Derby County 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
In a game of penalties - one certain, two less so, and two scored - Albion maintained their unbeaten start to the Championship thanks to Kenneth Zohore.
Zohore, Kyle Edwards and Nathan Ferguson were all restored to the lineup that started against Reading, but the latter was soon back in action when he replaced Kieran Gibbs due to injury shortly after he'd given away the first penalty by bringing down Martyn Waghorn - who converted the spot kick himself.
Referee Gavin Ward pointed to the spot again in the first half after his assistant flagged for a handball by Filip Krovinovic, though replays clearly showed it had hit his shoulder and Slaven Bilic earned a yellow card for his complaints to the officials. Luckily, Sam Johnstone pulled off a fine save to deny Waghorn his second.
Albion levelled the scores late in the second half after substitute Matheus Pereira went down near the goal line, although again replays showed the award to be somewhat generous. But although the action on the pitch was pretty much done, Bilic complained again when Albion failed to get a corner kick, picked up a second yellow and spent the rest of the match in the stands.
I found the game really disappointing because I thought Derby were the poorest team we’ve played so far this season and we’re there for the taking.
We started terribly with Gibbs giving a corner away from kick-off and looking totally out of sorts, giving a penalty away before going off injured.
I thought at times we played some good stuff but when we got into really good situations either the final ball or decision was terrible or the lack of support in the box was inexcusable.
Once again I thought Krovinovic, for all his deft touches and pretty play, was ineffective in the final 3rd, didn’t have the pace to support, the power to shoot and I also felt he was constantly the wrong side of Huddlestone who was allowed to dictate play unchallenged too often.
In fairness to Krovinovic, if we had a pacey forward with decent movement perhaps he’d pick them out but we don’t and it was laboured.
The 2nd penalty was a poor decision and wasn’t the only one - Slav was totally right to protest it.
I thought it was a bit harsh to sub Edwards and a bit early at HT and it left us with one sub as we huffed and puffed but couldn’t find an opening.
Pereira over Austin I didn’t think was the correct final sub at the time and is a concern if we don’t think Austin can be the go-to-guy for goals, but that isn’t to say Pereira wasn’t decent. Perhaps he’d be the one to try in the Krovinovic role even if it means losing the ball more, and he won the highly dubious penalty with great feet, movement and pace to break the lines.
We might have nicked it and again I thought Slav was in his rights to have a rant about the inexplicable decision to award a corner for the Livermore effort at the death - a ridiculous sending off on which he was right to argue both times.
Overall it was still positive and great to be unbeaten but the pressure is on to convert draws to wins. We really need to knock the cheap surrender of goals on the head and get some composure in the final 3rd.
The case for BAR: Beer Assisted Viewing from the back bar at The 'Wood
With the final game of the AFL season being shown on ALL the screens in the main bar at the Inglewood, I found myself vying for a seat in the back bar, alongside a thirtieth birthday party, yet more watchers of the AFL, plus watchers of a couple of rugby league games, of the Third Test from Headingley, of the Chelsea-Norwich game, and a couple of evening race meetings from over East, although despite wearing my Crancher Creations Brazil shirt, no-one came and up asked me if I was a Norwich fan or a fan of the horse-racing stable with similar colours.
The first thing that I noticed, from the new-to-the-pub BeIN coverage, was that the introductory titles still have the Seals' badge, and possibly those of a few other promoted sides, on display, with the second thing being our away strip. Now I have always liked the yellow and green, more than enough to start chuntering about some of the other "colorways" that we've had imposed upon us over the seasons, but even with the "right" colours, this one doesn't quite do it for me. Not sure whether it's the badge being rendered in yellow and green and/or the boiler plate logo, both effectvely blending in with the rest of the stripes, but there's still something not quite right, but enough fashion: on to the action.
Derby had started brightly, with some quick, sharp passing, and Sam Johnstone had already let one cross slip through his hands but when Waghorn cut inside Gibbs and drove into the box, it looked as though he'd taken the wrong option, as the three defenders he'd now brought into play looked likely to force him away from goal, however, he ended up in a heap on the ground and the ref set the tone for his "starring" role in the game and pointed to the spot. Waghorn sent Johnstone the wrong way to give the home side a very early lead.
Albion's attempts to get back in the game seemed to lack that same crispness that Derby's passing had, and all too often the movements came to a halt, either because a pass went astray or because the slowness of the move allowed the home side to get back into position to limit the options. Similarly Waghorn, when he did get the ball on Derby's right, seemed determined to try and make something happen by taking on the full-back, whereas Albion's wide play never really saw Phillips or Edwards going at their man and, whilst we rotated the ball back through the middle well enough, you never got the feeling that Derby were really being stretched. I also thought that there was a bit too much distance front to back, with some pretty aimless balls hit towards Zohore, who, as result, didn't have anyone around him to lay it off to, even if he did get on the end of them.
