Ainsley Maitland-Niles joined the West Brom relegation dogfight for two major reasons – to secure regular first-team football, and to play in his favoured position.

He has already been granted that first wish as he has been an ever-present in the Albion XI since switching from Arsenal in a season-long loan deal on deadline-day.

The 23-year-old endured a slow start to life at The Hawthorns as he was outshined by fellow new recruits Mbaye Diagne and Okay Yokuslu against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, but he put in a much-improved display in the 0-0 draw with Burnley on Saturday.

West Brom

Earlier in February Sam Allardyce confirmed that Maitland-Niles would be playing in central midfield, saying: “It’s why he came to West Brom. We’re playing him in the position he wants to play, and his most favourite position” [Birmingham Mail].

However comments made by the Baggies boss after the game might point towards a change in role for him.

As reported on the Daily Mail website, the Baggies boss was effusive in his praise for the England international, saying: “The new players have come in and made a difference.

“We are creating more and they have made the team better. Ainsley was really good. We pushed him wide left after we had to go 4-4-1 and he was our most dangerous player, with Matheus.”

West Brom

While it seems strange to be concerned by such glowing praise Maitland-Niles might well read between the lines and fear for his central midfield role.

He started the game at Turf Moor alongside Conor Gallagher with the loan duo positioned just ahead of Okay Yokuslu who was patrolling in front of the Albion defence.

But Semi Ajayi’s early dismissal changed everything and Big Sam sent on Dara O’Shea for Matt Phillips to restore another defender to the side.

That meant Albion lost a player in midfield and it was Maitland-Niles who was sacrificed as he was shunted out to the left-hand side and tasked with tracking the runs of Josh Brownhill and Matt Lowton down the Clarets right.

West Brom

He impressed as he completed his highest dribble total of the season [5] and recorded an 83% success rate [Wyscout], as well as winning three of his four defensive duels (75%) while making ten recoveries.

Big Sam has the likes of Matheus Pereira and Robert Snodgrass on the right-hand side but there is much less star quality on the other flank with Grady Diangana failing to impress during the current campaign after making last season’s loan move from West Ham permanent.

Phillips was the man given the opportunity on Saturday but he was hauled off to get O’Shea on the pitch and that probably reflects his status as one of the more expendable members of the first-team squad.

West Brom

Draws do little in the way of helping to drag Albion out of the relegation zone and thus they need to start throwing more caution to the wind in order to win games.

That could mean Big Sam keeps a midfield pairing of Gallagher and Yokuslu in order to add another attacker in front of them, whether it be Pereira or Snodgrass and the other kept out on the right.

It’s early days but Maitland-Niles might just be starting to wonder whether Big Sam will keep his promise.

In other West Brom news, see our exclusive with Kevin Phillips for his views on Mbaye Diagne’s Albion future.

Be sure to follow West Brom News on Facebook and Twitter for 24/7 updates on the Baggies and more exclusive interviews with Kevin Phillips.


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