West Brom 2 Aston Villa 2
Albion rescued a point from the derby with Aston Villa thanks to a controversial injury time goal from Jay Rodriguez that sparked a remarkable outburst from Villains’ manager Dean Smith and a new phrase that will no doubt be remembered for years to come by Baggies fans, the “Hand of Rod”.
That incident has made all the headlines, despite the fact that the awarding of the goal was technically correct based on the Laws of the Game as I explained in my article yesterday, but it was just the culmination of what was an exciting game of football with flashes of brilliance interspersed with the odd mistake and a few moments of fortune.
It was no surprise to see Gayle coming in for Robson-Kanu given the Welshman’s struggle with injury this week, but Moore made one more change with Gareth Barry coming in for James Morrison.
That change certainly worked in the first half with Barry helping to maintain some control in midfield in what was a very even contest, but for me, his influence waned over time and in the last half an hour, Villa’s midfield three that were able to dominate of the centre of the park and looked the stronger team as a result.
The old adage that goals change games was in evidence after each change in the scoreline. After an even start to the game, Villa’s fortunate opener led to a spell of dominance for the visitors while Albion’s equaliser on the break put the Baggies in control for a period. But it was a really topsy-turvy encounter as Villa looked the stronger as we moved towards half time but, for the first ten minutes of the second half, it was the hosts who were in control until El Ghazi’s second put Villa back on top.
Over the game as a whole, Villa probably just about deserved the win but, as Albion found out on Monday evening, you don’t always get what you deserve.
Having said that, Villa’s superiority was marginal in myopinion, unlike the Baggies dominant performance against Brentford. Each side had one fortunate goal and one brilliant goal, and both sides had some other good chances. McGinn hit the post (having spent much of the first half prior to that overhitting passes) and Abraham fluffed that remarkable opportunity in front of goal, while for the Baggies, Dwight Gayle should have done better with a header in the second half and Barnes also had a good run and shot blocked by Hutton, when it might have been better for him to pull it back to Gayle.
After Villa’s second, it looked less and less likely that Albion would get a goal back as time went on and, once again, we have to look at the substitutions.
From a timing point of view, the Baggies were well on top when Villa scored their second, so I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to see an immediate change, but within a few minutes it was clear that McGinn and Grealish had wrestled control of the midfield.
I can understand Brunt coming on to add some more quality in delivery into the box, but for me it was Barry that needed to come off – he played very well but you could just see that his legs were going. It was Barry that moved further forward but it’s not his strength and without Livermore’s energy, Albion’s influence in the middle of the park continued to wane.
Burke was given very little time to have an impact once again and Moore’s suggestion that he might go out on loan in January is probably a good one – there is talent there but he needs minutes in senior football to prove it.
Sako was also on the bench and might have been worth trying and, while his appearance at Hull did not suggest that he would have done much to impact the game, you cannot judge on the basis of one game alone.
I am still surprised that most of Albion’s promising youngsters continue to be omitted from the squad. Rekeem Harper has been in the last few squads but Sam Field has seemingly been forgotten having not appeared in a first team squad since the defeat at Hull, while Jon Leko has only been in one squad this season and Kyle Edwards has not been involved since the defeat to Derby.
And with news that Greg Halford, another 30-something free agent, has been playing with the under-23s, it does seem as if Moore will continue to prefer experience to youth and energy for the time being at least.
It does seem to be a safety-first approach that is at odds with Albion’s footballing style. Playing youngsters is always a risk, but you don’t know how well they might do unless you give them a go. You only have to look at how well Tosin has developed in recent weeks to see what regular football can do.
It’s clear to me that Albion’s biggest problem, as it has been all season, is a lack of movement in midfield. Morrison has made a difference but when he is missing, there is a marked drop off. I wonder whether giving Harper a run from the bench late in games, replacing Morrison when his legs start to go, may be an option. This could be particularly useful in the upcoming Christmas period when Albion have five games in fifteen days giving Mozza a chance of playing in most games, while providing some much needed first team experience for Harper.
Reading between the lines, however, my feeling is that Moore has been given a make or break target of promotion this season, and he doesn’t feel confident enough in his youngsters to risk losing the odd point to assist in their development. Understandable, I suppose, but I’m not convinced that the veterans brought in on short term deals offer an adequate alternative.
All in all, a point was a good result against an in form Villa side, but Albion have lost ground on the leaders over the weekend and have slipped to fifth place six points off second placed Leeds but just a point behind their next opponents, Sheffield United. It’s another big Friday night game at Bramall Lane!