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Analysis: Deja Vu for West Brom, who need to snap out of their trance

By Matt Wilson | West Bromwich Albion | Published: | Last Updated:

It wasn’t just the late Kenneth Zohore penalty that gave those who watch Albion a curious sense of Deja Vu.

Jake Livermore leaps for the ball. (AMA)

For the second time in four days, Zohore sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot in the last five minutes to rescue a point from a losing position.

But moreover, what went before it was also frustratingly familiar. The story of this season is currently stuck on the same page.

There is plenty of statistical analysis available to the layman these days, but forget about xG and xA and x-rated Wyscout data, you need dig no deeper than the rudimentary numbers to find a pattern emerging.

There have only been two scorelines in all six of Albion’s games so far and they are the traditional bangers-and-mash 1-1 draw and the not-much-more-exciting 2-1 win.

In the league, the force is even stronger. Slaven Bilic’s team have conceded one goal to each of their five opponents so far.

They’ve scored one against three of them, and two against two of them. They’ve come from 1-0 down to earn points in four of those games.

Even beyond the numbers there is something strangely hypnotic about this team of midfielders.

Pedestrian possession in the opposition’s third ends in a struggle to break down 10 men that grows increasingly tense until something breaks and a penalty is won.

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Then, a striker who has done very little else, will put away said penalty and Albion keep rumbling on unbeaten, their acceptable-to-good start intact.

Because right now, Slaven Bilic’s Baggies seem to be a team on a repetitive, almost hallucinogenic trip.

It can be quite pretty to watch, and quite fun at times, but it’s also capable of boring, and it’s certainly twisting a few melons.

The positives remain the positives. Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi look solid and composed, like two big centre-backs behaving like two big centre-backs.

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Romaine Sawyers, who was back to his best for this game, is also starting to play more incisive forward passes into the box. So there is hope of progress there.

There is also hope in the form of Matheus Pereira – who has twice looked lively off the bench – and must now surely be pushing for a start, even if there was minimal contact when he went down to win a penalty.

But the question marks remain question marks. Despite Kenneth Zohore’s two goals in four days, Albion still look too cute, too sluggish, and too limp in the final third.

Whether it’s Zohore or Charlie Austin – who wasn’t seen in this match thanks to Kieran Gibbs’s inconveniently convenient injury – the Baggies don’t yet have a striker fit enough to strike fear into the opposition.

Filip Krovinovic is a technically tidy little player, a busy bee constantly hungry for the ball and on the cusp, you always feel, of doing something special.

Except it hasn’t exactly come yet, and instead, he turns out, lets the opposition get back into place, and then Albion start the whole process of trying to break down 10 men again.

On the wings, Grady Diangana, Matty Phillips and Kyle Edwards all have the ingredients to threaten, but they can’t quite get them in the right order at the moment.

It’s an infuriating problem, but the curious thing is, Bilic is the opposite of boring; the anathema to repetition.

Enigmatic and charismatic, he got sent off in this game after a host of questionable decisions from the officials, and all it did was cement his place in the hearts of many fans.

He dealt with the issue in his post-match press conference with the typical honesty and humility we’ve come to expect. It really is difficult not to warm to Albion’s new manager.

One of his players also strengthened his relationship with the supporters.

The truth is, Sam Johnstone has always been a more than competent Championship goalkeeper since he arrived at the club, but Ben Foster’s shadow looms large.

No player is perfect, particularly in the second tier, but after calling out his critics in midweek, Johnstone put in a dominant display in goal to back up his comments.

It wasn’t just his penalty save from Martyn Waghorn, or his saves in the second half, but the way he sensed danger and rushed off his line will instil confidence in his defence.

Johnstone shrugged off the criticism afterwards, and his mental fortitude is a positive sign for a relatively young keeper.

There are plenty of other goalkeepers in this division struggling much more.

So once again, we are writing in these pages there are more positives than negatives.

The team is still unbeaten in the league, after all.

Pride Park is a tricky place to go, with an unreasonably impressive atmosphere for an early kick-off.

The Baggies had one less day to prepare, and Derby were desperate for a reaction after losing in midweek.

All that told. Albion started slow and fell behind six minutes in.

They responded, and eventually broke through after plenty of promising play.

But eventually, all that promise has to count for something slightly more tangible, slightly more convincing.

Eventually, Albion have to snap out of their trance and deliver a victory and a performance that is built on more than just promise.

The platform has been built, it’s time to leave the station.

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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