Pretty much every Albion fan I spoke to before kick off believed we’d win comfortably against the league’s bottom club, Crystal Palace. After all, the Eagles had lost all but one of their Premier League games so far.
Having been to The Sportsman to raise a glass in honour of BaggieSteve, a cold and windy Hawthorns awaited. Steve Clarke made three changes to the side which were comfortably beaten the week before with Chris Brunt, Shane Long and James Morrison recalled. It looked like Clarke believed the Baggies would require more fight than finesse against the Eagles.
After a perfectly observed minute’s silence, the game kicked off – although neither side looked to take the initiative. The scrappy start meant Albion were unable to get into their preferred passing game, with Sessegnon having to come deep for the ball leaving Long isolated up front.
It was Palace who had the first chance of the game when Chamakh headed down for former Wolves’ midfielder Adlene Guedioura to run on to. But his left foot volley from the edge of the area was beaten away by Boaz Myhill at his near post. Albion had been comfortable, but could’ve found themselves a goal down.
The Baggies’ first chance came in the 30th minute when Stephane Sessegnon fed James Morrison 20 yards from goal. The Scots’ shot fired high into the Smethwick End. Shortly after, Billy Jones crumbled to the ground clutching his hamstring. Surprisingly, Steve Clarke sent on striker Saido Berahino to replace the injured defender. Morgan Amalfitano dropped back into defence.
Minutes before half time, Albion took the lead. Brunt fed Sessegnon who ran into the area before squaring for Berahino who fired a half volley into the corner. It was an excellent finish from the youngster after controlling the ball with one foot before firing home with the other in one movement.
The goal finally brought Albion to life and Berahino tested Speroni with a shot from the edge of the area which the Palace goalkeeper did well to hold.
Albion entered the half time break a goal up without playing anywhere near their full potential.
After the break
The game continued in scrappy fashion with neither team able to deal with the swirling wind and rain. On too many occasions, Albion fired high balls up to Long but the striker was unable to win aerial challenges. Palace were equally able to play direct balls up to Chamakh.
Jason Puncheon, a substitute for Guedioura, tested Myhill just after the hour mark with a deflected effort, but again Myhill did well to turn the shot around the post.
Palace, playing with more purpose, nearly equalised minutes later. Ex-Albion winger Jerome Thomas fired over a corner and found the unmarked Jedinak. Fortunately for Albion, the Palace skipper headed inches wide when it seemed easier to score.
The chance seemed to bring Albion to life. Berahino picked up the ball of the halfway line and advanced on the Palace defence, he did excellent to carry the ball to the 18-yard line and find Shane Long unmarked. But the Irishman’s touch deserted him as he dallied on the ball and allowed Dean Moxey to clear. Long’s touch summed up his afternoon.
Albion then created their best chance of the afternoon. Sessegnon after found himself out wide. The forward tricked his way into the area before firing over a cross. Brunt found himself unmarked at the near post but curled his effort wide of the post. Had he used his left foot, he probably would’ve scored.
Brunt made up for his miss when he fired over a corner for Gareth McAuley to secure all three points in the 83rd minute. The goal was reminiscent of the one scored late on at Fulham.
All that mattered yesterday was the result. With Palace scrapping for their lives, it was never going to be a classic. Albion were below-par but still managed to win comfortably. Against better teams we’ll be punished, but three points are three points.
The recalled trio of Brunt, Long and Morrison all struggled. Although it’s important to realise neither are match fit. Having only featured sporadically this season, it’s going to be difficult for the likes of Long and Brunt and get match sharpness. Those types of players require minutes on the pitch to hit top form. Long did little to suggest he deserves a prolonged spell as Albion’s No.9.
The game will not live long in anybody’s memory. But it was important Albion bounced back after last week’s humbling defeat by Liverpool. Also, it was nice to say a proper farewell to Super Kevin Philips.
Bring on the Villa.
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