West Brom 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
As Black Country Derbies go, it was entertaining but the absence of fans in the stadium meant that it lacked the intense atmosphere that would be usual for games between these fierce rivals. While the visiting fans would have been taunting their hosts about their impending relegation, Baggies fans would have been able to counter with the recent history of this fixture that means that, by the time the clubs meet again, Wolves will have gone more than ten years since their last victory over their nearest neighbours.
Of course, barring a spectacular collapse of one of the clubs outside the relegation coupled with an unlikely run of four straight victories by Albion, it will be at least another 15 months before the next Black Country Derby in the league, and I’m sure that most Baggies fans would have swapped the four points they took off Wolves for Premier League survival.
The match itself was a the Baggies season in microcosm – a shaky start followed by an improvement following a tactical switch only for them to shoot themselves in the foot by conceding just before half time, before recovering, but not doing enough to claim all three points.
It is becoming ever more difficult to write anything different about Albion games as they are becoming very similar albeit the odd moment makes a difference to the result. Fábio Silva’s goal was extremely fortunate, but it would be churlish to argue that Wolves didn’t deserve the lead, while Albion’s second half display was good enough to win but they only converted one of the three massive chances they had – only against Chelsea and Southampton have Albion looked clinical this campaign.
Thoughts are increasingly turning to next season and whether Sam Allardyce will be given, or will want, the opportunity to bring Albion back up. I said in my opinion piece a few weeks ago that I would not be in favour of Big Sam continuing, but that was before the performances against Chelsea and Southampton. While those games have not ultimately changed the club’s fortunes, they cannot be ignored. If the club can persuade him to stay, which ultimately comes down to the transfer budget, then I will give him my full backing.
The main advantage he holds against any new appointment is that he knows the club and the squad inside out. Obviously, a number of key players from the current squad will not be at the Hawthorns come August, but Allardyce will know exactly what he needs and the club has the opportunity to work on those transfers now rather than waiting for the summer and a new appointment.
Big Sam will never win everyone over. I still feel he took far too long to turn things around and I certainly don’t think he is a long term appointment, but his experience and his knowledge of the club now means that the board would be crazy not to try keep him.
Of course, there are another four games to go and if Albion don’t remain competitive, it could feel different come the end of the campaign. One more pointer could come in the rescheduled match against West Ham United on 19th May – if, as expected, fans will be back in the Hawthorns on that evening, their feelings will undoubtedly be made known, although I guess that many may well just be happy to be there.