hawthorns.

They have claimed big wins without their number 16

James Shan’s men have also pulled off plenty of strong results in games when the 28-year-old was either entirely absent of given only a few minutes from the bench.

Arguably the most pertinent of these was the 2-0 win against the Villa on enemy territory back in February. Hal Robson Kanu and Jay Rodriguez – author of 22 Championship goals of his own in 2018/19 – handled the scoring.

That match was followed by a 3-2 outgunning of QPR at Loftus Road on their very next road trip. On home soil too West Brom have proven themselves capable of besting high-calibre foes without Gayle, having been 2-0 up on Leeds when he entered the fray in the 80th minute of what went on to be a 4-1 win back in November.

Albion are in flying form at the Hawthorns

Another reason West Brom are more than capable of turning the tie around is that they come into the second-leg in red-hot nick at the highest football ground in the league. The Throstles have won five in a row in front of their partisans.

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