Swansea City 2 West Brom 1
Despite the outcry on social media, I’m not expecting any drastic changes from Valérien Ismaël following Albion’s second defeat of the season at Swansea. It was a disappointing performance from the Baggies, particularly given their fantastic start, and they can have few complaints about the result.
Having said that, it was a game of fine margins and, as is often the case, the result came down to a few key moments.
The tone of the first half was very much as I expected it to be. The hosts dominated possession and played out from the back consistently. Albion pressed high and won the ball back in the final third on a number of occasions, most notably in the first minute leading to Karlan Grant’s fifth goal in as many games to give them an early lead. The disappointing thing for the visitors is that they failed to capitalise on a number similar opportunities during that first half due to poor decisions or poorly executed passes. The Baggies could have easily been two or three up by half time had they made the most of those good situations and it would have been a very different game in the second half.
The high press led the Swans to hitting the ball long more often than they would like and it completely disrupted their attacking plan meaning that they failed to seriously test the Albion defence at all before the break.
Russell Martin evidently told his players to be braver on the ball and they started the second half much better, and were themselves pressing higher and winning the ball back in dangerous areas. Albion did have a short spell of pressure after the opening post-half-time blast from the Swans but were then finally outdone by the ball over the top. The Baggies high back line had been superbly disciplined for the first hour, but you always felt that Swansea would get one right. The problem was not so much the high line as the lack of pressure on Paterson who played the through ball. Piroe finished it well although Clarke was close to getting a meaningful touch that could have been all-important.
The goal obviously raised the hosts’ spirits and they were on the front foot from then on. That did provide opportunities on the break for Albion but time and again, a poor pass or a wrong decision and the chance was gone. At the other end, Swansea had a few opportunities with shots from outside the box, one in particular from Ntcham should have been closed down much quicker, but the Baggies defence largely coped well. That was, of course, until the error by Darnell Furlong let in Piroe leading to Paterson’s winner. It was a fantastic goal from the former Bristol City winger but the opportunity came directly from Furlong’s mistake.
Swansea probably deserved the victory for what was an excellent second half performance while Albion were once again below par. Nevertheless, the Baggies still had more attempts on goal than the hosts (10 v 9) and twice as many shots on target (6 v 3) although Albion’s xG of 0.85 is their second lowest of the season (behind the Stoke match) reflecting the fact that Albion had no clear cut opportunities other than Grant’s goal.
With two poor performances in three games leading to two defeats, it is no surprise that Ismaël’s critics are becoming more vocal. I share some of their disgruntlement in as much as I would prefer to see Albion playing passing football as we did under Bilić but I have accepted that our current head coach has his method of playing and that isn’t going to change. Nor do I see a change in head coach any time soon.
Moreover, I do not believe that, as a club, we have the financial muscle nor a good enough scouting network to buy the quality of player we need to play a passing style and survive in the Premier League. If Ismaël can get the players to implement his style successfully, it could work in the top flight should we get there. It is still a work in progress so I don’t see the need to panic just yet. The squad is a little thin, with the most glaring hole being a recognised number nine, and if that can be boosted in January, it could make a massive difference.
Obviously, two defeats in three games is a poor return and the results need to get back on track quickly, but there will be no over reaction from the coaching staff.
Albion now have three home games in the next four ahead of the next international break, albeit the away match is a rather tricky trip to Fulham.