West Bromwich Albion 2 Queen’s Park Rangers 2
When QPR visited the Hawthorns on 22nd June 2020, the result was the same but, with it being enough for the Baggies to win promotion and there being no fans in the stadium due to the COVID pandemic, it was a very different situation. I mention it because that season, Albion “bottled it” when Project Restart brought football back but managed to get over the line, and they have been bottling it ever since.
Jed Wallace, in his post-match interview with Radio WM, used those very words to describe his teammates as they have failed to secure the points they should have in recent weeks and seen the chances of a top six finish slip away having fought back so impressively from the bottom of the table in October. It’s the first time one of the players has admitted that, but it is something that seems to have become endemic in the club since COVID interrupted football in March 2020.
Slaven Bilić’s team threw away a massive lead that they had built up over Brentford and only made the top two when the Bees themselves bottled it when they had the advantage. The following season, they produced some excellent performances when the pressure was off against the better sides, but continually failed to rise to the occasion when playing the “big” games against their relegation rivals. Last season, the wheels fell off under Ismaël but they showed their ability against the better sides later in the season, beating both Fulham and Bournemouth. However, they were found wanting again when the pressure was on to try and make the top six, only to find their form with some excellent performances in the final few games when there was nothing left to play for.
Turning to this season, when Corberán took over, there was little expectation of a play-off place but a remarkable run of form saw them rise the table and they hit the top six with the comeback win at Luton. Since then, with the expectation that the top six is achievable, form has once again deserted them.
This season’s team can point to injuries to key players, and I certainly feel that the absence of Dara O’Shea and Okay Yokuşlu was a key factor today as they both play such an important part in playing out from the back, but the squad has been lacking true on-pitch leaders for some time, something that successive recruitment teams have failed to address. It was, perhaps, highlighted even more today when not one player sought to console Josh Griffiths after his error today, albeit I felt he was not completely to blame with Pieters’ backpass poorly placed and overhit.
In another parallel with 2020, other sides are also bottling it and Albion have not lost ground on the top six over the Easter weekend despite picking up just one point. However, while the gap remains five points, they have dropped down to 11th and now they only have six games to make up the difference. Had they beaten both Rotherham and QPR, they would now be sitting in fifth place.
With four of the remaining six games away from home, few Albion fans will have any confidence that they can secure enough points to make the top six. And this season, it is not just an opportunity missed, the financial situation could mean that the club faces a very bleak future.