Albion come up short once again

West Bromwich Albion 1 Sunderland 2

Albion picked probably the worst time of the season to lose their unbeaten home record but, in many ways, it was not exactly a surprise. It leaves Carlos Corberán’s team with a tough, but not impossible, task to get into the top six but it further reinforced my underlying belief that this team is just a bit short of what is required to get promoted.

Like most Baggies fans, I have been clinging to hope and, in terms of ability, the squad is good enough to beat anyone in this division, but it is their inability to produce their best form under pressure that will ultimately let them down. It could still happen – a win at Bramall Lane and they will be right back in the mix, but even if they do that, it feels like prolonging the inevitable outcome that they will eventually fail, be it to make the top six, make Wembley or, what would perhaps be worst of all, get to Wembley and lose at the final hurdle.

This is not about the group not “wanting it” enough, far from it. There have been occasions in recent weeks when it has looked like that, but on Sunday there was plenty of effort, endeavour and no little skill on show but, as Corberán pointed out, Albion were second best in both boxes – when it came to the most important moments, they came up short, and that is down to mental strength rather than ability. The majority of the squad have the ability to play in the Premier League, but few have the mental strength to produce their best consistently and under the highest levels of stress.

The number of injuries has obviously had an impact – some players have played more than they should have, thereby enduring more fatigue, both mental and physical, than would have been ideal, while others have been playing while perhaps not fully fit which can also have a mental and physical impact. The squad’s overall ability to cope with the pressure may have been improved had everyone been fully fit, but whether that would have been enough to make enough of a difference is less clear.

However, I’m still hoping, and will be still hoping to the bitter end, whatever and whenever that may be!

The game itself was fairly even in terms of chances, but Sunderland looked the better side for most of it. Albion started both halves strongly and, had they taken chances in those periods when on top, it could have been a very different outcome. The Baggies were certainly fortunate to be ahead at the break – I think it was just about a penalty, albeit on the soft side, but the Black Cats had some good chances and only an excellent save from Alex Palmer and a headed deflection from Jayson Molumby prevented them from taking the lead.

After the break, there was the mad scramble when the Baggies had something like seven attempts on goal blocked but the best chance fell to the head of Conor Townsend, but the on field skipper could not direct it on target. Sunderland, on the other hand, took their chances well, although the Albion defence could have done better in both instances, but isn’t that nearly always the case!

The decision to play Yokuşlu was understandable given his overall impact on the team, and it worked to a degree. Perhaps he should have been withdrawn a little earlier as his lack of match fitness was becoming evermore evident as the second half went on, but I don’t think that was decisive in the outcome of the game. Ultimately, both sides had times when they were on top – the visitors made better use of theirs.

On we go to Bramall Lane. The result of Monday evening’s match between Luton Town and Middlesbrough could have an impact on the Blades’ mentality as a draw would mean that they are virtually promoted as Luton could only draw level on points and their goal difference is much worse, but I don’t expect it to make much difference if I’m honest. It will be a difficult match and the Baggies really need to win.

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