West Bromwich Albion 0 Cardiff City 0
At the fourth time of asking, Steve Bruce’s team failed to secure a victory as the Bluebirds held them to a goalless draw leaving the Baggies in the bottom three of the fledgling league table. The difference on this occasion was that few would agree that Albion thoroughly deserved the three points – they perhaps edged it, but the visitors had a fair few chances of their own while the hosts’ efforts were sporadic at best.
The statistics bear out the feeling I had in that Albion recorded their lowest xG of the season, according to infogol, of just 0.59, although they had five attempts on target, Semi Ajayi’s stoppage time header being the best of a fairly meagre bunch of chances.
I thought the Baggies started brightly and dominated the first half, catching Cardiff in possession in their own half on numerous occasions, but while they managed to fashion a few half chances, the final pass or movement was just not there. In the second half, Albion looked much more like the side we saw in the latter stages of last season, and not just in terms of personnel. It seemed as if the confidence was starting to drain out of them and, while Robinson and Phillips both looked bright for a time, by the end of the game, desperation was setting in. If Albion are to get through this, they need a win, and quickly.
Steve Bruce answered the fans’ calls for Okay to start, but threw a curve ball by starting him alongside Livermore rather than Molumby as was expected. The young Irishman can feel very hard done by to have lost his spot having impressed in this season’s opening few games, and Bruce corrected what many thought was an error by swapping bringing him off the bench at the expense of Livermore at half time.
I don’t think Livermore was that bad, to be honest, but he had picked up what was an unfortunate yellow card in the first half and that may have been a factor in his substitution. There is no doubt that Molumby is more mobile that the skipper, but he too is liable to get booked and did just that inside the opening ten minutes of the second half.
As for the Turk, he looked excellent at times but was guilty of losing possession on numerous occasions. I think some of it was down to rustiness which will improve with more game time, but at other times, it is because Okay does try the riskier pass on occasion, and either it is cut out or his teammates don’t read it – that too should improve in time.
The biggest issue is obvious, however, and that is the lack of a true number nine. Karlan Grant can score goals, but he is not a natural number nine. He doesn’t move the defenders around enough or make the runs that a natural centre forward would – his instincts just aren’t tuned that way. That is obviously a problem that the club are trying to solve, but it is something they should have been working on all summer. The injury to Dike, as unfortunate as it is, has left the squad ridiculously short in that area – Grant, as good as his goal record is, is a stop gap at best and we all know that Zohore is not up to it.
The biggest criticism I have of Steve Bruce is that he said he wasn’t on the look out for a striker before Dike broke down. It may have been because he felt that the limited resources might best be spent elsewhere, but sticking the ball in the back of the net is pretty much what football is all about, and relying on one, let’s face it, raw and largely unproven player in Dike was always going to be a massive risk.
In the current situation, it seems crazy not to include Cleary on the bench. He is another option that would have been worth throwing on last night. He may be some way short of the finished article, but who knows what could happen if he were to come on a nick a goal. Confidence can do wonderful things to a footballer.
It is remarkably similar to the start of last season when Albion failed to get Dike and ended up with Jordan Hugill. The Baggies must do better this season or face a similar fate. Obviously, much of the blame can be at least traced back to our absent owner and his tendency to take money out of the club in loans rather than invest into it, but Gourlay, Bruce and the rest of the recruitment team need to find a solution that works within those difficult parameters.
What was a promising start in terms of the performances is close to turning sour even quicker than it did last season; Albion needs wins, and soon.