West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Brentford Six Things: subs star for Frank’s Bees

Late disappointment for West Brom – bbc.co.uk

Lewis MacLeod’s injury-time equalizer rescued a point for Brentford at West Bromwich Albion, after Harvey Barnes had opened the scoring late on in a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Brentford’s incoherent pressing

Brentford set up in the first half with an asymmetrical 4-2-2-2 system; with players still unfamiliar with their roles, we saw evidence of them getting exposed in wide areas at times. Ollie Watkins showed pace and willingness to press down the right channel, but that meant a gap between him and right-back Henrik Dalsgaard, who was at times torn apart by Harvey Barnes. The Bees had the opposite problem on the left with Alan Judge, whose lack of pace and inability to press meant that Matt Phillips had a lot of joy down the right. There was a spell, from the 10th minute to the 20th, when Brentford corrected the press and thus the likes of Josh McEachran and Romaine Sawyers were able to pick up second balls and dictate play, as Thomas Frank had planned. For the rest of the half though, we either saw attacking players such as striker Neal Maupay not pressing properly or, when they did, the defence did not follow up, leaving gaps for West Brom to exploit through incisive play.

West Brom’s chances

With Jake Livermore doing the dirty work in midfield and James Morrison linking play with some clever, one-touch passes,  West Brom attacked with a high-intensity in the first half. They came within inches of scoring on numerous occasions, most of which from crosses from Phillips, Barnes and sometimes the adventurous Kieran Gibbs, but in many cases Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu could not quite get the right contact. Phillips, arguably the first half’s stand-out performer, forced two saves from Daniel Bentley, before crashing the bar in stoppage time with a thunderous long-range strike which highlighted Albion’s territorial dominance.

Bees stabilize

Thomas Frank’s side needed to hold onto the ball for longer periods in order execute his system effectively, but in the second half at least, they looked more comfortable out of possession. In fact, after the injured Rico Henry was replaced at left-back by the athletic Moses Odubajo, the latter’s 67th-minute drilled cross allowed Emiliano Marcondes to drive at goal, forcing a smart, reflex save from Sam Johnstone; arguably the best stop of the match at that point.

Late drama

West Brom had looked below-par in the second half, so it was ironic that that was the half in which they grabbed their goal. McEachran missed his interception from Phillips’ cross and when Chris Mepham could not fully clear the effort from Barnes, the latter was free to fire into the top, left-hand corner, amid claims of a push from Dwight Gayle on Ezri Konsa. The Bees though responded superbly to the set-back; Said Benrahma injected pace and craft while fellow substitute, Lewis MacLeod pressed with energy and vigour. The Scot headed home the equalizer in injury-time following Marcondes’ cross, handing the West Londoners a valuable point.

Frank needs time

Thomas Frank has innovative ideas in line with the evolution of the modern game but, because they are even more left-field than those of Dean Smith, he needs time to impart his ideas and re-structure his squad accordingly. The Dane has earnt some loyalty: not only has he been a respected coach at Griffin Park, his team have not been outplayed. Four of their first eight games since the change of manager have come against top six opposition and none of the six defeats thus far have come by more than one goal. Plus, dynamic performers like Mokotjo, Benrahma and Watkins are vital in terms of instigating the press which is so crucial to this system – the trio have only started a combined eight games from a possible 24 due to injuries. A perfect start? No – but there’s reason to think patience will be a virtue.

Albion midfield tweaks required

It would be wrong to be overly critical of West Brom after this game; had they been as clinical in the opposition penalty box as they have been against QPR, Reading and Leeds this season, they could have been four-goals up at half-time and the post-match discussion would have been about this ruthless, free-scoring side set to challenge for promotion. While Albion have the ability to create a lot of chances in quick succession however, it is concerning that the lack of mobility and stamina in midfield means that it is difficult for them to sustain control over longer periods within games. To win promotion, Darren Moore’s side either need to freshen up the central areas in January, or make sure they are consistently clinical with the chances that do fall their way: preferably both.