Chesterfield 3 West Bromwich Albion 3
Those of us lucky enough to be at the Technique Stadium were treated to a proper cup tie and the Baggies can count themselves very fortunate to still be in the hat for the fourth round.
Carlos Corberán opted to make eleven changes from the team that started Monday’s victory over Reading, albeit Thomas-Asante, and Rogić have been regular starters under the Spaniard, while Grant, Diangana, Gardner-Hickman and Livermore have played plenty of games this season and, as remarkable as it may seem after his performance yesterday, David Button started the season as the club’s number one goalkeeper.
It’s easy to be wise in hindsight, but changing the entire back four and the goalkeeper seemed an excessive risk, particularly when your first choice back line had not conceded a goal from open play in nine games. I can also understand Corberán’s reasoning that his back-up players need to be ready to come in at any time, so need game time, but playing one or two rusty players is something the team can cope with, an entire defence of them will be punished, as Albion’s was at Chesterfield.
Not only was it a back four that had never played together before, Martin Kelly and Semi Ajayi had never shared the pitch before. An unfamiliar defence can sometimes be coached through a match by a strong vocal goalkeeper, but David Button is not that man. Palmer is such a huge improvement on him that I would seriously consider recalling Josh Griffiths to be the number two based on his display yesterday. Button did make one excellent save in the first half, but he is too quiet, he doesn’t command his area at all and his goalkeeping for Chesterfield’s third goal was questionable at best.
I have to say that Chesterfield played very well, and certainly didn’t look three divisions lower than Albion, but the Baggies made it easy for them. Firstly, it was far too easy for them to get crosses in largely due to fact that both full backs were constantly overloaded with Reach and Diangana offering very little defensive support. I felt sorry for Ashworth being substituted at half time – I think it was more to do with the situation and a desire for experience rather than his performance, and I still think he has a bright future. Secondly, Albion didn’t have any control in the middle of the park until the last ten minutes. Again, it’s easy to be wise in hindsight, but a midfield pairing of Livermore and Rogić was always likely to struggle for mobility. It took Okay a good ten minutes to get up to the pace of the game and, had he come on at half time, I think we would have won the game.
One player that I was really disappointed with was Martin Kelly – he had looked solid and dependable four starts in October, albeit three of those were in a back three. At the Technique Stadium he looked ponderous and nervous on the ball, frequently giving away possession – only Button had a worse passing accuracy percentage than Kelly’s 65.2%.
There were some good performances out there. I thought Brandon Thomas-Asante was excellent. His two goals were both superbly taken and his overall display was good despite not seeing much of the ball. There is a slight concern that the FA may take action based on the footage that Match of the Day highlighted where he appeared to swing his arm at the defender when he was being held back in the latter stages – contrary to Danny Murphy’s assessment, I’m not sure it’s that clear cut, but there is the chance that he could be facing a ban and that would be a huge blow.
Despite there being plenty of criticism around me, I felt that Grant did OK, particularly in the first half when he provided the assist for BTA’s opener and took his own goal well. It was good to see Dike and BTA as a front two late on and Dike did have one decent effort pushed away Fitzsimons in the Spireites’ goal.
In reality, the performance of the bulk of the starting eleven reinforces Corberán’s selection decisions and also highlights that the squad does need strengthening, with full back and striker those most in need of reinforcements in my opinion.
Having said that, making so many changes makes it all that more difficult for those involved. When Chesterfield come to the Hawthorns for the replay, I would personally at least restore the first choice back line including Alex Palmer – Griffiths played for Portsmouth at Spurs so would be cup-tied even if he were to be recalled – and I would also revert to a three in midfield.
While the Albion players helped to give Chesterfield a platform to show their abilities, they were excellent. Two-goal man, Armando Dobra, Liam Mandeville and Tim Akinola all caught the eye and, with Wrexham winning 4-3 at Coventry City, it seems clear that the higher echelons of the National League have some half-decent teams that would compete well in the EFL.
In summary, while it was a poor display from the Baggies, it was a great cup tie and you can’t beat a result-changing stoppage time goal! We’ve avoided adding Chesterfield to the list of ignominious FA Cup exits, for now at least – I’m sure Corberán won’t make the same mistakes with his selection but I’m sure Paul Cook will get his side up for it just as much as they were in Derbyshire.
Before then, there is a tricky trip to Luton and the January transfer window to contend ourselves with. Not to mention the loans!