West Bromwich Albion 4 - Huddersfield Town 2
Albion continued their unbeaten start to the season and climbed to fourth place in the table with a win over bottom club Huddersfield - but, as usual, they did it the hard way.
Despite dominating most of the game, it was the visitors who took the lead on 16 minutes after Lewis O'Brien ran into space and fired home. Albion replied three minutes later when Nathan Ferguson found Charlie Austin to set up Matt Phillips but they went into the break a goal down when Karlan Grant strode through the defence to finish from close range.
Albion brought on Grady Diangana for Filip Krovinovic at half time and looked the stronger for it, but it took until the 70th minute for them to draw level when he provided the cross for Darnell Furlong's header, set up Phillips four minutes later to take the lead and seal the points with an 89th minute corner for Semi Ajayi to head home unmarked. Three assists - not bad for a half time sub.
That was more entertaining than we needed it to be.
Slav made the call to start Krovinovic in the hole with Pereira out wide which I thought was really hard on Edwards who had transformed us with his desire and pace.
It was a bit of a strange start in that Huddersfield were pretty terrible, leaving us the whole of the right side of the pitch to play in but we were reluctant to do so - like it was some sort of trap. Phillips seemed determined to stay centrally and was often beyond Austin and our passing was quite sloppy.
We were dominant though and as we pressured we started to create chances. Eventually Sawyers decided to test whether Huddersfield’s tactics were a trap by hitting a glorious long and flat pass across the whole pitch on the floor - Furlong raced on to it and we should’ve scored.
Surprisingly, from a totally spooned goal kick Huddersfield scored their first - Furlong, seemingly playing centre midfield as well as right back and right wing, committed to win the scuffed kick but missed it and Ajayi seemed the only player awake to cover but with everyone else asleep and a great finish we were suckered.
Fortunately we weren’t behind for long as Furlong raised up the pitch, megged his man and squared for Austin who set the ball for Phillips to pass it home. A beautiful goal.
We got in on the right a couple of other times, once through another gorgeous pass from Sawyers, but seemed to be looking for the perfect goal.
Despite our dominance our ‘stupidity gene’ kicked in again before halftime with Bartley and Johnstone thinking they were playing for Guardiola again - losing the ball on the edge of our box and Huddersfield showed more ruthless finishing in an almost identical goal to that we conceded doing the same nonsense against Blackburn. Most of the crowd were livid. This has to stop and it has to come from the coaches.
I was surprised by the half time boos because we’d been so dominant and created so many good situations- I genuinely thought that Krovinovic making way for a winger and Pereira going back into the centre would reward us with 3 or 4 goals. Slav clearly thought the same as that change came with Diagana coming on, but it wasn’t plain sailing.
Huddersfield went the full Pulis - every man behind the ball and every conceivable way to waste time was employed. We struggled to get Pereira into it between the lines but built up pressure and managed to force some corners.
I find our ‘2 men over every set play’ approach infuriating - why not have an extra body in the box? But from one where we went short and played about 5 passes the ball eventually was sling over and Furlong added centre forward to his rollcall of positions played to nod home.
Momentum was now with us and as we pulled and stretched Huddersfield the gaps started appearing and in one such moment Diagana showed great feet to wriggle away from a couple of defenders on the left of the box and even better composure to square for Phillips to sweep home.
There was still time for us to play a couple of risky passes and create threats for Huddersfield but Slav brought on Zohore and HRK to slow things down, before big Semi put the game beyond doubt with a free header from a more straightforward set play.
We still look good and you’d think we’ll be really rocking when Gibbs and Hegazi are back playing but I still don’t know who we should play up front - Maybe Phillips given the way he’s finishing chances?
Very very tough game next week but a chance to go top and set down a marker for everyone else.
PS: Thanks very much to all the people who've donated already to the charity football match I mentioned last time. Here are some more details of the event, lots of former Baggies are playing and it would be great to get some support!
Babysitting duties and other ill-timed events had prevented me from catching any games this season, so I was looking forward to my first taste of 'life under Slav.'
There was always the chance though that 'the team that can't win' would upset 'the team that can't lose' and for two thirds of the game it looked like that would happen. But our class told in the end and anything other than a win would have been a travesty.
Perversely, it looks like our greatest strength - calmness under pressure, could be contributing to our greatest weakness - slow starts and conceding first. Are we just so confident we can recover that we don't feel any urgency at the start?
But 'excessive calmness' would not describe the cock up that led to their second goal. Furlong (our best performer) was open on the right wing but Johnstone chose instead to knock the ball two yards to Bartley (the last one who should be playing out from the back) whose attempt to find a surrounded team mate on the left was picked off. Is this a legacy from DM's tenure or is it a Slav trait? Surely, if a short pass is on, go for it. If not, hoof it upfield.
Albion have made some shrewd acquisitions. I love Furlong and Ajayi - real bargains. Ferguson is a great academy development. I hope we can keep him. I also hope Diangana is not this year's Harvey Barnes and gets recalled in Jan. Like many, I am worried our strikers will prove to be our downfall. Can we get Gayle in January, I wonder. It's time to give Edwards a more extended run. When a player does well, as he did last week, you have to reward him.
Overall though, we played some nice stuff and remain undefeated, so what's not to like?
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