West Bromwich Albion 1 - Birmingham City 0
Baggies fans cringe when names like Ideye, Burke and Zohore are mentioned, even in whispers, so when Grant's name is spoken in positive terms it is cause for minor celebration. He's been showing signs of justifying his fee for a while and his game-winning strike today will only reaffirm those good vibes. To be honest, he, like most of the team, hadn't done a lot until that moment of magic. But that's what natural goalscorers do - produce something out of nothing.
Until the 'Grant special' we had not looked like getting or deserving anything more than a point, especially after Mowatt had limped off with an aggravation of his foot injury. But his replacement, Molumby, produced an encouraging performance, highlighted by a timely interception to bail out Bartley after a cock up.
If fans feel we threw away points against Millwall, Derby and Preston, wins against Peterborough and Blues have made up for it.
This, it seems, is how the Championship is meant to be.
I thought that was another poor performance in which through persevering through such rigid but basic tactics we made it really difficult for ourselves.
It was the same all night no matter where the front 3 shuffled to or the substitutes coming on. 2 passes and hoof. Ridiculous cross field passes to create an aerial 50/50 on the opposite side of the pitch when we could just keep the ball. When we did try and pass it we did the same aimless clip supposedly in behind the full backs to nobody. The narrowest 3-4-3 I have ever seen, the wide forwards rarely getting on the outside to help the full backs.
The first half was dreadful but, as is the norm now, rather than trying any tactical variety such as changing the system we just sub a player for an inferior one and do more of the same. It’s frustratingly arrogant.
We got very very lucky. Blues had the better chances and for the most part managed us quite easily. They should’ve scored a couple but lacked a quality finisher.
Grant, who offered almost nothing all game and I can’t really blame him given the service, got us out of jail with the one thing he is definitely good at - cutting in from edge of the box and smashing in a great finish.
I could barely celebrate because I was so angry with the preceding garbage. It was such a hard watch. If there was ever a game where we needed to try 4-4-2 or, my preference, a 4-2-3-1 even just with 25 minutes to go this was it.
But will it matter? Goals and wins mask a lot, we went back to the top of the league and I’m sure our stats look very good. It would just be nice to feel like we’re actually in control of a match and to treat the ball like we want to have it. I don’t think there is a sustainable future playing this way. You could have 11 established premier league players in the team and it will still hit its limits. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s just all about the money and the asset. It doesn’t make for a particularly inviting winter of bloody Friday night nightmare to get to games.
Here’s hoping for an improvement in our next game.
On paper, a derby against the Blues, winless in 5 and not having scored in 4, looked like the kind of game that a second-placed Albion should cruise to victory in, even more so when you looked at the changes from the previous games, with Clarke fit enough to start on the left at the back and so help remind us of the difference in class between Townsend and his cover, and with Robinson, fresh enough from a five goals in two games haul for his country to, presumably, just edge ahead of Phillips in the starting central striker stakes.
Of course, when considering the attacking options that have been brought into the club since we first went looking for a striker who might score tthe odd goal or two, and play in the system, we should probably not forget that we were often linked with Troy Deeney, who, it seems, has only scored one penalty since ending up at the Blues and not us, and who started on the away bench.
By the time the away side's own long throw specialist had delivered one that went straight through our 6-yard-box though, it was already looking as though it might not be as simple as the positions in the table, and recent form, might have suggested.
Straight after that scare, Townsend would show us what we have been missing, in driving forwards down the left and unleashing a drive that the keeper did well to fingertip over, only to then have to, in the resultant break away from our corner, race back to the other end of the pitch so as to thwart the threat that had developed after the referee, for some reason, chose not to blow up for Livermore's professional attempt at bringing down the player who was looking to break away, and waved play on. Not all that much point in having an "enforcer" if the officials aren't going to allow them to break up the game, is it?
Townsend would even get to go on a nice little dribble at around 35 minutes although it came to nothing, however, if all of this sounds as though he was the only player doing anything down our left, then it should be pointed out that there was very little, by way of attacking capability going on down our right either, and with "the system" not really requiring all that much, by way of creativity through the middle, then Connor was possibly the only Albion player who had done anything by the time the whistle blew and the Blues trooped off much the more satisfied of the two sides.
With Robinson having received little, by way of striking opportunities, from his team mates in the first half, Ishmael decided to see if Hugill would be able to do anything with the same level of service, by swapping those two whilst leaving everything else exactly as it had been.
Around the hour mark, Mowatt tried to emulate his captain and, whilst the ref did give a foul for his afters, not only came off second best in the challenge but soon came off the pitch as well. In being replaced by Molumby, we now had two Albion-loanees, in both senses of the term, out on the field, although the fact that one of them, Clarke, had never featured for the Seagulls, might make that stat less worthy of note. Before Mowatt would leave the pitch injured though, he'd have to bail out Bartley, who got caught in posession after a poor choice of throw from Johnstone, and that after Ajayi just lost it and the Blues could only turn that chance into a sidefooted effort that hit the bar.
With fifteen minutes to go though, Gardener, possibly wondering who the player standing in front of him with the ball at his feet on the right-edge of the Blues box was, given that he obviously hadn't been playing down Albion's left up to that point in the game, allowed Grant, for it is he, to shift the ball really neatly into space and then get off a drive, right-footed of course, from outside the box that would surely have beaten the keeper at his right post, even if he had been favouring that side rather than not commiting.
An absolute belter of a strike, one which makes you wonder why it takes him 75 minutes to produce anything, let alone one like that, although perhaps lulling the opposition in a false sense of security is all part of a plan, alebit not of "the plan", the high press and starting from possession high up the pitch, which had not been much in evidence on the night.
If anything, a strike of that quality shouldn't really have seen Grant the one to be pulled off, as part of Reach's introduction so to take time out of the game as it was entering stoppage time, whilst the Blues, now looking more like a side who, depsite about to not score a goal in five matches, had clearly decided that Deeney wasn't the right option to come on for them and score an equaliser. Maybe we ended up with the right striker after all?
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