Blackburn Rovers 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
Two individual errors in two horrendous first half minutes proved decisive for Albion as they fell to a narrow defeat in their opening day fixture at Ewood Park. It was a disappointing result in a match that the visitors had dominated early on and certainly deserved something from given the overall balance of play
With head coach, Carlos Corberán, having been sent off by referee, Dean Whitestone, in the second half, it was left to new skipper, Jed Wallace, to lead the after match press conference. He said that the boss had told his players not to dwell on individual mistakes and that they will continue the high risk high reward tactic of playing out from the back, as seems to be a common approach from progressive coaches in the modern game.
It was an approach that worked well for the most part. Albion dominated the game up until the opening goal and, indeed, should have had at least one penalty in the first half, if not two. The two goals evidently changed the atmosphere of the game and the remainder of the first half was more even. The visitors were once again on top early in the second period, got one goal back, but couldn’t quite find the second, and the last twenty minutes was very end-to-end with both sides having opportunities.
Corberán had surprised many by starting Nathaniel Chalobah rather than John Swift with Jayson Molumby often the most advanced of the midfield three. The central defensive partnership of Cédric Kipré and Semi Ajayi that started the final pre-season friendly at Bolton was maintained for this match and, unfortunately for the Frenchman, it was his error that led the the second goal. For Albion fans, Kipré remains a frustrating player – having not seen him for a season when he had impressed on loan at Cardiff, there was, and still is, I guess, the hope that he can produce his best on a more consistent basis. He can look very comfortable with the ball at his feet and has a decent range of passing, attributes which suit the style of play Corberán wants Albion to play, but he has always had a mistake in him and, unfortunately, we saw that again at Blackburn. The Spaniard has had plenty of opportunity to see him in action in pre-season and was also keeping tabs on him at Cardiff – he opted to go with him on Saturday so he obviously has faith in his ability but we will have to wait and see how long that faith persists.
Unsurprisingly, social media has been vocal in its criticism of the Frenchman – given his relatively low reputation amongst sections of the fanbase, it was inevitable, but I am prepared to back our head coach’s handling of the situation. Perhaps the Spaniard’s decision to withdraw him in the second half was an indicator as his thoughts for the next match – that is, of course, assuming it was Corberán’s decision as he had already been sent off by that point.
I was more surprised by the decision to start with Chalobah rather than Swift, particularly given that the former Fulham man was on the verge of a move to Turkey a week ago. Once gain he produced some neat touches but, as it seemed last season, his apparent lack of mobility is the biggest issue for me. Given that he has just had a pre-season, I’d be surprised if it was a fitness problem, which only leaves desire as an explanation – the contrast between him and Molumby could not be more stark when it comes to the willingness to get around the pitch. Again, I’m sure Corberán had his reasons for this particular selection, but again it was one he changed when Swift replaced him just after the hour mark. I didn’t think that Swift really got up to speed at all and have always felt that he is at his best when he starts a game – I can’t remember him ever really making an impact from the bench.
The rest of the team was as expected and the bulk performed well. Conor Townsend was caught in possession for the first goal, but perhaps it was Kipré’s ball that put him in a difficult situation. Otherwise I thought he did well and supported Matt Phillips on the left side of the field well. Phillips was excellent, scored a very good goal and it was certainly a strong start to the season as is often the case for him. On the right, Furlong was OK and Wallace did well albeit his delivery wasn’t as good as it can be.
In the middle of the park, Molumby was his usual energetic self and Okay improved as the game went on having been somewhat loose in possession in the early minutes. Palmer will have been disappointed with the second goal but had little to do other than the goals.
Man-of-the-match for me was Brandon Thomas-Asante who was a constant threat and worked tirelessly to create opportunities. He was at the centre of the majority of Albion’s good attacking play and linked up well with Phillips and Wallace. With Maja on board to offer something different through the middle, and Sarmiento showing a few glimpses of his promise from the bench, the attacking options are looking encouraging.
It was a disappointing result and the errors that led to the goal will obviously dominate the after match commentary, but there were some positives in the attacking third. Defensively, there are obvious concerns after this display, but let’s not forget that Corberán’s Albion conceded just two goals in nine games late last year so I’m sure it is a problem he can solve. It’s a poor start, but it’s only one game.