West Bromwich Albion 1 - Burnley 1
Whilst most reporters and commentators, including the BeIN Sports one, who seemed to get many of the on the ball Albion player's names wrong, noted that Brucey had made only one change to the starting lineup from the previous game, TGH for Ajayi, they missed the fact that TGH really came in, at right-back, for Furlong, who disappeared from the matchday squad altogether after his wife went into labour. Although that would have freed up a spot on the bench for our new striker, Thomas-Assante, there must have been some temptation to take Zohore off it to make way.
Burnley are reportedly playing a possession-based game under new manager Kompany, but they clearly have a bit of work to do, given the number of times they coughed up the ball trying to play it out from the back. Albion, of course, under Bruce, have no such pretensions and began the game by passing it back to Button who hammered it long to non-one in particular.
Indeed, allowing Burnley to cough up possession in dangerous areas almost paid off in the twelfth minute when Grant was given an opportunity to run in on goal, however he failed to get a shot off.
On the quarter hour, we were treated to the sight of a Burnley player being offside from a free-kick that was only six or seven yards out from the by-line: puts a different slant on the concept of players having a knack for finding space in the box?!
Whilst Burnley struggled to pass the ball through the middle, Albion were pushing down the sides, and around twenty in, some nice play down the right, saw Townsend arriving at the far post and forcing a save out of the keeper, after which Bartley headed back and across, but onto the top of the bar from the corner.
Ten minutes later though, with the Albion backline close to halfway, the Burnley keeper knocked one long and an attacker raced away clear, took a beautiful touch as the ball dropped over him and flicked it past Button who was advancing towards the edge of his box. The Albion keeper lunged out and got a touch on the flick but then caught the attacker, who would have had the freedom of the box in which to collect the ball and steer it goalwards, with Button's slightest of deflections probably being what saw him only receive a yellow, and a chance to save the resultant penalty.
J-Rod, who scored 30-odd in 90-odd for the Albion, sent him the wrong way.
Albion huffed and puffed up to half time but often couldn't get a shot off, and sadly, when they did carve out clear chances, they squandered them: O'Shea's header straight at the keeper from central and 6 yds out after a free-kick was knocked back, being the most blatant miss, whilst great pressing from Diangana allowed him to tee up Wallace, the right winger turning up in the inside left position, but whether his weaker-foot shot across the goal under the keeper would have been on target we'll never know, the keeper's lower arm managing to deflect it onto the near post. but then away from danger.
Wallace, turning up all across the front line where you might expect your centre forward to have been showing, would squander an even better chance on the hour mark, after Burnley coughed it up again, but he got no contact at all on a Townsend cross, from right on the penalty spot.
Kompany, despite being a goal to the good, made a double substitution right after that, though it would take Bruce, the manager of the side who were a goal down, another seven or so minutes to start making a change, a change that actually took a few minutes longer as Albion pressed the away side until the ball finally went out of play with twenty to go.
The substitution, our new hope at centre-forward for a centre-back, Bartley, certainly caught the BeIN commentator on the hop, with the resulting positioning switch seeing the calling of names of Albion players on the ball drying up for a few minutes, including a failure to name the culprit of a woeful header back towards Button that saw a Burnley striker in on goal, beating Button but then seeing the shot hit the post. I think it was Townsend.
Not that the commentator can't be excused for not quite working it out: I even had a hard time myself. Certainly Thomas-Assante went up top, where Grant had nominally been, but the latter seemed to have left the field altogether for the rest of the game, despite Bartley's number definitely having been held up, and the TV coverage giving occasional sightings of "Barts" sitting on the bench. It's possible that Grant was over on the left somewhere, given that Diangana now seemed to be everywhere, and maybe Yokuslu, possibly our best centre-mid player in his previous spell here, asked to deputise at centre-half. All very confusing, especially as it would have been easier to just take Grant off.
