West Brom 1 Ipswich Town 1
The day may have ended with the shock sacking of Darren Moore, my thoughts on which I covered in my earlier article, but the main event of the day should have been the football match.
Fourth in the table against rock bottom should have been a comfortable home win, but it didn’t go quite as planned for Albion and it proved to be the final nail in Big Dave’s coffin, not that any of us knew there was even a coffin being prepared.
Moore was hampered in his preparations by injuries which meant that three of his first choice back four were unavailable. It was unclear in the early stages as to what the formation was – they seemed to line up at kick off as a back four, but it morphed into a back three with Townsend and Phillips as wing backs. Johansen and Livermore occupied the middle of the park with many pleased to see Gayle central with Rodriguez and Murphy either side.
To be fair, though, it was a very fluid formation as it seemed to switch between a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 and seemingly a 4-4-2 at times, which was either a plan or a lack of discipline on behalf of the players.
Ultimately, it was a thoroughly disappointing result and performance, but were it not for some excellent saves from Ipswich ‘keeper, Bartosz Białkowski, it could easily have been all over by half time. Twice Jacob Murphy tested him with excellent shots, and he also saved well from an Adarabioyo header. There was also a robust challenge on Dwight Gayle that could have been a penalty, and you felt that a second goal would have put the game to bed, but it was only Stefan Johansen’s deflected free kick that divided the teams at the break.
I felt that in the first half, Albion did attack with much more potency that we have seen recently, and there was more variation between the direct balls out and playing out from the back, but when they did play it around, there were some familiar frailties. The absence of Ahmed Hegazi, Kieran Gibbs and Mason Holgate was definitely felt. Adarabioyo looked terrified of making a mistake and too frequently put Johnstone under pressure which led the ‘keeper to some rash passes himself. Dawson often did well with some long cross-field passes, but he too was guilty of one or two very sloppy passes and Ipswich were given far too many good opportunities before the break.
The Baggies may have had two or three more goals of their own, but if Ipswich had a bit more quality and composure in front of goal, they could have easily had a couple themselves. Then again, I guess their deficiencies in front of goal is one of the reasons why they are bottom of the league.
The visitors’ equaliser came after a great first time cross from Aston Villa loanee, James Bree, and Jon Nolan, who was left alone by Matt Phillips showing his lack of defensive instincts, scored with an excellent header into the corner, despite his post-match claim never to have scored with his head before, even in training.
The second half was very open and either side could have grabbed a winner. Białkowski made some further saves and Johnstone made a couple of his own, and it certainly didn’t look like a side going for promotion against the bottom side in the division.
It could have easily been a simple two or three goal win for Albion, but it was never convincing. The midfield remains the key problem. Johansen did OK but didn’t look like the answer I hoped he might be. I just think Albion don’t have the players to be comfortable in a midfield two, but it is a problem that will no longer be taxing the minds of Darren Moore and Graeme Jones.
The decision to change manager at this stage of the season is a risk in itself and, if there is one positive that may come from it, it is that a change of voice and approach in the dressing room could galvanise the players a little more. I do feel that they have been a bit lacklustre in recent weeks, and maybe a new face will make a difference.
When I left the Hawthorns on Saturday evening, I was incredibly frustrated and disappointed, but the idea that Darren Moore could be sacked was not one I could entertain. It was a sad day for this football club, but it is a reflection of modern football and of the position West Bromwich Albion find themselves in.
With an owner that is not prepared to invest, the club’s board feel that they do not have the time to give a manager who is learning his trade. Personally, I think that their expectations are unrealistic; no manager will guarantee promotion particularly with the sort of financial backing that has been available for Darren Moore this season, and the question is whether the chances of promotion are any better after his sacking than they were before.