Blackburn Rovers 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
Defeat at a sweltering Ewood Park on Sunday afternoon brought out the usual howls of dismay on social media, but for me, it was a game that Albion dominated but were found wanting too often in the final third. At the other end, Rovers had two decent chances and took them both. As is often the case in football, clinical finishing won the day.
Those with an axe to grind against Steve Bruce and the latest scapegoat, Jake Livermore, were quick to blame them both for the defeat but, while I feel that Okay will be Livermore’s replacement once he is fully fit as I have said before, the skipper was not the man to blame for the defeat and nor was Steve Bruce. If anything, below par performances from John Swift and Jed Wallace were perhaps the biggest difference between the sparkling performance against Watford and a more laboured display on Sunday, but criticism of the new golden boys doesn’t match the popular narrative amongst the social media critics.
I have no doubt that Swift and Wallace are too excellent signings, but neither was on their best form at Ewood Park and it was Grady Diangana that proved to be Albion’s creator-in-chief. We are starting to see the Diangana of two years ago and he kept going despite some brutal treatment from the Blackburn players and minimum protection from the referee. His goal may have been a fortunate deflection, but he deserved it for his all round performance.
That the quality of finishing proved to be decisive was all too apparent from watching the game, and the statistics back that up. The xG figures from infogol were 0.44 for Blackburn against 1.39 for the Baggies. Albion’s biggest chances were Grady’s header in the first half (ranked at 35%) and Grant’s chance in the second (ranked at 56%) while the one that did go in was ranked at just 3%. Rovers’ goals had xG rankings of 7% and 5% which just shows how good the finishes were.
Having said that, while I thought the first goal was just fantastic skill, the second was a poor one to concede as Furlong was bypassed too easily leaving Ajayi exposed – whether the heat was a factor, I’m not sure, but Semi looked to be struggling for pace to get back at Díaz before he laid it off for Gallagher to produce a fine finish.
Once Albion got a goal back, they looked as if they would get back into the game but I felt that the heat definitely was a factor as they slowly ran out of steam. The substitutions had a positive impact with Okay looking a class apart once again and Robinson looking bright in the number ten position. I do wonder whether TGH might have been a better choice than Phillips to replace Furlong – it was a positive move to bring on a right winger and Phillips does have more of a physical presence than the youngster for what had become a physical game, but Taylor’s display against Sheffield United on Thursday night probably warranted a run out, in my opinion.
Ultimately, it was one of those days for Albion where it didn’t just work out. As on Monday, most of the stats were in the Baggies’ favour – 60% possession, 13 shots to 7, 4-2 on target and 5 corners to 1 – but the key statistic went against them. And that is down to finishing.
The club are working hard to bring in another striker and Mowatt’s departure, which I still think is a mistake, looks as though it was to free up funds for just that. I’m disappointed we have had to do that, but having been unable to offload Zohore, it seems to be the reality of the situation.
Assuming we can bring that player in, I do not think there is too much to be worried about – it’s still very early days and Albion have been the better side for two and a half games of their three games, but have not got the results they deserved. That will surely change soon.