Baggies still not firing, but rescue a point at Derby

Derby County 1 West Brom 1

Slaven Bilić’s team was once again forced to settle for a draw in a game that they will feel they could have won.  Having said that, most Albion fans would have settled for a point before the game, and definitely when the Baggies still trailed with only ten minutes to go.

With more attempts, more possession and more passes, Albion came out on top in most of the key statistics, but it was Baggies’ ‘keeper Sam Johnstone who needed to produce a man-of-the-match performance to keep the hosts down to just one goal.  One penalty save plus two fantastic stops in open play in the second half proved what a fantastic goalkeeper he is, and was the perfect riposte to the online criticism he received during the week.

It will be a day that Kieran Gibbs will be anxious to forget.  He looked a little off the pace from the first whistle and it was a rash challenge that brought down Martyn Waghorn for the first penalty of the match.  He was then forced off with a groin injury after just 20 minutes.

After the first goal, Albion had the better of the game creating some decent chances including one from Nathan Ferguson following a marauding run, and another from Darnell Furlong who came close from a corner.  However, most of Albion’s possession was passing from side to side looking for a way to break down a well organised Derby defence.

Perhaps the best Baggies chance of the first half came just before half time when Romaine Sawyers finally found the telling ball to put KenZo in behind the defence.  Derby ‘keeper, Kelle Roos, came out very quickly and managed to divert Zohore’s effort wide, but the Dane will feel he should have scored.

Before that, Derby had been awarded their second penalty after assistant referee, Mark Pottage, determined that Filip Krovinović handled the ball.  Replays showed that Pottage got it wrong – yes, it is easy to make a mistake but for an assistant referee to give a penalty, he needs to be 100% sure.

Bilić’s half time change to bring on Diangana was perfectly understandable given what happened at Luton, and I think that the decision to switch Ferguson across to left back was to offer better defensive cover with the young West Ham loanee in front of him.

Albion once again had the better of the opening period of the second half, but one thing that was obvious was a growing frustration amongst the Baggies players with some of the decisions of referee, Gavin Ward.  More than once, Romaine Sawyers, Jake Livermore and Semi Ajayi remonstrated with the referee after some very bizarre decisions, and the fact that none were booked suggests that Ward knew he wasn’t having his best game.  As a result, as the second half went on, the game became more fractious and bad-tempered.

Derby had their best two chances of the second half shortly after the hour mark, both of which were well saved by Johnstone, before Slav made his final substitution with 20 minutes left bringing on Matheus Pereira for Matt Phillips.  It proved to be the game changer as it was the Brazilian who won the penalty from which Zohore equalised.

In the final stages of the game, it was all Albion as they sought the equaliser.  Derby defended well, but finally the breakthrough came when Pereira went down on the byline under a challenge from Max Lowe.  Contact may have been minimal, and the referee may have been influenced by penalty decision in the first half, but it was no more than the visitors deserved.

Livermore perhaps should’ve scored the winner late on after great work by Diangana, but his shot was deflected over by the young debutant, Lee Buchanan.  Gavin Ward gave a goal kick, however, a decision which incensed Slaven Bilić earning him his second yellow card of the game.

A draw was probably a fair result, but given their domination of the ball, it is once again a game that Albion should really have won.  Obviously the mistake by Gibbs early on was key, but the Baggies need to create more chances with the players they have at their disposal.

Pereira’s impact should perhaps earn him a starting place, and Krovinović has not really shown enough end product for the skills he evidently has.  The performance of Chris Willock for the PL2 side on Friday evening in the 6-0 win over Sunderland will surely have given Bilić food for thought, and it could be that one Benfica loanee could replace another in the number ten position in the near future.

At times against Derby, there was too much of a gap between the midfield and the back four and, while Livermore has played much better with Sawyers alongside him, I do wonder whether there might be different options.  Rekeem Harper has not had much of a look-in under Bilić, but remains an option, but the other choice might be to push Ajayi into midfield once Hegazi returns – he has played there before.

There are still more positives than negatives for the Baggies.  They are dominating possession and they are still unbeaten in the league, but there are too many mistakes at the back and they need to find that clinical edge around the box.  Eighth place may seem a little low, but nine points would normally see a team firmly inside the top six at this stage – Albion had nine points in 2007 and found themselves in third spot – and if they can keep close to the two points a game average, they won’t be too far away.

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