Norwich City 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
After a poor performance against Blues, Albion were much changed and much improved at Carrow Road and a little unfortunate not to come away with all three points.
Dean Smith’s Canaries rarely looked like a side that had won six games on the bounce as the Baggies largely controlled the game albeit out of possession for much of the time. The hosts were restricted to just three attempts on target and their goal was extremely fortunate and perhaps should have been disallowed. Having watched the replays, Byram was not offside, but his touch which diverted the ball past Button did look as if it came off his upper arm.
Steve Bruce opted to make a number of changes with Thomas-Asante, Livermore, Furlong and Pieters coming into the side at the expense of Grant, Okay, TGH and Bartley. All of those who came into the team performed well with skipper, Livermore, putting in one of his best performances for many months. In the first half, Albion sat deeper than they have done for much of the season with Bruce, I suspect, anxious to avoid a repeat of the goals conceded recently where his defence has been caught out with simple balls over the top. As a result, they didn’t look like conceding and, for only the second time in the league this season, it was the Baggies who took the lead. Smith will be disappointed with his defence as O’Shea was completely unmarked at the far post and finished serenely.
Norwich looked very ordinary for much of the first half and Albion could have extended their lead and, perhaps, should have been given a clear opportunity when John Swift went down under a robust challenge from Grant Hanley. Referee, Thomas Bramall, waved away the penalty appeals.
After the break, Albion did press a little more and created a few chances as a result with perhaps the best falling to Thomas-Asante that he curled just wide. The youngster didn’t have too many opportunities but he occupied defenders well allowing the likes of Diangana, who was back to his best, and Wallace a little more room.
At the back, Pieters looked assured on his full debut while Townsend looked very comfortable at centre back. Furlong, as well, put in a good performance as the team as a whole were much improved when compared with the display in midweek.
Unfortunately, the hosts did get that fortunate equaliser and Albion had to settle for yet another draw, their seventh in their opening ten games. The only Baggies side to do that before was Brian Little’s team in 1999 whose record was W2 D7 L1, a little better than this season, and that was a campaign that ended with Gary Megson in charge and a successful fight against relegation.
I don’t believe things will get that bad this season as I feel that Albion have played well in most games this season and could easily be eight or ten points better off. The fact remains, however, that those points haven’t been forthcoming and the Baggies sit in 21st place as we head into the international break. The fortnight gap until the next match will hopefully provide time for the likes of Rogic and Kelly to get up to match fitness, and there is a chance that Daryl Dike may be available for when league football returns. Bruce will need all the help he can get as Albion head into what will be a crucial set of games in October.
There are currently seven games scheduled in October and the Baggies will probably need to win four or five of them if they wish to get back into play-off contention. Despite some fans calling for Bruce to be sacked during this period, it seems certain that he will continue for the time being, but this run of games will be crucial in determining his future beyond the end of the year. I’ve heard rumours that there is a clause that means the club could terminate his contract should Albion not be in the top six at Christmas, but I’ve not idea as to whether that is true. Alternatively, former Birmingham Mail reporter, Chris Lepkowski, suggested on Twitter that the club plan to keep the manager in place for this season and next.
Only time will tell, but there is no doubt that Bruce and his coaching staff need to make the very best of these two weeks and ensure that they hit the ground running on 1st October and start winning games. If not, the pressure on him will only continue to mount.