West Brom 2 Nottingham Forest 2
As we left the Hawthorns on Tuesday night, there was a feeling that Albion had got away with it, but 24 hours later, it was somewhat different following the FA’s decision to charge Dwight Gayle with successfully deceiving a match official in winning the late penalty.
I’m loathe to indulge in “whataboutery”, but the FA’s decision does seem a completely arbitrary one considering the number of arguably worse examples of simulation that have gone unpunished over the last couple of seasons since the ability to take retrospective action was introduced.
Furthermore, while there was minimal contact, and it was an elaborate fall, you do have to ask what Gayle was supposed to do with two players closing in on him from opposite directions – just close his eyes and hope for the best, or take evasive action anticipating contact?
One of the biggest problems with the “simulation” rule, is that it is incredibly difficult to prove, which is probably why there have been so few examples of it being used. It probably wasn’t a penalty but was this a clear cut case of simulation? I’d have no problem with Gayle being punished if the law was applied consistently across the board, but it seems to be fairly arbitrary.
That was one of a series of poor decisions by Lee Mason, not least the failure to give a penalty to Forest after Rodriguez’s equaliser when Gibbs had a handful of Joe Lolley’s shirt. You could argue that Lolley had a bit of Gibbs as well, but when that isn’t given, you can understand why players exaggerate contact – referees rarely give penalties unless a player goes down.
Another stand out error from Mason was a horror tackle by Lewis Grabban on Mason Holgate in the first half that looked a clear red card offence. Given that he gave no foul, you do wonder why Grabban has also not been charged retrospectively for serious foul play.
Returning to Gayle, there is apparently no scope for increasing the punishment if an appeal is deemed frivolous, so it would seem a no brainer for him to request a hearing. That could allow him to play at Villa on Saturday, and given that it needs a unanimous decision by a three-man panel for him to be found guilty, a two-match ban is by no means a foregone conclusion.
The news about Gayle has somewhat taken the interest of the “twitterati” away from the usual over-reaction that follows any game that Albion don’t win and had been dominating social media for much of Wednesday.
To be fair, Albion’s performance against Forest was as poor as we have seen since the defeat to Hull City in early November. Darren Moore put that down to the number of games that the players have had to contend with, and there may be something in that, but the difference between their home and away performances is stark of late and it is something the coaching staff need to address. Whether it is something to do with the expectation at the Hawthorns, or the approach being slightly different, I’m not sure. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Albion’s best home performance of the season, against Leeds United, was one in which they surrendered possession.
As against Middlesbrough, the goals were poor. Dawson played a ball that was just a little bit too risky into Livermore, and it was picked off and it ended rather unfortunately for Stefan Johansen as he deflected Ryan Yates’ miscued shot into his own net.
It was a similar error to Boro’s opener last week, and there have been plenty of fans calling for Moore to switch tactics and not play out from the back. Sorry, folks, but that is not going to happen. Moore and Jones will persist with these tactics and, while there is an element of risk, it is exactly those tactics that have put the Baggies in with a shout of automatic promotion.
I’ve read comments to the effect that with the strength of Albion’s squad, they should be destroying teams like Forest, or walking this division, or that Moore is underachieving. To me, this shows a lack of understanding of just how competitive the Championship is.
Do not forget that it was Stoke City that were installed as pre-season favourites based on the quality of their squad and many actually thought that Forest had an excellent squad – both are in mid-table and have changed their manager already this season due to underperformance. Automatic promotion may be more difficult after the last few home games, but it is certainly not impossible and I feel confident that Albion will be in the promotion shake-up in one way or another come May.
What has happened in the last two home games is that two of the most experienced coaches in the game, Tony Pulis and Martin O’Neill, have drilled their players extraordinarily well to stop Albion from playing. I thought that Forest’s pressing in the first 15 minutes of the game was excellent, and it directly led to the goal. That is not easy to do, and it is not easy to maintain – Forest could only keep it up for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
Albion’s biggest problem for me last night was the absence of Ahmed Hegazi, which was probably most obvious for Forest’s second goal. With Hegazi in the side, that would have been headed away. I don’t think that Adarabioyo had an awful game, but he just doesn’t have the presence and confidence of the Egyptian. The City loanee has previously looked much better on the ball, but he was not at his best yesterday and Hegazi has looked more and more confident with the ball at his feet as the season has gone on.
Gareth Barry was also missed in the first half. I can understand why Moore is unwilling to play him from the start in two games inside a few days, but his composure on the ball is normally superb. Livermore wasn’t bad, but he’s just not got the same quality.
I thought Harper was good once again and almost opened his Baggies goalscoring account with what was a fantastic volley from the edge of the box. He does offer some real dynamism in midfield, and I think a middle three of Barry, Harper and Johansen could well be the first choice for the remainder of the season.
Johansen again impressed me with his energy and passing, and he was incredibly unlucky with the own goal. As he gets to know his new teammates, I think he will become more and more influential. I feel that with Johansen in the middle three, Matt Phillips could play as one of the front three once he is fit, which will hopefully be soon.
Jacob Murphy has been on the end of some incredible criticism on social media. He started slowly against Forest, but then he was certainly not alone in the Albion side, but he grew into the game and had a couple of excellent driving runs past Forest defenders towards the end of the first half. I thought he continued that after the break and, of course, grabbed the first Baggies equaliser. I find it amazing that some fans have written him off already, but then without Robson-Kanu or Bartley on the field, some people have to find someone to hate! Most players take a while to settle in and, while he may not be first choice if Albion have a fully fit squad, I think he could have a significant part to play.
A quick word about Jay Rodriguez – that’s six penalties taken, six converted. It’s a fantastic record and it puts him back level with Dwight Gayle on 16 goals.
Ultimately, despite a late equaliser, it was a disappointing evening and it leaves Albion still looking for their first home league win since Boxing Day – their next chance is a massive game against Sheffield United but before then, there are another two away games including a trip to Villa and their game in hand over the top three at QPR.
Wednesday evening’s results have left the Baggies four points behind the Blades, and seven points behind new leaders, Leeds United. If they can win their game in hand, that becomes one point and four points – it’s still within reach but Albion can ill afford to drop too many more points in February.