By George Hartley

31st Dec, 2021 | 12:10pm

West Brom defender Semi Ajayi to miss key games after new Nigeria AFCON update

West Brom star Semi Ajayi is part of an updated squad list released by Nigeria this morning (Friday) ahead of the upcoming African Cup of Nations.

The 28-year-old centre-back has been named as the replacement for injured Rangers defender Leon Balogun in an Instagram post by the Nigerian Football Federation. Napoli striker Victor Osimhen and Watford forward Emmanuel Dennis are two other names dropped in this updated roster.

The news means Ajayi will be out of contention for key matches across January and the start of February as the Baggies continue their hunt for an automatic promotion spot.

Along with their announcement, the Federation posted a caption stating: “England-based Oluwasemilogo Ajayi returns to the group for Africa’s flagship football championship following injury to centre-back Leon Balogun. Ajayi can also play as a midfielder.”

Depth crisis

With Baggies manager Valérien Ismaël favouring a three-man defence, the loss of Semi Ajayi across January is certainly a blow.

The French coach has favoured a back-three of Matt Clarke, Cédric Kipré and Kyle Bartley in recent games, leaving Ajayi confined to the bench.

The Nigerian defender was a regular starter until the end of October, losing his place in a competitive defence.

As West Brom move into 2022, the manager will be wanting to keep as many players available. As always, preparation time is hard to come by with a congested EFL Championship fixture list.

Plus a promotion battle to contend with and, potentially, further COVID-19 postponements, Ismaël will be disappointed in Ajayi’s temporary departure.

However, the centre-back is set to return before key matches against fellow promotion hopefuls Blackburn and Middlesbrough in February.

Baggies supporters will be hoping a full squad is available for these important matches as they maintain belief in promotion back to the Premier League.

In other West Brom news, Jeff Stelling has made a prediction ahead of West Brom’s clash v Cardiff