I always try to start each game a fresh. However, I (unfortunately) can’t gloss over Monday night’s Jekyll and Hyde performance. A refreshing, quick paced, challenging performance was overthrown by a panic stricken final thirty minutes. Onwards and upwards.
The announcement of the line-ups saw the return of Gareth McCauley (let me reiterate once again, he’s better than JT you know) as a direct result of Olsson’s injury on Monday night. I was under the impression that this would bring the midfield into play a lot more, as McCauley is more adept at playing the ball out from the back, unlike the Swedish stalwart who tends to play route one. The back two of Evans and McCauley were never going to struggle with Dwight Gayle’s height and the organisation of the Northern Irish pair would probably shut the former Peterborough forward.
The promising inclusion of Saido Berahino suggested a 4-4-2 with the troubled Englishman playing alongside record signing Salomon Rondon. This was quickly quashed at kick-off as Berahino lined up on the left of the midfield.
I don’t know what it is about McClean on the right and Berahino on the left that worries me. With a tall Venezuelan up top, width is going to be vital. McClean, a natural left footed player, continually has to cut in from the right, almost rendering Rondon a statue. I think everyone knows my views on Berahino on the wing and it’s widely shared. Berahino is not a winger and never will be. It seems silly to leave our best attacking threat in a position which leaves him stranded.
Despite all this, a misty early afternoon kick off in London seemed like a real hopeful opportunity to Boing Boing back with three points at Tony Pulis’ old team. The statistics were really in our favour. Crystal Palace haven’t drawn a game at home since February when Alan Pardew faced his former club Newcastle. We hadn’t conceded an away goal all season. Surely then another 1-0 victory on our travels was imminent.
We seemingly stumbled off the coach, through the dressing room and onto the pitch. In the opening few minutes, Albion’s cobbled-together wing-backs Chris Brunt and Craig Dawson were very panicky on and off the ball, young England starlet Wilfred Zaha and Congolese Yannick Bolasie ran rings around Brunt and Dawson respectively. Two minutes gone and quick-footed Zaha was already tricky in the final third and won the Eagles a corner. The ball was cleared quickly by McCauley until a long, cross field ball from the Palace midfield saw a lackadaisical moment for Dawson exploited by the pacey African star Bolasie which resulted in a tame shot at Albion’s stopper Boaz Myhill.
Seven minutes in and Albion were already being controlled by Pardew’s midfield five. A ball pinged from the middle by versatile Jason Puncheon in behind Brunt leading to a shot that Zaha was disappointed to lash wide. Albion should definitely have been 1-0 down. Albion finally kicked into life as a ball down the middle, saw Rondon slightly offside.
Proving me right, McClean had a jinking run in from the left and exploited and created the space well but blazed the ball well over the bar. Albion wouldn’t have many more chances in the first half. If the defensive formation that Pulis insists on playing, Albion must take their opportunities. A 5 minute spell of possession by Crystal Palace ended in another Yannick Bolasie shot down the throat on the waiting Welshman.
Puncheon was definitely the puppet master in the opening 25 minutes. The Croydon born midfielder threaded a ball between panicky Brunt and Evans that resulted in an offside decision. This was the warning bell. This was the last involvement for the former Manchester United centre-back. A hamstring injury saw the introduction of James Chester, our only remaining centre-back. This worried me once again.
Chester, who played predominately in Hull’s back three last year, is not a right back. Dawson has clearly moulded and adapted to being a right back this season. Surely and I believe logically, Dawson should have continued on at right back and Chester at centre back. Pulis’ line that ‘Chester looked nervous in the dressing room’ should have surely have led to him playing in his most comfortable position. Anyway, I digress.
A clatter to Brunt’s face following a poorly worked Morrison free-kick could have done his confidence absolutely no favours. An accidental elbow from Zaha to Brunt’s nose saw a Terry Butcher-esque cut spill blood. Although the free kick was poor, Brunt’s position filled me with confidence. I really would like to see him back in the midfield with that wicked left foot and causing trouble with cutting passes and thunderous strikes.
Although Albion’s full back had been run ragged, there were no clear cut chances for either side until the 36th minute were a long ball from Scott Dann beat Brunt forced a good near post save from Boaz Myhill. The ball came out and Morrison could have quickly put forward but Albion seem extremely panicky to lose their shape and adapt when pushing onwards. As such, Dawson hammered the ball away and Albion lost possession again.
