• Albion v Blackburn Rovers, 08.11.2014

    Blackburn arrived at the Amex, a single point outside of the play-off places - more or less where Albion fans would have reasonably expected to be sitting themselves, at this point of the season. That they are not, has been cause for floods of over-dramatic reaction, and finger-pointing, as people seek to pin blame on their chosen scapegoats. It can all seem such an enormous issue when your team is struggling - it can spoil weekends, and cause friction in households - but all that was put very much in its insignificant place before this game, by the presence of British Legion veterans and Salvation Army buglers, helping us to pay respects to the fallen, on Remembrance weekend.

    Rovers are a savvy Championship side - well organised and physically imposing throughout. They served notice of where their threat lay, within moments of the kick off. Gary Gardner's rash challenge on Carney conceding a free kick, from which Rudy Gestede rose above Gordon Greer to head firmly over the bar. Gestede is a giant of a man, and gave Greer trouble throughout.

    It didn't go unnoticed in the media previews of this game that Blackburn have scored a huge number of goals from set pieces this season. It seemed that the fact had escaped the Albion team though - they continued to give away cheap free kicks throughout the match.

    The Albion themselves were showing plenty of promise in forward areas - Elliott Bennett probing, and Inigo Calderon marauding in particular. It was that combination that combined to send a fierce low cross past the face of the goal, which the onrushing Sam Baldock failed to meet.

    Blackburn were next to threaten - Christian Walton rushed off his line looking to gather Ben Marshall's cross, but Greer either failed to hear or chose to over-rule the young keeper's call - his header lifting the ball high over his stranded team-mate. The ball was dropping almost on the goal-line, onto the head of a grateful Blackburn forward who seemed absolutely certain to score - only for Walton to brilliantly recover, and push the ball behind, from right off his forehead.

    MInutes later, Kazenga Lualua drove through the midfield, into the final third, then slipped the ball to Baldock, left of the penalty spot - but he dallied, and was crowded out - failing to release a shot.

    When the referee played a good advantage, Elliott Bennett played in Baldock again, 15 yards from goal, but his weak shot was easily gathered by Steele in the Blackburn goal. The Albion support have been pretty generous to Baldock, to my mind - I often read or hear that the only issue is a 'lack of service'. Unfortunately this isn't League One - chances on a plate are very few and far between. There was plenty of opportunity provided to the front man today, to keep him interested - he needs to do better.

    Hopefully he'll come up tumps in the next game, in the enforced absence of top scorer Lewis Dunk. The number 5 was lucky to escape that fifth booking for one wild challenge, but picked it up (with a ban) when he and Ince together felled their man, and he was adjudged the aggressor. Marshall hit the free kick well, but straight at Walton. The Albion keeper pushed away another drive, from the same player a minute later, after Lualua was careless with the ball, on halfway.

    The crowd were on their feet on 40 minutes - but in outrage, rather than celebration - rising as one to vent their anger at Corey Evans, for a dangerous tackle on Elliott Bennett. Evan was extremely fortunate to escape with just a yellow card.

    Two minutes on, and a crucial breakthrough. Calderon fed Baldock, running into the box, and he was closed out at the expense of a corner. Jake Forster-Caskey's corner was missed by everybody at the near post, but swept into the far corner, by Gardner, waiting in the centre of the box. Two in two games for the Villa loanee, now.

    There was still time before the break, for another big opportunity. Joe Bennett, who performed with distinction throughout this game, nicked the ball on the half way line, and with the Rovers defence out of position, drove at speed up to the edge of the area. Instead of going for goal himself, he laid the ball square to Baldock, to his right. Another chance to go for goal, but yet again he failed to get a shot away, being closed out by the single defender.

    So, for the third successive home match, Sami Hyypia gave his half time talk, with his side one goal to the good. That was as good as it got though - as in the previous two games, whatever plans were meant to be in place - the second period saw the Albion defend too deep, concede possession too cheaply, and spend the majority of time struggling to contain their opponents.

    As with the Rotherham match, the lead was wiped out very early in the half. A dangerous attack looked to have been repelled after a bout of pinball in the Albion box, but when the ball was swung back in, Gestede rose high above Greer, to head, with pinpoint accuracy, over Walton, to the top corner. Albion's luck was out - the ball struck the underside of the bar, landed a foot from the goal-line, but spun back into the goal - the linesman's flag already raised to signal the goal, before Dunk's desperate attempt to clear, sliced the ball into the roof of the net.

    Gardner had a chance to restore the advantage - Lualua's cross blocked, looping out to him on the edge of the area - but he shanked it horribly wide.

    From then on there came a bombardment of the Albion box - free kicks, corners and the long throws of Olssen and Marshall, all used to test the mettle of the Albion defence and their rookie keeper. Walton did have a nervous few minutes after the goal - an ill judged rush off his line, and a couple of unconvincing punches - but on the whole he can be satisfied again with his performance.

    The Albion were under enough pressure without substitute Paddy McCourt's lapse - caught in possession 15 yards outside of the box, he will have been mighty relieved to see Gestede's resultant low shot comfortably held by the diving Walton.

    Right at the end the mercurial McCourt did his thing. Picking the ball up on the right touchline, he dropped a shoulder, and slipped between two markers into the box, his low strike repelled by a desperate block. The loose ball fell to Joe Bennett outside the box - his clever turn creating a yard of space to unleash a powerful drive. Steele got down smartly to save, but spilled the ball, earning himself a face-full of Baldock's studs as the striker lunged in vain for the loose ball.

    So the game ended - in a standard Amex 1-1 draw. I've not checked the records, but surely at least 70% of matches a the stadium have finished 1-1? A draw against in-form play-off hopefuls will not increase the pressure on Hyypia, but neither will the level of the performance do anything to relieve it. Very much a case of as you were, going into the International break.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Everest's Avatar
      Everest -
      Stat alert.

      FYI Competitive home games only.
      P 91 W 40 D 31 L 20
      W 43.96%
      D 34.06%
      L 21.98%

      1-1 draws 17 = 18.68%

      7 out of 8 draws in the 13/14 season finished 1-1
    1. LamieRobertson's Avatar
      LamieRobertson -
      Nice report..if you fancy better focused photos let me know
    1. Baldseagull's Avatar
      Baldseagull -
      For Blackburns goal, after coming off the bar, the ball hit Walton on the back and was in fact an own goal, it is difficult to see it clearly on the replays but it is what I saw from my seat in WSU block B. I am certain it would not have gone in without the contact with Waltons back. Good report though.
    1. hans kraay fan club's Avatar
      hans kraay fan club -
      I heard that from others too, but the ball didn't hit Walton. They show it from a perfect angle on Player. Purely backspin that takes the ball into the goal.
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