Hull City 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
Albion’s play-off hopes took another dent on Friday night as Carlos Corberán’s team slumped to their fifth successive defeat on the road although, for once, results on Saturday were relatively kind and they are just one point further away from the top six than they were last week. The gap is now seven points with the Baggies having a game in hand on all the sides above them bar second-placed Sheffield United, and while they will need another run like the one they enjoyed in November and December to secure a play-off place, they have at least proved that it is within their capability.
Friday’s game started so well for Albion as they dominated the game for the opening twenty-five minutes and created a couple of good openings but found on loan ‘keeper Karl Darlow in fine form. An injury break allowed Tigers’ boss, Liam Rosenior, to make some tactical changes and the hosts were suddenly much more in Albion’s faces having been incredibly passive in the early stages. They won the ball on the halfway line and it was looped forward to Tetteh who nodded it back to Slater – he was tackled by Okay but the ball fell kindly for Tetteh who lashed the ball on the turn into the top corner. Griffiths got fingertips to it but it was too powerful – I certainly don’t attach any blame to him for it.
It is often said that goals change games and it could not have been more true of this particular goal. Albion lost all of the composure that they had enjoyed in the early period of the game and never looked like getting back into the game for the remainder of the half.
A few minutes after the break, however, they should have been level when neat work from Albrighton found Molumby who squared the ball to Dike. Unfortunately, the American failed to get a clean connection and it was easy for Darlow to keep the ball out.
Ten minutes later, Albion were two down when an excellent corner from Tufan defelcted into the net off Dara O’Shea’s head. John Swift was unlucky when his fine free kick struck the inside of the post with Darlow nowhere, but the hosts’ keeper, making his home debut, saved well from Wallace and Reach as the visitors tried in vain to get back into the game.
Albion played well for most of the match at the MKM, but lacked the final finishing touch in the box. It’s something that the side has suffered from for a year or more, which makes the decision not to sign a striker in January all the more baffling.
It was a thoroughly frustrating evening and, while the defeat was damaging, it is certainly not terminal. What is clear though, is that the Baggies cannot afford to drop points in the next two home games, against the division’s bottom two sides, and must then end the run of away defeats when they visit Cardiff in eleven days’ time.
Corberán’s task has not been made any easier by injuries to Thomas-Asante, Grant and Diangana, leaving Dike as the only fit senior striker. Jovan Malcolm and Rico Richards were on the bench at Hull, with Richards coming on as a late substitute for his league debut. If BTA is out for an extended period, we could well be relying on those two to support the efforts of Daryl Dike.
I think that Albion need at least seven, if not nine, points from the next three game to keep them in the mix before they start on a marathon of eight fixtures in April including the key visits of Millwall, Sunderland and Norwich City to the Hawthorns.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s by no means an impossible task.