Coventry City 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
Albion’s winning run came to an end on Wednesday as they suffered their first ever defeat at the CBS Arena thanks to a stoppage time penalty from Viktor Gyökeres. While Albion could consider themselves a little unlucky as the ball rebounded kindly for the Swede before he was brought down, and that the goal came so late, the hosts were the better team on the night and probably deserved the points.
The Baggies had more of the ball but it was the Sky Blues who created more chances with 17 attempts to Albion’s 5, and 8 on target to Albion’s 3. Alex Palmer produced a string of excellent saves to keep the scores level but he was unable to stop the penalty as Gyökeres sent him the wrong way.
To lose it so late was particularly galling as it looked as though Albion had weathered the storm and would escape with at least a point. The hosts looked to have run out of momentum in the second half and Corberán’s team were more in control as the game drew to a close – I personally felt that the visitors looked more likely to win it late on. Unfortunately, they lost the ball in a dangerous area and were unable to recover it despite several challenges and the ball fell kindly for the City midfielder before he was felled by Erik Pieters.
Before the break, Albion were second best as Coventry broke quickly and effectively time and time again. I had expected Corberán to bring Jayson Molumby into the side to offer a little more protection in the middle of the park against one of the division’s in-form teams – Okay looked overwhelmed in the first half as the City midfield broke either side of him and there was a marked improvement when the Irish international came on in the second half.
In his post match comments, Corberán defended his selection and felt that the problem before the break was that the wingers were dropping too deep leaving too few options in the midfield area. After the break, he instructed that only one of the wide midfielders should drop, with the other pressing higher, and it is interesting that it was Phillips that was withdrawn for Molumby rather than Swift. Another of the Spaniard’s comments explains this in that he effectively switched to a 4-4-2 – I did think at the time that it looked like one of the midfielders was playing further forward – initially it was Rogić until he was withdrawn, and then Wallace moved up alongside Dike when he came on.
The Spaniard’s explanations are really honest and interesting – he felt that these tweaks worked, but having lost the game, they no longer make sense. I agree that they did work as Albion did look much better in the closing stages until that fateful moment.
I’ve seen plenty of comments on social media that Albion’s players didn’t perform but, while they weren’t at their best, I think it was more to do with the quality of the opposition rather than any real drop in their own performances. Yes, a few passes went astray but that also happened against Rotherham but they didn’t have the quality to take advantage. Mark Robins felt that this was one of Coventry’s best displays of the season and, as I have already said, they are one of the division’s form teams with only Burnley having picked up more points from the last 12 games.
Furthermore, while the Baggies may have rode their luck and had Alex Palmer to thank for keeping the scores level for so long, it took a penalty to win it for Coventry which means that Albion haven’t conceded a goal from open play in more than ten hours of game time.
This result is a reminder that the Championship is a difficult division and the opposition will not just roll over and let Albion march up the table, much as we would like them to, and on this performance, Coventry will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. It is also a match that Corberán and the players will learn from – you often learn more from defeats than victories – and there is certainly no need to panic. If nothing else, it will remove any complacency that any of the team may have developed.
It is such a tight division this year that the points total to make the top six may be a little lower than normal, but the average is just over 74 points meaning that the Baggies would need to average about two points per game for the remainder of the season to make the top six. Not impossible, and it feels doable given the recent form. Nights like the one at Coventry need to be the exception, of course, but the turnaround we have seen in the last two months can give Albion fans plenty of hope for 2023.