Crystal Palace 1 West Brom 0
Any last vestiges of survival hopes for Albion were surely extinguished as they were beaten at Selhurst Park to leave them eight points from safety (increased to ten following Brighton’s win at Southampton on Sunday) with just nine games left. Escaping relegation remains a mathematical possibility, but if anyone thinks that the Baggies can pick up 18 points from games against Chelsea, Southampton, Leicester, Villa, Wolves, Arsenal, West Ham, Liverpool and Leeds, they surely need their head examined.
There is no doubt that Albion have looked better in the last month or so, but they just don’t look like scoring. They have managed to find the net just twice in their last six games and, while they have looked defensively strong in those games, largely thanks to the superb displays of Okay Yokuşlu, they have not been good enough in the attacking third.
The defensive transformation has been remarkable – three clean sheets in their last five games is more than they managed in the previous twenty four in the Premier League, but they now need to win as many points in the last nine games of the season as they have earned in the first twenty-nine.
At Palace, Albion were the better side in the first half but failed to create any clear cut chances with the best opportunity falling to Conor Gallagher whose touch let him down at the vital moment. The hosts rarely looked like troubling Sam Johnstone before the break, and it needed a mistake from Darnell Furlong to give them the opportunity to take the lead. It was obviously a costly error, but I won’t be lambasting Furlong for making it. Mistakes happen and Furlong is not alone in making them in the Albion defence this season – it is unfortunate that it ended up deciding the game, and you should also look at his teammates for not creating and/or taking the chances that could have made up for it.
Some of the blame should also go to Sam Allardyce – while it is understandable that he has kept the same defensive unit for the last five games given they have conceded just twice in that period, you have to question why he has not mixed things up in the attacking areas. All of the “front five” have been guilty of errors at key moments, either missing chances or misplacing the final ball, but Big Sam has opted not to give others too much of a chance. Against Newcastle, he made no substitutions until the last ten minutes, while yesterday it was still only the last twenty.
The most glaring omission has been Callum Robinson who has been sat on the bench unused for the last seven games and, as I said in my match preview, I feel he offers something different to our other attacking players. Another forgotten man is Kyle Edwards who has featured in just four of Allardyce’s Premier League matchday squads and is yet to see first team action in the league since Bilić left.
Furthermore, it may not be a popular opinion, but I would also be tempted to try Romaine Sawyers further forward – he played as a number ten for much of his early career and, while he falls short in a defensive capacity, I’d give him a go behind the striker(s) particularly given that Pereira has been misfiring, just to try something different.
Einstein’s famous definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results – it has become clear that the eleven that Allardyce has settled on is defensively strong, capable of playing some nice football in the middle of the park, but it is severely lacking in front of goal.
It’s an old adage that fans always think that, when things aren’t going well, the players that aren’t playing are always the answer. Often, it turns out that the coaches are correct in their belief that those not in the side aren’t good enough, but I can’t see how results will change without changing some of the personnel. It’s too late for this season, but let’s try mixing it up a bit up top – we might learn something useful for our promotion campaign, but that may be the last thing on Allardyce’s mind.