Watford 3 West Bromwich Albion 2
Albion suffered their fourth successive away defeat at Vicarage Road on Monday evening leaving many fans questioning their ability to maintain a play-off charge. However, the Baggies are still very much in the mix but the coaching and playing staff need to cut out the mistakes that have seen the team pick up just four points from the last five Championship matches.
While I am about to criticise Carlos Corberán for some of his selection decisions recently, there is no doubting the overall positive impact he has made since joining the club. Only Burnley, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United have picked up more Championship points than the 31 that Albion have amassed since he was appointed at the Hawthorns, but if the last month is to be a blip rather than a slide, I feel he needs to avoid the temptation to accommodate his January signings when others are performing better.
At Vicarage Road on Monday evening, Corberán opted to go with the same starting line up as he did for the draw with Blackburn Rovers last week. While the selection of Chalobah in the middle of the park may have been justified given the positive performance he put in against Blackburn before a knock forced him off, I do not understand the choice of Marc Albrighton on the right wing which forced both Jed Wallace and John Swift to play out of position.
As it turned out, Chalobah looked to be wandering around in a daze in the first half, consistently out of position leaving the Watford midfield far too much space. It left Okay struggling to deal with their three central midfielders which inevitably left huge holes for the hosts to exploit. I had first thought that Chalobah wasn’t fit enough to start and that was the issue, but when I saw him put in a strong sprint after about half an hour when caught too far upfield once again, I dismissed that thought – evidently, he was either ill-prepared in knowing what was expected of him, which I find difficult to believe, or he was simply doing the wrong things!
As for Albrighton, he looked every one of his thirty-three years as he made only sporadic runs forward and consistently failed to give Darnell Furlong any sort of support defensively. With Furlong also trying to pick up the pieces left by Chalobah’s wanderings, I thought he did a manful task in repelling virtually every attack that came down Albion’s right. He may not have made the right decision every time going forward, but I felt he defended superbly in this match.
It was a minor miracle that Albion went in only one behind such had been Watford’s dominance after the opening goal – I actually thought the Baggies had done reasonably well for the first 20 minutes. And even the hosts’ opener was the result of a dubious offside call when the ball was initially played through to Gaspar, but when the ball was played across to Davis, O’Shea really should not have allowed him to turn so easily.
From an attacking point of view, Albrighton’s inclusion was not only unjustified based on his inability to impact the game, something that had been true against Birmingham and Blackburn as well, but it meant that Wallace and Swift were out of position. To be fair to Wallace, he is adaptable enough to play anywhere across the front line and, had the Leicester loanee been as influential as he had been on his debut against Coventry, Wallace’s displacement would not have been an issue. Swift on the other hand, looked completely lost on the left wing – he has neither the pace nor the natural instincts to play wide, and he was an entirely peripheral figure from an attacking point of view before the break.
Cue half time, and with Molumby and Diangana not appearing on the pitch to warm up with the other substitutes, it was clear that Corberán was about to make half-time changes for the first time in his Hawthorns tenure. I correctly predicted that it would be the two new boys that would be withdrawn allowing Swift to move to his natural number ten position and Wallace to move out wide with Diangana taking his place on the left wing.
While I’m sure the words of the head coach would have also spurred them on, the changes made Albion look like an attacking force and the second half turned into a frantic game that resembled basketball in its end-to-end nature. Corberán bemoaned the fact that, on each occasion that Albion equalised, the players continued to attack strongly rather than play more cautiously to ride out the inevitable backlash from the hosts. He obviously has a point, but I can’t help but think that the players will have remembered the Luton game from a few short weeks ago when they scored two quick goals to knock the stuffing out of the hosts and were hoping for a repeat.
As it was, Watford’s two second half goals owed much to luck as a fortunate deflection was instrumental in both and Albion’s second half performance certainly warranted at least a point from the match.
Josh Griffiths’ performance was worthy of note – maybe he could have done better with the first goal, although that is perhaps a little harsh, but he had no chance with the other two and he made two excellent saves. He should feel proud of his performance.
Daryl Dike failed to have much of an impact once again. I understood CC bringing him on – there had been a number of decent crosses that had been begging for a player like him to convert, but there were few such opportunities after his introduction. There were a few times when he could have been played through but whoever was on the ball failed to see his run, and he cut a frustrated figure. As I’ve said before, I’m not yet ready to give up on him, but he is a tricky problem to solve at the moment.
Hopefully, it will be another game that Corberán and his staff will learn from, but there isn’t time to make too many more mistakes. The form team of the division are up next at the Hawthorns and Albion will need to be at their very best to avoid a first home defeat of 2023.