Derby County 3 West Brom 1
Albion put in a reasonable performance at Pride Park but ended up without any reward thanks to a combination of poor refereeing, poor finishing and a couple of defensive lapses. While the Baggies cannot do anything about the standard of decision making by the man in the middle, they will need to improve in both boxes if they are going to make it past Aston Villa and potentially meet Derby County once again at Wembley.
The inflatables were out in force in the away end, and the Baggies faithful created a fantastic atmosphere. The players responded early on as they had the better of the game and should have taken the lead through Jacob Murphy. Murphy was the only change to the side that beat Rotherham United last week, with Brunt dropping to the bench.
The hosts took the lead when some good movement from Martyn Waghorn saw him move clear of Bartley and Hegazi in the middle of the penalty area and he nodded in Jayden Bogle’s excellent first time cross.
Albion had some great opportunities to get the equaliser before half time, none better than the one that fell to Dwight Gayle that he somehow managed to screw wide. It was an open game, however, and FLDC had some chances of their own but neither goalkeeper had been properly tested other than for the one goal.
The Baggies got the equaliser they deserved just after the break. Ahmed Hegazi found himself in an advanced position and produced a neat back-heel to Jay Rodriguez. He found Johansen in the box and the Norwegian skipper found the net with a fine curling shot.
With Leeds United behind at Ipswich, the possibility of nicking third spot was now very much within Albion’s reach. It was the hosts that reacted better, however, and Nugent, who had replaced Waghorn just before half time, Mount and Malone all had good efforts that were well saved by Sam Johnstone.
The threat on the break was there for Albion, but it was Derby who were in control and they deservedly took the lead although there was an element of good fortune about the goal. After an exchange of passes on the edge of the Albion box, the ball broke to Tom Lawrence – his shot was saved by Johnstone and it deflected off Hegazi into the path of Mason Bennett who was able to poke it home.
A few minutes later, the game was all but over thanks to a poor refereeing decision. Referee, Tim Robinson, made a host of what could be best described as interesting decisions throughout the game, but he topped it off with the award of Derby’s penalty. Tom Lawrence was involved once again as he burst into the box and cut inside Kyle Bartley. The former Swansea man swung a leg but made minimal, if any, contact with the Derby midfielder – Lawrence went down which, to give him the benefit of the doubt, looked more like a slip than a dive, but Robinson pointed to the spot. Wilson converted well and the game looked beyond Albion.
Hal Robson-Kanu got himself sent off in stoppage time by kicking out at Bradley Johnson – while it may be harsh to be deemed violent conduct, it was a stupid moment of petulance from the Welshman. His suspension for the duration the play-offs will leave Jimmy Shan without what has, in the past, been a useful option from the bench.
That was, perhaps, the most disappointing aspect of the game. I think, and certainly hope, that the intensity levels will be higher come next Saturday lunchtime when the play-offs commence. I feel sure that this team is capable of beating anyone in the Championship on their day. They haven’t had enough of those days in the past couple of months, and it will need a significant improvement in energy and application if Albion are to win promotion.
It was not the performance or the result that Albion were looking for. There were times when the Baggies played some really good football, but they weren’t clinical when they needed to be. That needs to change.
It has been a strange run-in as Albion have been pretty much assured of a play-off spot for so long, but now the real business starts. Villa Park on Saturday will be a cauldron, and these players will need to stand up and be counted.