November 20 2010
Gus Poyet says his Albion side have lost their way after this latest show of fallibility. No victory, no clean sheet, but the manager is probably either wrong or playing mind games with his players – focus is required rather that introspection, tweaks rather than major surgery. Certainly, Poyet is right to note their relative generosity in possession, repeatedly gifting the ball to opposition who were well-organised and inventive, but this was an off day. Gary Dicker will rarely invite as much interception as his wayward distribution did today, and with the exception of the ceaselessly industrious Radostin Kishishev, few of his teammates shone.
It could be argued that the loss of Kazenga LuaLua has been felt almost immediately, with only Elliott Bennett showing the requisite pace to breach what will not be the last unspectacularly resolute League One backline. Agustin Battipiedi was handed a starting place in the midfield to exhume his penalty shootout miss against Woking in the FA Cup on Tuesday, but the Argentinean’s guile and raw skill are not yet matched by his understanding of the pace of the English game, and his withdrawal early in the second half coincided with the Albion finally raising the tempo. They needed to do so after Bristol Rovers took the lead with a corner which was only the latest in a string of crosses which Casper Ankergren and his defence looked uncomfortable with, Byron Anthony providing a firm header past a couple of defenders.
The warning signs of sloppiness had been there, coming at their ugliest when Adam El-Abd, a ball-winner who knows his limitations and has replaced rashness with care, lost control while rushing ahead and lunged forward in an attempt to salvage his misjudgement, earning a caution. Rovers grew in confidence, testing the uncertain Ankergren with more crosses and slowing the flow to match their obvious plan. Marcos Painter worked tirelessly, often appearing to be a makeshift left-winger, and Chris Wood, the striker on-loan from West Brom, showed neat touches and a fearless approach to shooting. His build resembles Neil Mellor, but his new supporters will hope for more than that. Bennett flashed centres to Ashley Barnes, who always needs a goal to spark him, to no effect, before Glenn Murray eventually replaced him as Albion adopted greater urgency. Finally, at the end of a barrage of pressure after the interval, the relentless Painter unnerved the Rovers defence with a cross which trickled into the net via a flail by Jeff Hughes.
Only one team was going to win now, and but for a catalogue of bizarre refereeing decisions and displays of incompetence by his assistant, who appeared to have particular difficulty in judging a distance of ten yards at corners, Albion might have come through comfortably. Wood saw a long range strike plunged upon at the second attempt by Anderson in the away goal, then picked up the ball after being fouled to score a penalty with confidence. Still, that was not to be the last – Albion ensured it by allowing Rovers to prod and press in between their own attacks during the final ten minutes.
Cruelly, Painter headed past Ankergren in injury time at another corner, leaving only the sight of Anderson, who had made his way out of his goalmouth and into the opposite penalty area for the set piece, celebrating with a couple of hundred away fans. If Rovers just about deserved a point, the truth is that Albion didn’t deserve three.