West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Reading Six Things: Baggies held at the Hawthorns

Kenneth Zahore – https://www.wba.co.uk/

In a tale of non-penalties and one-penalty, a largely dominant second half from West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night was not enough to secure victory; they were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited Reading side, as Ovie Ejaria’s shock opener was cancelled out by Kenneth Zahore’s spot-kick. Here’s our Six Things from the contest.

Strong start from Slaven’s side soon subsided

The early stages of the contest hinted at a first half different to the one that transpired. West Brom started at a very high intensity with Romaine Sawyers dictating from midfield, Grady Diangana picking out flicks and tricks as Matt Phillips looked lively with his direct running infield. That period also raised question marks, for the first time, over Jose Gomes’ 3-1-4-2 system; the tendency of wing-backs Andy Yiadom and Omar Richards to stay well inside the opposing half meant Pele was at times swamped when protecting the back-three.┬áReading stabilized matters to an extent though when Ovie Ejaria dropped slightly deeper to the left to provide more insurance. Yiadom’s combination play with John Swift, who tended to roam into the right channel, represented Reading’s likeliest route to goal early on; Swift fired off-target, before seeing a firm free-kick parried by Sam Johnstone.

Reading short of a focal point

George Puscas starred on Sunday, when he was given freedom to drift out to the right channel and then cut inside. Here, he was asked to play as by far the most advanced forward, a role that did not necessarily suit him; he perhaps lacked the ability to hold the ball up. It also meant that, when Reading were playing out from the back with three centre-back – Matt Miazga, Michael Morrison and Liam Moore – as well as a holding midfielder in Pele, the wing-backs were so high up that Miazga and Moore struggled for options in possession and that invited West Brom’s press. If at that point Reading had had a more powerful centre-forward suited to leading the line and offering a direct option, they might have found it easier to bypass the press and play their way into the opposing half.

Albion’s second half pressure

Perhaps the reason West Brom struggled to truly get in behind their opponents and create clear cut chances in the first half, was because they did not bring their full-backs – Darnell Furlong and Kieran Gibbs – into the game in the final third. That changed slightly in the second half, when Gibbs made a few more impulsive bursts while Furlong was stretching play to maintain width when Matt Phillips drifted infield. Furlong teed up Austin who, generally lacking in sharpness of movement for much of the evening, could only find the feet of goalkeeper Rafael Cabral, an assured presence in the Reading goal.

Mixed finale for Ejaria

If Slaven Bilic was not happy at news that his side had several second half penalty appeals turned down – claims of a foul on the delightfully creative Filip Krovinovic were waved away shortly after the hour mark – he would have been fuming when the visitors went in front. Out of the blue, Ejaria picked the ball up midway through the opposing half, strode forward and rifled a 71st-minute shot inside the top left-hand corner to spark jubilation in the away end. Unfortunately for Ejaria, his heroism lasted just 17 minutes; he also committed the foul on Krovinovic that led to the penalty from which Kenneth Zahore, impressive from the bench, slotted past Rafael Cabral. The hosts could have won it but after a lovely passing move involving Krovinovic and substitute Matheus Pereira, the latter skied from inside the penalty area.

West Brom promising but incomplete

For West Brom, this point represents a missed opportunity to go joint-top of the Championship at this early stage. Albion looked very exciting in flashes, with the performance of Krovinovic and Sawyers being particular highlights while Semi Ajayi fared well at centre-back, the position Bilic sees the Nigerian establishing himself in long-term. If full-backs Furlong and Gibbs can make slightly braver runs at earliers stage of games, then be more productive when they do enter the final third – and perhaps, if Zahore earns more starts for his powerful running up top – then perhaps Slaven Bilic’s side can go from being one showing huge potential, to something closer to the complete, promotion-winning package. Based on the second half dominance, this was arguably their most impressive display of the season to date.

Progress for Reading

For Reading, the evening’s work represents the completion of an encouraging four-point haul that gets their season up and running. We saw, in Sunday’s 3-0 demolition of Cardiff the damage they can do to teams going forward, but this performance – when their attempts at playing out from the back was not coming off quite as successfully as they would have liked – showed their adaptability. The Royals’ willingness to dig in and put bodies on the line – with the back-three defending their penalty area stoutly – will please manager Jose Gomes. The Portuguese boss seems to have a knack of turning players who had been perceived as supremely talented but having questionable attitudes elsewhere – Ejaria and Lucas Joao, who put in a gallant shift from the bench – into ones that really work for the team. On this evidence, the Royals will pass the 50-point mark quicker than most expect.