West Bromwich Albion 2 - Barnsley 2
Albion were somewhat luck to snatch a draw and maintain top spot in the Championship after an extremely poor first half saw bottom club Barnsley take a two goal lead into half time. Cauley Woodrow struck twice for them, the first a header at the near post and the second a great strike from 25 yards out - but he should never have been gifted the time and space to take the shot.
Two changes at half time saw Albion up the tempo somewhat, but it was still not particularly pleasant viewing until Bambo Diaby deflected an Albion corner into his own net in the 68th minute. It lifted Albion further and with nine minutes left, Conor Townsend crossed for Matheus Pereira to head home from close range.
Albion remain two points clear of Leeds, who drew at Preston, and will stay there even if Nottingham Forest beat Hull City at home tomorrow night.
In the end this was a gutsy and just about well-earned point but we made bloody hard work of it.
To try and take a positive, it may have been a decent lesson about what Championship football can be like for some of our players and coaches and they just about came through it.
Barnsley set up in the sort of way that we should be familiar with - it was a class Pulis style with 5 across the back, every player over 6 foot tall and they broke with purpose and real pace.
I'm sure every spotted how high their defensive line played and, if I was playing against us, I'd have done exactly the same. Austin can't run in behind to hurt teams so Barnsley pressed right up and made sure Diagana and Pereira had no space to turn and carry the ball.
It was a poor half for us - our whole forward line struggled to play cohesively and when we did do well to break the lines, I'm afraid to say that Austin was nowhere near up with the play and a couple of crosses went right across the six yard box when decent, fit striker would've got on the end of both.
The goals we conceded but great finishes - for the first Pereira lost the ball weakly and rolled around, Ferguson got beaten way too easily and Bartley got caught ball watching allowing their forward to nod home. The second was a decent strike from 25 yards but we had enough bodies back to block the shot and I thought Johnstone could've done better having seemed to get a good hand to it - it was far from in the corner.
Just because of the way the game had panned out I'd probably have gone for 2 up top straight away after half time but Slav made some tactical changes - a natural leftback in Townsend in order to get it wide and hit early crosses and Krovinovic for Edwards in order to try and bring some patience to our play.
You could see the reasons and it probably did help us but as we over-committed Barnsley looked more likely to score on the break. Eventually HRK came on for Diagana and it was through a corner he won that we got our first, either straight in from Pereira or an own goal.
That got our tails up and the second goal was really well worked out to Townsend before he hit a great cross for Pereira to nod home.
We couldn't quite force one last good chance after that but we'd all have taken a point at half time and we remain top of the league.
Up front still looks like the problem in this team and there isn't an obvious answer in the current squad unless Willock or the new guy we've signed on a short deal are any where near ready - something we'll need to address in the next window as it would be a travesty if it costs us promotion.
Charlton will be another tough game on Saturday - Bowyer has done an incredible job there. Will be interesting to see what challenges they bring!
Over from Canada to see my dear old mom who will be 94 in December, I found myself in the area on a night when The Team were at home, and so I was able to watch my first game at the Hawthorns since 1978. Sitting perhaps 30 feet from the same spot in the East Stand (since rebuilt of course) where I sat that spring watching a side that boasted Robson (Brian), Cunningham and Regis amongst all the other icons of that era, I settled down to watch the nailed-on thrashing of bottom team, Barnsley.
Trouble is nailed-on thrashings never work out, so maybe I will have to wait another 41 years to watch a live Albion victory. By that time I will be 110 and the Commons will be debating its 82nd modification to Brexit.
I was intrigued by the pre-game 'keep away' warm up routine, where the lads played one-touch passes a couple of yards with great skill - and that's exactly how they played the game, without creating scoring chances. It was Barnsley, having watched the Pulis/Ben Foster video on nine-man defence, counter attack and time-wasting, that looked like they would take all the spoils. Cudos to them, who, like a class recognizing a weak teacher, saw the ref wasn't going to stop their time-wasting and played him like a fiddle.
But Bilic, the master sub-manipulator, did just enough on a frustrating night to salvage a draw that felt like a win and eased the awful feeling of defeat that was growing in the pit of my stomach (or was that the pale ale?).
The half time subs looked lively without really changing the pattern of play and it was left to the directness of super-sub (ok, a bit of a stretch) HRK to make an impact. He won us a corner and Pereira's kick was too precise for the hapless Diaby to nod in at the near post. Another piece of magic from the Brazilian saw our 'towering centre forward' head home a delightful cross from Townsend. Cue delirium! A great comeback, but did we underestimate them or did they do a great job on us? Maybe a bit of both. Well done Smethwick who sang throughout.
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