Derby County 1 West Brom 0
After another frustrating afternoon, Valérien Ismaël firmly laid the blame at the feet of his players with some very strong words in his post-match press conference at Pride Park. The Frenchman had previously shied away from direct criticism of his team, but after a run of seven games in which Albion have picked up just seven points, scored just three goals and only played one side in the top half of the table, he evidently felt that now was the time.
One of the most telling statements was that he singled out Tom Fellows, saying that it took an 18-year-old to come off the bench and show the right mentality. He was a very angry man and it could be a very pivotal moment in the season. If the players respond in the right way, all well and good – if they don’t, it could be the beginning of the end for Ismaël.
As poor as Albion were, they still dominated the game with 61% possession, nineteen shots on goal to Derby’s three but one cataclysmic error handed the hosts their one shot on target and, after that, the majority of the team seem to lose any confidence they may have had.
I actually felt that the first half performance wasn’t that bad. Callum Robinson had the best chance of the game when he was slipped in by Jake Livermore but his shot was saved comfortably by Allsop – the Robbo we saw in the first few games of the season would have buried it. But there were few other clear opportunities although Albion played some decent stuff to create some good situations but, as has been the case too often in the last few weeks, the quality to find the killer ball or finish was sadly lacking.
With Mowatt and Grant ruled out with positive COVID tests, Big Val bought Molumby into the middle and surprisingly started Adam Reach on the left side of the front three. It was a disappointing afternoon for the former Sheffield Wednesday man and, should Grant still be ruled out on Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Diangana on the left with Tom Fellows coming in on the right.
Fellows was direct, pacey and exciting and the few chances that Albion did create in the closing stages came from his energy, industry and quality. Taylor Gardner-Hickman also came on and offered more in his 15 minute cameo than Furlong had done in the previous 75. The strength of Ismaël’s words after the game suggests that both could be in the running for a starting place against Cardiff.
The transfer window opens in a few days and bringing in a central striker is vital, but the rest of the attacking unit need to step up to the plate as he won’t be able to do it on his own. Ignoring the howler at Pride Park, the defence has, by and large, been excellent this season and most opponents have been restricted to very little. It’s hard not to think that if Albion had either Solanke or Mitrović in the side, they would be comfortably top of the league.
In my opinion, Valérien Ismaël’s public reaction to this defeat makes it a massive moment in the season. We don’t know how he has reacted in the dressing room to previous poor performances, but he obviously felt that it was necessary to make his displeasure public. It needs to be a turning point if Albion are to challenge for automatic promotion this season.