Queen’s Park Rangers 1 West Brom 0
While it’s true that Albion are misfiring at the moment, it was another day when decisions failed to go their way in a game that they really should have won before half time. They were denied a clear penalty for the second league game in succession and Charlie Austin’s winning goal looked suspiciously offside, but their first half dominance ought to have been enough for them to claim the points.
With Valérien Ismaël not wishing to rush Daryl Dike into the side as he looks to build his fitness, the Frenchman opted to play Matt Phillips through the centre with Robinson and Grant in the wide positions. It is at the back where the difficult decisions had to be made, however. With Kyle Bartley evidently not fit enough to play, Cédric Kipré suspended and Semi Ajayi with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations, Matt Clarke was his only recognised centre back available and he was joined in the back three by the two usual wing backs, Furlong and Townsend. Gardner-Hickman and Reach took the wing back roles while Livermore and Molumby completed the line up in the middle.
In the first 45 minutes, Albion looked incredibly comfortable and the hosts rarely threatened. They dominated possession and got into plenty of promising positions but, as has been the case so often this season, the final ball was lacking and they only created one clear cut chance when Phillips just failed to turn home an inviting cross from Karlan Grant.
Chris Willock was at the centre of everything QPR did well but it was another ex-Baggie, Stefan Johansen, who went closest for Mark Warburton’s side before the break with a rasping drive that David Button parried relatively comfortably.
After half time, the game was much more even and was developing into an attractive contest. Both sides had chances with Adomah becoming increasingly influential for the hosts. The moment that all the visiting fans were waiting for finally arrived with the introduction of the new £7m signing, Darryl Dike, just before the hour mark. He made an immediate impact as his first touch was a flick on that sent Karlan Grant through on goal but he was unable to make the most of the opportunity as he was crowded out in the box.
For the next fifteen minutes, Dike’s introduction looked to have been the moment that would turn the game as Albion immediately looked to be a more potent attacking force. The Rangers defence refused to be cowed, however, and Dike was left floored with one brutal aerial challenge that went unpunished by referee Simon Hooper.
Unperturbed, the American set up a chance that Livermore put over the bar before a wonderful touch set Grant into the box and his cross almost rolled along the goal line before rolling out for a goal kick
A strong challenge by the American left Yoann Barbet in the advertising hoarding and, as the referee opted to wait for him to receive treatment before restarting the game despite him being off the pitch, any momentum that the Baggies had built up was dissipated with a six minute stoppage.
And then came those fateful final few minutes when Hooper waved away what looked a clear foul on Townsend at one end before Charlie Austin turned home Willock’s cross.
Defeat has inevitably given stronger voice to those who would like to see Ismaël sacked, calls that I feel sure will go unheeded. Albion’s record is undeniably poor at present, but they are still in the early stages of a long term project, something that some fans are unable or unwilling to accept.
I do think Dike will make a significant difference, which may or may not be enough to get the Baggies promoted, but his signing is a key piece of the project – it may be the only additional piece we see this month.
The defeat leaves Albion seven points off the top two, but with twenty games to go, there is plenty of life left in this season. With Peterborough and Preston to come to the Hawthorns in the next two games, six points are there for the taking.