They say that lightening doesn’t strike twice. But it did on Saturday for Albion fans.
Cast your mind back to January 2013. The Baggies travelled to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading. After battering the Royals for the majority of the game and cruising at 2-0 up, the Baggies somehow managed to lose 3-2. Saturday against QPR was a carbon copy.
Alan F-ing Irvine stuck with the same side that limped over the line against the Villa. Captain Chris Brunt was recalled to the subs’ bench, but Irvine resisted the urge to recall the skipper in favour of the adventurous Silvestre Varela.
Like most games under Irvine, Albion started off well. Stephane Sessegnon jinked down the right in the second minute and pulled the ball back for Craig Gardner. His goalbound shot was pushed over for a corner kick. On reflection, he should’ve found the net.
Albion, and Sessegnon in particular, looked threatening down the right. Sess picked up the ball again and crossed for Brown Ideye. The striker, on the turn, fired high over the bar. After Gardner had a shot block, Sessegnon flicked on the resulting corner for Joleon Lescott to head home at the far post.
The goal gave Albion further confidence. Varela picked the ball up on Albion’s area and ran clear. After a clever one-two with Sessegnon he fired under the helpless Rob Green to give Albion a 2-0 advantage after 20 minutes. At this point, there seemed no way back into the game for Harry Redknapp’s side.
But four minutes later they were given a lifeline. After Foster and Gardner had collided, Morrison was adjudged to have pulled Leroy Fer down. Referee Pawson pointed to the spot and Charlie Austin fired home.
Sessegnon was at it again before the break. After another run down the right he cut inside and fired goalwards. Rob Green made a flying save to keep the score down.
After the break
As you’d expect, Rangers came out of the block with all guns firing. Three minutes later, they were level. Richard Dunne headed Joey Barton’s header against the bar, the rebound was poked home by Austin on the goalline. Somehow, Rangers were level.
The game turned scrappy and neither team created any real chances. Foster made a good save from Austin but it looked as if both sides were heading for a draw. Redknapp made changes to try and force a win while Irvine dallied. The hosts threw on Hoilett in search of a winner. The one-time Albion target was given space as Sessegnon tired and failed to track back. With minutes remaining, Hoilett forced a corner from which Charlie Austin was left unmarked by Pocognoli to head home. Heartbreak.
Albion tried to find an equaliser. Berahino raced clear but his effort from a tight angle cannoned back off the bar with Green beaten.
Where do I start? Any way you look at it, Albion threw away three points with their inability to defend set pieces. For the first goal, Foster and Gardner got in each other’s way. The second was worst. Again, Lescott was caught under the ball – think West Ham – Ideye was then beaten to the ball by Zamora and then Pocognoli let Austin get in front of him to tap home. The left back was again caught napping for the third.
What’s more frustrating is that Albion actually played well for the first 45 minutes. They deserved to go into the break with a two goal advantage. The penalty was a real ‘home decision’. But in the second half, Albion were a shadow of the team they were before the break. The goal in the 48th minute knocked the stuffing out of us. We no longer had control of the ball in midfield and on countless occasions lost possession. Craig Gardner being the main culprit.
It’s worrying that with ten minutes to go our players looked dead on their feet. Why couldn’t Irvine see what was so obvious to everybody else? When Hoilett came on, Pocogonoli was given little protection by Sessegnon. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Sess – who was excellent. But Irvine should’ve recognised the threat. Why did he leave Sess out wide when Gardner was struggling in the advanced position in midfield? If he didn’t want to swap Gardner, why not put on Brunt for cover to take a point?
Once again Irvine’s inability to make a decision in the heat of the moment has cost us. This isn’t the first time it’s happened either. Think back to Sunderland on the opening day, Manchester United at home, Arsenal at home and Hull away. Had Irvine had any ability to influence a game with his subs’ bench we’d now have more points.
The defeat leaves Albion just two points above the relegation zone – having won two games at home and away this season. With Manchester City, boggy side Stoke City and in form West Ham over the Christmas period, it’s difficult to see where the next win is coming from – especially with Irvine in charge.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES!
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