West Brom 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1
For the second time in a few weeks, Albion managed to scramble a stoppage time equaliser at the Hawthorns in what was a disappointing performance at the Hawthorns.
The ball bobbled into the same corner of the same net as the “Hand of Rod” goal had done against Villa, but there was no controversy this time other than who should be credited with the goal. Currently, it has been put down as an own goal for Wednesday’s David Jones, although having watched the TV replay a number of times, I can’t really tell, but Chris Brunt certainly celebrated as if it was his goal. I suspect the dubious goals panel may be sitting on that one.
The other decision that may be reviewed is that to send off Jay Rodriguez. It was J-Rod’s first ever red card and, at first glance, I did think it was warranted. From my vantage point in the Birmingham Road End, it did look as if he had made a movement with his foot towards Marco Matias on the floor. However, the TV replays I have seen present a much more inconclusive picture. Whether it will be enough to overturn the decision, I’m not sure, but with Gayle out injured, it could not be a worse time for him to be banned.
One other consideration is when the panel may sit to review it, assuming Albion appeal. It needs to be before the weekend such that, if the ban is upheld, it includes the cup game against Wigan.
I’ve read lots of criticism of Darren Moore, and individual players, on social media since the final whistle and I feel that much of it is the same type of knee-jerk unconsidered “commentary” that I was reading earlier in the season when the Baggies endured a short run of poor results.
The primary criticism of Moore is of him team selection. Firstly, two changes were forced with injuries to Dwight Gayle and Ahmed Hegazi. Secondly, the same eleven had started the previous four games and this was the third game in seven days with another one to come on Tuesday. It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t change a winning team and, to be fair to Moore, he hasn’t made changes unnecessarily. On this occasion, I guess that the run of four games in ten days led him to feel the need to use the squad.
Having said that, the only two changes he made that were not forced by injury were to replace Phillips and Barry with Morrison and Brunt. While Barry has been one of Albion’s best players in recent weeks, he is 37 years old and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he might need a rest. As for Phillips, he was out on his feet for the last ten minutes on Boxing Day, and I was not surprised to see him on the bench. Furthermore, it’s well known that players are more susceptible to muscle injuries when they don’t have sufficient rest, and the last thing we need at the moment is to lose Matt Phillips for an extended period.
You can argue whether you start with your first eleven and bring players off rather than the other way around, but I don’t think that decisions to rest those players can be criticised too harshly.
Unfortunately, Brunt and Morrison did not have good games and few would have expected that both would play so poorly. Brunt lost his man for the Owls’ goal, and did so again later in the first half but Johnstone pulled off the save, and his set piece delivery was pretty dreadful all game. Morrison looked a little off the pace and, while I would not have expected him to offer what Phillips does, he has played much better earlier in the season.
Looking at the other selections, I think Moore’s decision to pick Bakary Sako rather than Hal Robson-Kanu may have been linked to his decision to rest Phillips. Sako should offer more pace but, while he played marginally better than either of his previous appearances, he once again failed to take his chance. Albion didn’t, perhaps, get the ball to him often enough but he needed to show more. I read a few calls before the match for him to play ahead of HRK, but I think his performance demonstrated why he has been left out for much of the season.
Finally from a selection point of view, let’s turn to Bartley. The first thing to say is that Moore had little other option than to play him once Hegazi was ruled out. Secondly, I don’t think he did a lot wrong. Both in the stands and on social media, I felt that people were looking for a reason to criticise him since he became the pantomime villain playing in an unfamiliar back three – I personally felt that he put in a solid performance, although we did miss Hegazi’s presence.
All in all, it was a disappointing display and did more to reinforce my long held belief that it is in midfield that Albion are most lacking in cover. Barry has been both a calming and creative influence in the middle of the park while Phillips offers the dynamism. With those two missing, the Baggies are a poorer team although that is magnified when the replacements play way below their normal levels as happened against Wednesday.
One real positive from the match is that the Baggies did not look to be a man down at any point after the red card. The triple substitution obviously made the difference overall, but it was easy to forget that the hosts were a man down given their dominance of the game.
The equaliser was the least that Albion deserved and it not only stretches their unbeaten record to nine games, but also completes a calendar year of scoring in every home league game for the first time since 1955.