West Brom 1 Crystal Palace 5
The more this season progresses, the more it reminds me of Albion’s first Premier League season in 2002. Key decisions go against us, good performances against good teams result in narrow defeats and, in the games when the Baggies have a better chance of picking up points, they come up short more often than not. Having said that, I don’t think a Gary Megson team would have capitulated in the second half the way that Bilić’s did against Palace.
While Albion may feel a little aggrieved by the decision to dismiss Matheus Pereira, the way that the team fell apart after conceding the second goal was simply unacceptable.
For me, the red card was very harsh but not unsurprising – I felt that Pereira’s legs were raised as a result of the momentum of his fall, but there was a slight push out from his right leg that was only discernible on the VAR review in slow motion. It’s hardly violent conduct and, in my opinion, worthy of no more than a yellow card at most, but it was one of those incidents that can see a red card in the modern game.
Unfortunately, the Brazilian has form for petulance of that nature having missed three games last season for an elbow that was picked up in a post-match video review – he doesn’t seem to have learned. Furthermore, it was not his first mistake of the game having weakly gone to ground in a challenge with Zaha in the build up to Palace’s opener and, while there have been flashes of the brilliance we know he can produce, this first Premier League campaign is proving to be a difficult one for Pereira.
However poor the second half capitulation, there were a few positives from the first forty-five. After the early goal from the visitors, Albion responded well and deservedly equalised with Conor Gallagher scoring for the second successive game. From that point until the red card, the hosts were well on top and looked very capable of going on to win the game
The wing backs, in particular, were creating problems for the Palace back line. Bilić’s decision to replace the injured Conor Townsend with Matt Phillips looked to be a good one as the Scotland international looked as good as he has done for some time before the break. Furlong made up for his own goal with the assist for Gallagher, whose finish was calmness personified.
Even after the red card, the Baggies looked well in the game but, after the break, it was a different contest. Palace pushed forward and Albion struggled to get any sort of possession – once Zaha fired in a wonderful second goal for the visitors, Bilić’s team simply disintegrated.
At this level, you cannot afford to give up during a game because a hammering like this can often be the outcome, and they can be extremely damaging not only to goal difference, but to confidence.
As in 2002, Albion do look as if they can compete on occasion, but key decisions are going against them and the team look mentally fragile in game. Last week’s morale boosting victory is now a distant memory and, after the trip to Newcastle United next weekend, Albion face Manchester City before Aston Villa visit the Hawthorns. The chances of Albion getting out of the bottom three by Christmas look slim.
Nonetheless, those positives are there and hope does remain, but that second half performance was particularly disappointing and Bilić will be under pressure once again. I’m not sure anyone else could do a better job given the resources available, but more displays like that will make a change more likely.