Gibbs, despite having been skipped past and adjudged to have fouled Waghorn for the pen, had been looking composed in defence, and always ready to show for the ball when we had it, was subbed out for an injury around the twenty minute mark, to be replaced by Furlong, and, over the game as a whole, I thought Furlong looked a bit more dynamic than Ferguson who had started as the other full-back.
How the linesman managed to convince the ref that Krovinovic had handled the ball in the box with the top of his shoulder just before half-time is already up there as a contender for worst decision of the season but, once again, the ref pointed to the spot and, once again, up stepped Waghorn. We'll never know whether Johnstone decided to dive to the same side as he had for the first penalty because he "knew" the Derby man would change sides but, change sides he did, and the Albion keeper thurst out a strong left palm to deflect the shot away. Bilic though, had clearly been a bit too vocal in casting his "worst decisison of the season" vote and was shown a yellow card.
Some of the comments on the BOING maling list from the previous game were crying out for VAR in the second tier, however, had it been in use, then, assuming they'd get the same feed as BeIN Sports, it's likely that the spot-kick would have been retaken, as Johnstone came off his line before starting the dive to his left.
As to whether VAR would have anulled either of the two penalty decisions is open to question and, for me, that's the problem with it in the first place: it's not as clear cut for fouls and handballs as for line calls where it does have some validity, although, and I say this as the Test Match coverage on the adjacent screen highlighted the issue, even some technology-assisted line decisions are open to question. Similarly, judging by the comments over the season from the Australian sports showing on the third and fourth screen along the back of the bar, Rugby League and AFL, the use of VAR-like technologies have hardly won the public over, as there have been some absolute howlers in both codes.
Interesting to speculate too, as to whether a yellow card, awarded to a player or manager for protesting a decision, would get overturned if those protestations were "proved" to be "correct", as clearly a VAR overturning of a decision doesn't automatically make an official any more or less of a "one-eyed homer", or whatever they've been called in Croat?!
Bilic once again showed his willingness to change things at the break, with Diangana replacing Edwards and the change certainly had the Albion looking a bit more direct in their wide play, although I was still a little suprised to see that, more often than not, we only had a pretty isolated Zohore in the box when the cross was delivered, as opposed to the wide player from the other side, or any of the centre-mids, getting into the area.
Perhaps Diangana had the same view of things as me whenever he looked up, and so often took it on himself to drive into the box with the ball at his feet and try and make something happen rather than delivering a cross to no-one in particular.
With England's cricket XI suffering from yet another Jason Roy ODI batting display in a Test Match on the screen to my left, I was starting to think that it wasn't going to be another "Albion's" day on the screen in front of me either, but the ref, who'd already given two pens to the home side, clearly thought that he'd try and give some credence to the meme that says that penalty decisions even out over the season, and after Peirera, brought on for Phillips with about twenty to go, had skipped to the byline in the same dynamic manner as Diangana had been doing and gone to ground as the defender made a challenge, you could almost hear the cries for VAR from the home fans echoing back across the hour since the "handball that wasn't" had been questioned on the away terracing.
Zohore despatched the spot-kick to give Albion a point that, over the whole game they deserved, although, as I metioned above, they're still not quite clicking when in posession, though it is 'early days", for both the manager and a fairly new set of players. Of those players, or at least those that didn't get a specific mention above, only Livermore looked particularly disappointing, in that a lot of the game seemed to pass him by, either with him simply not showing for the ball when we had it or not really affecting the game when Derby did. I'm tempted to say that one of the bar managers fully agrees with me on that, in that when I offered him that opinion, we then watched two or three minutes of Livermore just sort of ambling around and pointing to other people to do something, but that bar manager's a little biased by virtue of being an Arsenal fan. I would have asked Astrid her opinion but she professes not to like any sports.
Not clear how many times Albion's games will be on during opening hours but on this showing, there's certainly cause for more drinking down the pub, and optimism, especially if Bilic can get them to play with a little less depth in possesion and a little more spark through the middle, and, for what it's worth, I think Cocu, a player I loved watching seemingly stroll around but still impact the game - maybe Livermore could watch a few of his old games? - will go on and do that for Derby, but then again he's Dutch, so you might well expect that, just as you might well have expected Bilic to be red-carded (second-yellow for disputing a corner) after only a few games, which he was.
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