This kind of style was one dimensional and was throughout the entire match. Albion failed to adapt when pushing forward and were panicky in possession of the ball. I’m worried that leaving our new £12m as the lone striker will see him isolated and static. If he played alongside the isolated Berahino, rather than Berahino out wide, we’d be much better off. Albion need to find a Plan B. Gardner is not an answer to the problem of being one dimensional. Organisation is great, but we need to find our attacking prowess.
After the break
I do not have a personal vendetta out against Craig Gardner but I genuinely don’t think he’s good enough in possession, quick enough minded and definitely not a winger. Rather than adapt formation to a 4-4-2, which in my eyes is not outdated, Pulis’ stuck to his 4-5-1.
Surely, if Berahino were to come off, McManaman was the obvious choice to replace him. I don’t quite get why Tony doesn’t start the most tricky player we currently have, or why he doesn’t at least bring him on earlier. The former Wigan midfielder will start getting frustrated if he doesn’t get more game time soon.
10 minutes in and nothing had really happened. Albion started the half with a terrible cross from McClean and the game carried on in a midfield battle until four quick passes saw Albion slow to the pace. This lead to a Palace corner, in which the ball bobbled unconvincingly in our area, until a clearance from an unlikely source. Salomon Rondon should not have to clear the ball and should not have to defend, specifically when playing as a lone striker. This leaves the Albion instantly on the back foot when winning the ball back from set pieces.
Palace continued to attack and a poor tackle from Chester on Dwight Gayle saw Albion having to defend a Cabaye free-kick. A one man wall was formed made up of Craig Gardner and the ball was struck. As Craig Gardner moved to his left and the ball went to his right, upon went Gardner’s arm and stopped the ball from going past his right hand side. As a result, Palace arms went high in the air. This was undoubtedly a handball and Albion were lucky to not be 1-0 down. Luckily for us, it wasn’t a penalty but unluckily, I found myself agreeing with Robbie Savage and Glenn Hoddle on BT Sport. It wasn’t to be the worst moment of the day.
Five minutes after this, a ball wide to the former Newcastle midfield Cabaye saw a floated cross to the back post, where Yannick Bolasie powered the header home. This goal was definitely deserved and the Palace fans were in raptures. Albion fan’s early start had definitely been in vain and the team had offered little cheer to the travelling 1500. The team could no longer soak up pressure. As Puncheon and Cabaye ran the show, little gaps began to become exploited. Pulis may be drilling home defensive duties, but when the shape falls apart, West Brom appear panicky.
A further fifteen minutes passed where West Brom offered very little. It was negative, after negative, after negative. Even at 1-0, the eleven men offered very little and the introduction of Callum McManaman did very little to change that. Then the inevitable happened.
With two minutes to go Zaha, who seemingly runs on Red Bull, pushed the ball down the line and sprinted hammer and tongs past Chris Brunt whose legs had clearly gone. Brunt went to ground to win the ball, Brunt missed the ball, Zaha hit the deck. Penalty kick. Yohann Cabaye stepped up to take the penalty.
I hate to pause the action here. However, the former Frenchman had ran the show all afternoon and is undoubtedly the signing of the summer. Alan Pardew was disappointed to let the 29-year-old go during his time at St. James’ Park and will be elated that he’s been able to continue the form he showed in the North-East on his triumphant return to England.
Play. Yohann Cabaye went high to the right of Boaz Myhill’s goal and once again, the Londoners went wild. 2-0. This basically closed a unbelievably, unexciting game from The Baggies point of view.
There is so little to talk about in our attacking play. Albion, whether the fault of Pulis, the training or the players, are so one-dimensional. They seem fearful to break rank when going forward and this is too our disadvantage. The wing-backs and the holding two seem to believe that they’ll be chastised and caught out if they try something extravagant. I’m sure many Albion fans will agree with me that we aren’t looking for extravagant. We just want some kind of effort when we go forward. Even just a little.
Defensively the shape is brilliant, however it is near impossible to soak up sustained pressure for more than an hour and not concede. For me, I’m still worried that our full backs are our weakest areas. Brunt looks low on confidence and being ripped apart by Everton’s Deulofeu in midweek will not have helped. He’s been extravagant in Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side and they are extremely close to qualifying for the European Championships. Dawson has grew into his position, but with Evans out, it more than likely he will be moved to centre-back alongside Gareth McCauley. Chester is not a right back and deserves, due to his quality and age, to play in his natural position.
Square pegs will not fit in round holes. Players of Depay and Sanchez’ quality will destroy these full backs. I, for one, want to see more from our whole team and mainly, from our head coach.