Points dropped but Albion starting to click again

Charlton Atheltic 2 West Brom 2

Ultimately, the Albion fans who were at the Valley on Saturday will have left frustrated that the Baggies had let the lead slip twice in what was a hard-fought encounter but, for me, there were signs that Slaven Bilić’s side are starting to click again.

I was equally frustrated, particularly with the manner of the goals conceded, but for much of the second half in particular, we saw some of the fantastic football that we enjoyed as Albion roared to the top of the table in November, and I feel optimistic that the coming weeks will see the Baggies return to winning ways and keep the chasing pack at bay.

Kenneth Zohore opened the scoring.
Picture: Laurie Rampling

It was a surprise to see Bilić pick both Robson-Kanu and Kenneth Zohore in the starting line up, with Pereira pushed out wide, but the big Dane’s performance at the Valley last week perhaps deserved the start. He repaid his boss with the opening goal that was all of his own making. He dispossessed Tom Lockyear on the left wing and powered into the box. His initial shot was blocked by Oshilaja but he quickly pounced on the rebound and fired it past Phillips at his near post.

It was a lead that Albion probably deserved with Charlton having threatened little, other than the opportunity handed to them early on when Sam Johnstone misplaced a pass, but the Baggies’ recent Achilles heel of set piece defending was in evidence again just six minutes later when the hosts struck back.

If retaining Zohore in the starting line up paid off, then Bilić must surely be ruing his decision not to keep faith with the stand out performer at the Valley last week, Ahmed Hegazi. Charlton’s best player last week was their giant centre back, Naby Sarr, and it was he that rose above Semi Ajayi to nod Conor Gallagher’s cross down for Josh Davidson to divert into the net. It was a well-worked short corner from the hosts, but Ajayi was really beaten too easily.

Pereira really should have put Albion back in front when he broke away with Zohore as Robson-Kanu and Lockyear were engaged in some sort of wrestling match in the centre circle, but he lost the opportunity when opting to switch back onto his stronger left foot.

Robson-Kanu celebrates his goal.
Picture: Laurie Rampling

Robson-Kanu put the visitors back in front shortly after half time with a neat flick from Matt Phillips’ cross that took a deflection off Sarr before going into the net.

For the next twenty minutes, Albion completely dominated but failed to find the decisive final ball that would have set up the opportunity to kill the game.

Grady Diangana came off the bench to much acclaim from the away fans and provided a few examples of the skills and trickery that we have missed in recent weeks. It was after once such moment that Albion had one of their better opportunities when he put Conor Townsend through only for Naby Sarr to deny him with a last ditch challenge.

Despite Albion’s domination, Charlton retained a threat, particularly from set pieces, and it was another of those that brought the second equaliser. The ball was played wide to Doughty and his cross was headed goalwards by Tom Lockyear who got above Townsend, with the full back somehow having been left with two players to mark at the far post. Johnstone got his hand to the ball but he could only push it onto the post, and it rebounded off the Baggies’ ‘keeper and into the net.

It was another example of poor set piece defending and, given Bilić’s obvious anger expressed in the post-match press conference, I think we could see Ahmed Hegazi back in the starting line up for the visit of Stoke City next Monday. The Egyptian was excellent last week and, while the performances of Bartley and Ajayi had been enough to keep him out of the side up until now, I think the time may be right to bring him back. He was arguably one the Baggies’ best performer last season, and his presence and experience could prove crucial in the run in.

Semi Ajayi is probably the man who would miss out. The former Rotherham man has been excellent for most of the season, but his form has dropped in recent weeks and a rest may be a good thing for him and, more importantly, the team. He may still be needed later in the season as suspensions and injuries will undoubtedly affect the squad.

So, after 27 games, the Baggies are back on top and, while the gap to third place has reduced in recent weeks, it is still a fairly healthy seven points. With the top two only having registered one win in the last six games, Brentford have won four while Fulham, Forest and Sheffield Wednesday all have three victories.

The Bees are the form side in the top six having picked up 13 points from the last 18, but I’m sure that both Albion and Leeds fans will like to think that they have the quality to see their points average recover enough to keep them at bay.

For me, yesterday’s performance was encouraging for Albion, but I’m not sure whether Leeds fans will feel the same after their home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

Lead picture – Matheus Pereira and Kenneth Zohore – by Laurie Rampling

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