Baggies beaten as top two hopes fade

Millwall 2 West Brom 0

Albion’s wait for a first win at the New Den goes on as they suffered defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Millwall in what was a disastrous afternoon for Jimmy Shan’s team.

With Leeds losing at Birmingham, the Baggies could have moved to within four points of the top two had they continued their winning streak but, they remain seven points behind second-placed, Sheffield United, with just six games left.  They must now concentrate on recovering their form ahead of the play-offs.

The game itself was a liturgy of mistakes.  Albion looked second best early on but were growing into the game when Hegazi missed a header which allowed Tunnicliffe a free shot on goal.  I’m not sure whether Johnstone saw it late, but he seemed to be diving the wrong way and the ball squirmed past him to give the hosts the lead.  It was a rare shot-stopping error from Albion’s number one, but it proved costly.

The old adage that goals change games has rarely been more in evidence as Millwall battered Albion for the remainder of the first half, and Shan’s team were lucky to go into the break just one behind.  Johansen did have one excellent shot tipped over just before the half-time whistle, but it was the Baggies’ only effort of the first forty-five.

After the break, the game settled down and Albion had a lot of possession without really creating anything.  Then came the opportunity that could have swung the game Albion’s way.  Jake Cooper clumsily felled Dwight Gayle in the box, but the normally reliable Jay Rodriguez missed the target from twelve yards.  I feel that, had that gone in, the Baggies would have gone on to win the match.

Penalty misses also change games and Millwall were buoyed by the escape and promptly made it 2-0 a few minutes later.  Ben Thompson got to the byline and pulled the ball back and the hapless Hegazi managed to deflect it through Johnstone’s legs and into the net.

From that point on, Albion never looked like getting back into the game and things got worse for the Egyptian centre back when he received a second yellow card late on.

It was a strangely inept performance all round from the Baggies.  Dawson, who was unable to play due to a sickness bug, was a big miss in the back four as both Adarabioyo and Hegazi had off days.  Townsend too was a shadow of the player he had been in the past couple of games, and I would expect to see Gibbs back in the starting line up on Tuesday.

I’ve said in the past few weeks that Robson-Kanu should be starting given the more direct style under Shan, but he was poor against Millwall as the Lions’ big centre back’s dominated any direct balls.  With that option not working, Albion didn’t have anyone with the skills to open Millwall up on the floor – Morrison was out injured and we perhaps needed Harper or Edwards to come on sooner to try something different.  When Murphy did come on, the game was already lost.

Shan got it wrong with the starting line up, which is going to happen with an inexperienced coach, and he really should have changed it at half time as it was clear that the eleven on the field were second best.

Having said that, the penalty miss was crucial.  It’s hard to criticise J-Rod given his record this season, and he was always going to miss one at some point.  Nonetheless, missing the target is the cardinal sin with penalties and I’m sure he will be hoping to get another one soon to put it behind him.

This defeat surely puts an end to automatic promotion hopes for Albion.  Leeds and Sheffield United will undoubtedly drop more points between now and the end of the season, but for them both to drop at least seven and Albion to win their last six does seem a tall order.

And looking at the form of the teams below them, a play-off semi-final against Aston Villa is looking likely.

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