• Albion 2 - 1 Derby County, FA Cup 5th Round, 16.02.2019

    So – back to the Amex for a fourth straight Saturday, for a fifth round FA Cup clash with Championship Derby County. Team news is in, amid talk of illness and knocks in the camp. Glenn Murray is the one indispensable right now, given the lack of suitable back up, so he gets to rest a tight calf. Dunk too gets to rest an apparent niggle.

    The starting XI still looks pretty strong, though there is very little strength on the bench, particular in attacking positions – Florin Andone’s stupid red card coming home to roost. Davy Pröpper is down to start, but sent home ill – replaced in the squad by young Jay Molumby. Previously regarded as the single best prospect in the Albion’s youth ranks, the Irish midfielder’s career has been halted for 15 months, by two serious knee injuries. Finally returning to U23 action on Friday night (playing 45 minutes in a terrific away win at Manchester City) his last minute promotion here will have been a fantastic bonus. All the best of luck to the boy.

    Derby for their part, went much stronger than West Brom in the previous tie – a line-up very close to their full strength league side. The manager might have made his commitment to the cup clear, through the selection, but his players failed to share it. A remarkably flat start from the visitors saw the Albion’s midfield trio take complete control of proceedings – Stephens keeping it simple, while Kayal charged about to good effect, and Yves Bissouma provided both energy and drive. The back four of Bruno, Duffy, Burn and Bernardo had little to do defensively – the full backs playing as second wingers most of the time.

    Jürgen Locadia got a chance in the middle of the front line, with Knockaert and Alireza Janahbaksh either side. Most of the threat in the early exchanges provided by Bissouma running through the Rams’ midfield, or Knockaert cutting in from the flanks. Both the aforementioned, drew modest saves from Kelle Roos from direct free kicks, to unconvincing oooohs in the crowd. Both decent efforts, but either would have needed a keeping howler to bear fruit.

    The first of those set pieces was conceded by former Albion loanee, Fikayo Tomori – yellow carded for clattering through the back of Locadia with zero possibility of reaching the ball. Just one in a succession of mistakes from the young defender – in a torrid first half especially, he put me in mind of the emergent Lewis Dunk – all the attributes are there for sure, but his lapses are not so much ‘in him’ as ‘out there for all to see’.

    Another Derby yellow for Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson - catching Kayal in the midriff with a full set of studs. Painful for the King, but little intent in my view – one shared by the VAR officials after a brief check for a possible straight red.

    Half an hour in, and the Albion’s dominance is rewarded. Great goal, too – all about Bissouma’s eagerness to drive forward. The Malian youngster collected the ball in front of the benches, and rather than knocking it safely back into the middle, put his head down and charged off down the line. Reaching the final third, he played a one-two with Jahanbaksh, before delivering a perfect low centre, swept first time into the bottom corner by Knockaert. Lovely stuff, and well deserved.

    Here’s another bonus thing about FA Cup matches: when you’re writing a report on one, you don’t have to trawl twitter for shaky phone footage of a goal – the official @emiratesfacup lads lay it on a plate for you. Handy.

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