Reading 0 West Brom 0
Despite a much improved second half performance, Albion had to settle for a point at Reading, a result that was celebrated wildly by the home fans as it secured their Championship status for another season.
For those in the away end, there were no such celebrations as that result coupled with the Blades’ win at Hull means that the Baggies will have to rely on the play-offs if they are to win promotion this season. However, that point does mean that Albion cannot now drop out of the top six.
It was Albion’s first goalless draw of the season and it extended their winless run at the Mad Stad to eight games, and also continued the record that they are yet to win a league match this season that Ahmed Hegazi hasn’t started – that’s eight matches without the influential Egyptian and the Baggies have drawn five and lost three.
It could have been worse given Albion’s first half performance. The decision to rest Gayle was expected but also had the expected result that the team were fairly toothless. More of a surprise was the decision to play both Harper and Field in the middle of the park and, with JRod, HRK and Murphy all playing, it did make the formation somewhat difficult to fathom.
Fluid is perhaps the kindest way to describe it. Early on, it seemed to be a 3-6-1 with JRod playing more of a wide midfield role which was strange given that he had a left wing back behind him, but perhaps it was an effort to provide some more protection to Albion’s left side which is suspect with Bartley and Townsend covering that area. Murphy seemed to be a little more advanced, but as the half went on, the two switched sides and it seemed to be more of a 3-4-3.
The decision to rest Gibbs was a surprise, especially as he hasn’t played that much football recently, but I guess he is being protected a little more than most given that he is on his way back from injury.
The players certainly seemed to be struggling and Albion were fortunate that Reading’s top scorer, Méïté, had to be withdrawn through injury early on. The hosts had a number of decent chances and if they had someone more clinical in front of goal, they would surely have capitalised.
Hal Robson-Kanu and Jacob Murphy both tested Martínez in the Reading goal towards the end of the first half, but they were rare moments of promise in what was a very drab first half.
After the break, the game became much more exciting as both sides started to make inroads into the opposition penalty areas. Albion always looked the stronger, however, and came closest to scoring with both Harper and Rodriguez striking the frame of the goal, and Gayle, who came on as a late substitute, also having an effort cleared off the line.
Harper’s effort was particularly unlucky resulting from some great football from Holgate and Rodriguez. The young academy product had a much improved performance after his day to forget on Friday, and Sam Field alongside him also put in a strong display in his first appearance under Shan. He was perhaps a little unfortunate to be taken off, although the introduction of Chris Brunt was needed, if only to improve Albion’s set piece deliveries.
Reading had some chances, but they were hanging on in the end and the reaction of the home support at the full time whistle was indicative of how big a result this was for them.
For Albion, it was a welcome clean sheet and it was good for the likes of Field and Phillips to get some more game time ahead of the play-offs, but three points against Rotherham on Saturday is a must to keep Villa behind us.