West Bromwich Albion’s hopes of mounting the unlikeliest late top six pushes, if any were still lingering, were surely killed once and for all on Sunday as Steve Bruce suffered a grim defeat to former club Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
Lyle Taylor’s second half penalty, awarded after Conor Townsend had handled an Onel Hernandez cross, was enough to separate the two sides in what was a game generally devoid of any quality and played out between two sides who are ready for their holidays.
It must be reiterated that Blues v Albion isn’t exactly at the top of either set of fanbase’s priorities when it comes to rivalries and derby days. It’d be about the mildest permutation of any West Midlands derby, and the first 45 minutes here only really served to prove that.
Here are the talking points from the Second City.
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Done and dusted
Any further talk from hereon out about play-offs are moot. This was a decent opportunity to make some genuine headway and to take advantage of one or two sides above them dropping points on Saturday. It’d have set them up nicely for the remaining games.
Instead, Albion have managed to find themselves further away from the play-offs than they were before the domestic schedule restarted on Friday night. It renders the remaining seven matches pretty unimportant, save for the need to ensure that, for the second time this season, their campaign doesn’t entirely fall off a cliff.
Including the respective cup defeats to Arsenal and Brighton this season, Albion have now lost more matches than they’ve won this season. Quite simply, even with parachute payments landing in your bank account in the summer following relegation, that’s pretty disastrous.
Bragging rights surrendered
It’s not Villa and it’s not Wolves, but the reality of it is that Blues are as good as it gets in terms of Albion and derby days this season – and, most likely, next season too. Neither has game between the two teams has been memorable this year, with a single goal winning either encounter for the home team.
The atmosphere was a little flat at St Andrew’s, certainly in the first half when many in both the home and away ends were merely trying to maintain concentration levels, such was the dearth of quality on the field. Albion’s extremely slim play-off hopes aside prior to this fixture, there was little on the line too.
Still, you’d rather be a Bluenose than a Baggie in an office environment or a school playground this Monday. Despite everything, there were still bragging rights at stake for supporters and Albion failed to deliver miserably.
Tayl of two pens
There was, of course, only one penalty – and it was a decisive one at that. Yet Albion had a great case for a penalty inside the first five minutes. Bruce was adamant post match that his side had been denied what he believed to be a stonewall spot-kick when the ball bounced off Marc Roberts’ arm, and instead the referee panicked and imagined up a free kick to Blues.
So perhaps it was typical that Blues themselves won win the game via a penalty of their own. There could be no complaints as Townsend’s arm deflected Hernandez’s hooked delivery from the right. Taylor, with his signature stuttered run-up, never gave Sam Johnstone a chance.
Albion, of course, didn’t lose this game because they were not awarded a penalty they ought to have had. After all, Karlan Grant has converted three penalties in the last month so it isn’t though they haven’t been getting them.
Changes are a-coming
If ever there was a case study required to highlight Albion’s need for changes in the summer, this was it. Not for the first time since walking through the doors of The Hawthorns in February, Bruce was bullish about what lies ahead for the club once this painstaking campaign finally draws to a close.
It’ll be tricky, of course. The squad’s various contract statuses being what they are means that Albion’s hierarchy may struggle to move on personnel who they’d otherwise find new clubs for, in order to make room for new blood who can in turn breathe life into a group which is showing signs of staleness.
The fanbase is fed up. All too often after games in this short space of time, Bruce too has shown signs that he is growing increasingly weary of the inconsistencies in form. There may well be little wriggle room on the face of things, but this summer – bringing with it a second round of parachute payments – is key nonetheless.