Millwall 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
Defeat at the Den makes it one win in eight visits for the Baggies at Millwall’s current home and, while it was a little harsh on Richard Beale’s side, it was not exactly a surprise and it leaves Albion second bottom of the table in desperate need of a spark to turnaround their season.
The Athletic suggested on Saturday that the former Huddersfield Town boss, Carlos Corberán, has been chosen as the club’s next manager but, at the time of writing, there has been no announcement. While I am pleased that the club appear to have undertaken a rigorous recruitment process, it is one that now needs to be concluded as this season cannot afford to drift any further. A third of the campaign has now passed and Albion have just 14 points, their joint worst ever start to a second tier season and in only eight top flight seasons has a Baggies team earned fewer points from their opening 16 games. It is a huge job for whoever takes it on, even just to get the club out of relegation danger never mind challenging for the play-offs.
At Millwall, I felt there was no shortage of effort from the players, but there was a huge lack of confidence and a distinct lack of quality. To me, they looked like a team who hadn’t been coached. There was very little evidence that they were playing as a team – I’m not sure whether they were supposed to be pressing or not, or what the attacking plan was.
Somehow, Albion found themselves in front thanks to the one decent moment of attacking football that they produced, but even that needed a huge slice of luck. Two Millwall defenders failed to win the ball from Furlong and the ball broke for Jed Wallace. He advanced into the box and squared it to John Swift whose shot found its way into the net via a huge deflection. Wallace has been one of Albion’s best performers this season, but other than the assist, he was poor on his return to Millwall. Whether he was affected by the unfriendly welcome he received from the home fans, I’m not sure, but virtually everything he tried failed to come off.
Beale made six changes to the side that started against Bristol City and, while I certainly wouldn’t want to blame him too much given his limited time with the side, it did seem a little desperate. He brought back Furlong who was OK, and Bartley who was also doing well until his two bookings. The first was a rash challenge and the second was just unforgivable. Beale might not be able to criticize him for that incident, but there are several thousand Albion fans who can. Taken as an individual incident as the caretaker boss may see it, perhaps it could be seen as an aberration, but he has a long history of such errors of judgment and I’m not sure there is a way back for him from the fans’ point of view. A new manager, of course, may have different views.
Karlan Grant also started the game and, while he certainly looked to be putting more effort in than usual, it wasn’t clear what he was trying to achieve. He certainly didn’t appear to be playing as a centre forward, dropping deep time and time again, but whether that was a lack of clear instructions, or him ignoring whatever game plan there was, is unclear.
The Baggies were better than on Tuesday, at least from a defensive point of view, and they largely kept Millwall at bay. That made the two goals they conceded all the more disappointing. The first came from the award of a very soft free kick by referee, Andy Madley. Pieters’ attempted clearance cannoned off Furlong’s legs to the feet of Callum Styles who drove it high into the net. For the winner, Dara O’Shea was beaten in the air for the sort of challenge that Bartley had been winning all game before he was sent off, and a few seconds later, Tyler Burey’s scuffed shot somehow deceived Alex Palmer and trickled into the net.
However, the overall feeling I got leaving the game was one of exasperation. The team look so devoid of confidence that players that are obviously talented are underperforming incredibly. It needs a huge overhaul both in terms of players but also in terms of coaching. It will obviously take a few more transfer windows to transform the squad, but the new manager will hopefully bring in a change of approach. Whether James Morrison will remain at the club is unclear – he obviously offers a strong connection to the club and the fans, but he may now be associated with the failures of the last two years since he was appointed as a first team coach by Sam Allardyce. Dispensing with him would be unpopular with the supporters, but the new man may feel the need for a clean break.
If it is to be Corberán, he at least has a track record of transforming an underperforming Championship side, but he will have his work cut out with this group of players. The last time the club was this low, Paul Thompson appointed a manager by the name of Gary Megson – we can only hope that Ron Gourlay gets as lucky with his choice.