Managerless Baggies’ defensive disaster puts board in spotlight

Bristol City 3 West Brom 2

The decisions by Mark Jenkins and Luke Dowling both to sack Darren Moore, and then leave Jimmy Shan in charge for another month came under further scrutiny on Tuesday evening as Albion put in a dreadful defensive performance in the first 20 minutes which saw them three goals down at Ashton Gate.

The fightback in the second half may have made the scoreline look better, and even restored a modicum of pride in the team, but it doesn’t change the stark fact that the club is meandering its way into a play-off campaign that looks increasingly unlikely to be successful.

It would be harsh to blame Shan for this defeat, both because he is so inexperienced and, to be fair, each of the three goals conceded was the result of at least one mistake by the players rather than any tactical flaw.

For the first, Johnstone’s ball was unwise but Livermore should not have tried to turn on the ball – he had a quick look over his shoulder so he knew the player was there, and it was a risk he should not have taken.

On the second, Bartley was just asleep as the second ball came in and, for the third, Townsend was unaware of Hunt behind him and you could argue that J-Rod should have followed him all the way back.

You could, perhaps, argue that Gibbs would have done a better job than Townsend, but we don’t know the full reasons why the former Arsenal man did not start.  Shan made that call based on all the information, something that we fans don’t have.

Furthermore, Shan may have been fooled, as the Sky TV commentary team was, that City would start with a different formation, but the goals were not a result of the change to City’s formation.

After the half hour, I felt the Baggies looked much better and there could have easily got a goal or two back before the break, with Gayle and Edwards both testing O’Leary in the Robins’ net.  Having said that, the hosts could easily have scored one or two more themselves.

Shan made a surprise change at the break bringing on Adarabioyo for Edwards and switching to a back three.  While I can understand the decision to put another man in what was a shaky defence, Edwards had looked to be one of Albion’s main threats in the first half.

Nonetheless, the visitors got a goal back early in the second half with a deft header from Gayle after a wonderful delivery from Johansen.  I thought the Norwegian had a decent game, perhaps his best in an Albion shirt, particularly in the second half.

The Baggies continued to knock on the door but could find a second until Gayle’s long throw (there’s a new skill we didn’t know he had!) was nodded on by Dawson for Rodriguez to finish with 15 minutes left.  You felt, at that point, that Albion would go on to get the equaliser, but it was not to be.

There is no doubt that, from 30 minutes on, Albion were by far the better side, but that first half hour was just awful from a defensive point of view.  I do feel that without both Hegazi and Dawson playing, the Baggies look extremely vulnerable.   That is a sad indictment on the club’s transfer policy and coaching over the past twelve months, and does not bode well for next season should Albion not get promoted – those two would likely be two of the first to attract attention from the Premier League or elsewhere.

What the last hour of the game did demonstrate is what the team is capable of.  Things look bleak based on the last two results, but with the right direction and motivation, that squad is eminently capable of winning promotion through the play-offs.

Even with the right direction and motivation, however, there is no certainty but if those in charge at the club are as desperate for promotion as their decision to sack Moore suggests, they surely must now realise that the status quo will not provide the best chance for that to occur.

Whether replacing Shan or giving him the help of an experienced coach, something needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.  I don’t feel that Albion are currently in danger of dropping out of the top six, but they need to go into the play-offs with some sort of momentum, and momentum is something that has been lost in the past few days.

For a club safely in fourth place with five games of the season to go, it seems unthinkable that a caretaker head coach continues to be in charge on a game-by-game basis, but that is the situation.

In all fairness to Shan, had J-Rod scored the penalty at Millwall, Hegazi probably wouldn’t have been sent off and the defence would have unlikely to have been so inept at Ashton Gate, and who’s to say that Albion wouldn’t have been six points better off?

But this game is about results, as Darren Moore will tell you.  Jenkins and Dowling have left an inexperienced man in charge, and they must accept the blame for the results.  It’s unclear as to how much influence our absent owner may have had on this situation – as I said in my article shortly after Big Dave was sacked, I suspect that Lai may be devising an exit plan and he may be keen to keep spending at an absolute minimum – there aren’t many coaches out there who would come into a situation like the one at the Hawthorns without a significant upside.

It’s already overdue, but now is the time for the club to act.  It is already easy to argue that those in charge have been irresponsible to have the let situation drift for so long – to allow it to continue further would be indefensible.

Albion now have five games left, starting with Preston North End at the Hawthorns this weekend, in which to rediscover some sort of form to give them any sort of chance of winning promotion through the play-offs.  To do that, the club must appoint an experienced coach to help or replace Shan, and they must do it as soon as possible.

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