West Bromwich Albion 0 Bristol City 2
Any optimism following Albion’s impressive performance at Reading last weekend was promptly snuffed out on Tuesday evening as Richard Beale’s team slumped to another home defeat. I’m sure the caretaker boss had some appreciation of how difficult this job is, but any lingering doubts were removed as this group of players once again failed to produce back-to-back performances.
Only twice since September 2021 have the Baggies recorded successive victories and once again, one positive display is followed by a poor one and there was no sign of the “sweat and courage” that Beale had attributed Saturday’s victory to. As soon as the Baggies went behind, any confidence that the players may have developed from the win at Reading disappeared.
Nigel Pearson’s side were well drilled and full of energy and overloaded the Albion back line forcing them into errors, and they could have easily been ahead before Williams fired in the opening goal. While the hosts produced some neat football in the middle of the park, they never really looked like getting back into the game and failed to record a single shot on target.
Albion’s impressive tally of thirteen corners in a total of fifty-six crosses produced virtually no dangerous moments for the visitors. In open play, the Baggies failed to get any real presence in the box often enough while from set pieces, the visitors were superbly organised and were first to virtually every ball. On the odd occasion when Albion did open them up, the finishing was woeful with Wallace, Thomas-Asante, Phillips and Gardner Hickman all guilty of missing the target when well-placed.
For me, the one positive sign was the promising display from Reyes Cleary. I thought he looked a bit out of his depth on Saturday but, while he wasn’t sparkling at the Hawthorns on what was his home league debut, it was a distinct improvement and he had a number of tricky runs into the box that came close to creating opportunities. Given his age and experience, I was encouraged.
He is not, however, the immediate answer to Albion’s goalscoring problems and neither is Brandon Thomas-Asante, although BTA does look like he has some real potential. Karlan Grant missed this match through illness and, while he may be the club’s top scorer over the past two seasons, he has never looked like a natural goalscorer to me. Daryl Dike is becoming a better player the longer he is injured and the club’s failure to provide adequate backup to him remains the biggest single issue that the playing squad has. Without a player like him, Jed Wallace can put as many crosses into the box as he likes, not too many will end up creating chances.
Whoever the new man is, he has a massive job on his hands. As I have said numerous times before, I felt that promotion this season was a long shot before this dreadful start, it is now much harder. It’s not necessarily too late, but it would take a miracle worker to transform this squad into one that could challenge. On paper, and certainly in terms of wages, it remains a top six squad, but there remains a collective mental weakness that is likely to take a continuation of the squad overhaul, and therefore some considerable time, to overcome.
Looking back at the last 35 years or so, Albion have been a situation similar to their current predicament just twice – in the late eighties and the late nineties. In the former, it just got worse and the club dropped into the third tier for the first time in their history. A decade later, the club found an owner and a manager to turn it around. Football in 1999 operated in a very different environment to the one we have now, and the Paul Thompsons of this world cannot afford to buy a club like Albion, but it is an off-field reset like the one that he provided and a transformational managerial appointment like that of Megson that is now required.
Unfortunately, I think the current situation and its proximity to relegation from the top flight makes it far more reminiscent of the late eighties. To avoid a repeat of the clubs demise at that point, we need investment and inspiration from those at the top of the club and, to quote our caretaker manager, sweat and courage from those on the field. All are in short supply at the moment.