West Brom 1 Millwall 1
Slaven Bilić’s team failed to make it two wins out of two at the start of the season despite dominating their home game against Millwall. It was a frustrating afternoon in many ways, although the performance was once again encouraging particularly in the knowledge that Thursday’s four deadline day signings are yet to be seen.
With 73% possession and an impressive 88% pass completion rate, the hosts certainly dominated the game, but it resulted in only ten attempts on goal, with only four of those on target. The lack of clear opportunities in the match was demonstrated by the Baggies’ xG (expected goals) stat of just 0.88 which was actually bettered by that of Millwall (1.06).
Other than the goal, when Kyle Bartley’s header flicked off Alex Pearce’s head into the net, Albion’s best chance fell to Kenneth Zohore in the first half after good work by Matt Phillips – the Dane struck it cleanly but Lions’ ‘keeper, Bialkowski, got across well to save with his feet.
There were a few long range shots, but Albion otherwise found it difficult to break down a resolute Millwall defence. The ball did end up in the net after one of the better moves, but unfortunately KenZo had strayed marginally offside (the only offside of the match) before laying it off for Krovinović who guided the ball into the bottom corner.
The Croat was a constant threat – always looking for the ball, consistently dangerous on it, with the ability to quickly get away from his marker. He was at the centre of everything positive, particularly in the central area of the pitch. Edwards and Phillips were busy throughout the game, with both Gibbs and Ferguson overlapping well, but Millwall were tenacious and well organised and were able to repel most of what Albion could muster.
Ajayi and Bartley had in excess of 170 touches of the ball between them during the game, indicative of the fact that much of Albion’s possession was concentrated in their own half. Millwall were very well organised, but there were far too many safe passes. Sawyers was trying to orchestrate things from the base of midfield with Krovinović one of the few that attempted to break through the lines, but Zohore was far too static in front of him and saw little of the ball. He had just 12 touches in his 57 minutes on the pitch, and only one of those was in the penalty area; even his replacement, Hal Robson-Kanu, managed more. I’m not about to write KenZo off, but the 4-2-3-1 formation does not appear to suit him.
Compared to last season, Albion’s defence looks much stronger but there were still one or two mistakes, one of which resulted in the Millwall equaliser. In the first half, a static Gibbs and Bartley allowed Ben Thompson a free header on goal that he should have done better. The Baggies failed to adapt to the introduction of Matt Smith with 25 minutes to go. and he caused numerous problems with his physicality. For the goal, having cleared the corner, the defence failed to reorganise properly for the second cross and Millwall overloaded the back post. It was a tad fortunate for Smith that the ball deflected off Robson-Kanu directly into his path, but Albion should have done better – Johnstone should perhaps have come for the cross, but there were a lot of players in front of him. The two goals conceded this season were avoidable, but most are if you analyse them enough.
Nonetheless, there is plenty to be positive about this season. In possession, Albion look far more comfortable than they did last season, particularly at the back, and the midfield looks mobile and dangerous. Ajayi and Ferguson look like really good additions to the back four and Bartley looks to playing with far more confidence than we saw last season.
The cutting edge is yet to be discovered as yet, but with four new faces still to be given their debut, there is plenty to look forward to. And we’re already three points better off than we were last season!