O'Shea, going to ground to block a Burnley pull-back on 75, got away with a handball that VAR would surely have picked up, and, after Kompany had made his second double substitution, Brucey made one too: Livermore coming on for Molumby, which meant that we had both centre-mids who might be asked to do a job at centre-back on, and Phillips coming on for his 500th league outing. although I doubt anyone ever expected that it would come to pass as a right-back, like-for-like swap:TGH, who never really got into the game on the night, making way.
The five-subs rule probably spared Kompany's blushes with ten to go, as his keeper went down injured and so left the field in consecutive games, although it wouldn't really have mattered who was in the Burnley goal with five to go as Wallace, appearing on the spot again, took too poor a touch that didn't even allow him to get off a shot after the ball fell behind him.
Would eight minutes of time allowed for stoppages be enough for Albion to salvage a point was a question that seemed moot after five of them, as a Burnley player showed great juggling skills on the edge of the box to spin away from two defenders and line up for a clear shot at goal, only to lose all composure and smash it skywards towards the roof of the BRE.
And then, the full cliched story, that had begun with J-Rod scoring against his old club, ended with our debutant, on as a sub, and having struggled to get into his first game at this level, scoring, in the last minute of desperate "stick it in the mixer" action, Thomas-Assante's falling backwards, as bodies jostled in the box under yet another high hopeful ball, giving him just enough clearance and purchase to wrap a foot around the ball and steer it into the net, for hopefully the first of many celebrations in front of an erupting Smethwick End.
Like many others I’m sure, I went into this game absolutely furious about the previous 24 hours.
Our inability to get 2 signings done was suspicious. The fact they were both midfielders and not a striker was beyond negligent given that we’ve pretty much dominated every game this season but can’t finish chances. Beggars belief. I’m sick of Lai. What is Gourlay playing at and, frankly, if Bruce doesn’t realise a decent striker was our top priority then he’s an idiot too.
I did however decide that despite the idiots in charge I would 100% back the players out there tonight with full voice, and it felt like many others had come to the same view.
TGH for the missing Furlong was the only slight surprise but I wasn’t too bothered - he’s certainly better on the ball than Furlong and I thought it might lead to throw-in variety for once. I felt the first half was much of the same as other games. Once we got a hold of the match we were the stronger side, created better situations and chances, worked hard, pressed well but lacked that cutting edge.
And repeating that other trend, we conceded a really soft penalty from a goalie punt down the middle. What were Bartley and O’Shea doing? We’d had a warning 10 minutes before that was very close. Button luckily stayed on, J-Rod scored and then we went back to dominating but not scoring.
Something I thought quite deliberate and worth pointing out given they both went on to make errors was how hard TGH and Townsend worked to find a long pass into Grant’s feet instead of aimless hoofs. Some were cut out and put us under pressure but they were clearly trying to give him a chance and Townsend in particular found him many times throughout the game.
Half-time came with big chances missed, situations wasted and woodwork hit a couple of times but no goals.
2nd half was much of the same. We bossed it and created enough to win the game but our finishing let us down.
Bruce went for it in getting Bartley off and moving Yokuslu back to get BTS on with Grant going wide left and Grady in a free role as a 10. As we pushed we got caught on the counter and when making errors but Burnley were guilty of poor finishing. Phillips and Livermore entered the fray as we pushed further and after Wallace and Livermore had failed to finish glaring chances up popped BTS to hook home a bobbling ball in the 98th minute.
It was glorious and just rewards for our efforts.
Christ knows where we go from here but honestly we are so close to storming it. I find it genuinely baffling from a football, business/investment and PR perspective that we’ve not gone for another striker. Imagine the options of a Kevin Phillips, Miller or Bednar in this team? We’d be romping it instead of being constantly under pressure not to concede. Maybe there are free agents out there but will any by fitter quicker than Dike? Unlikely. At least those resilient players out there gave us everything and a point that felt like a win.
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