West Brom 2 – Sunderland 2
I was glad to see a number of West Bromwich Albion’s summer signings follow Alan Irvine through the Hawthorns tunnel this afternoon; in the starting lineup were Liverpool loanee Andre Wisdom and Belgian Sebastian Pocognoli, as well as ex-Sunderland boy Craig Gardner. Record signing Brown Ideye, still not back to full fitness, sat on the bench for this match.
The optimism I entered the game with began to fade come the fifth minute, when a poor clearance from Olsson following a seemingly routine free kick saw the ball fall to midfield hardman Lee Cattermole, who promptly booted the ball into Ben Foster’s top left corner, leaving the English No. 3 with little chance.
Although long-range goals are often dismissed as an unlucky misfortune for the defence on the receiving end, I couldn’t help but feel the build up to the goal was an omen for the Baggies defence. Olsson’s clearance barely made it out of the box, while Cattermole had time to gather the ball from under his feet before putting West Brom behind.
West Brom fans will be grateful upon the return of Gareth McAuley and Joleon Lescott at the centre of the defence, with both Craig Dawson and Jonas Olsson suffering a lacklustre start to the season. Dawson was shaky both on and off the ball, a testament to his lack of game time last season; Olsson played like a second string centre back for the majority of the game.
The defence’s below-par performance was particularly exploited on set pieces, where both a goal and a golden chance for Sunderland defender Roberge were conceded.
West Brom fans should not despair at the state of their whole defence, however, as Sebastian Pocognoli (recent £1.2 million signing from Hannover 96) played with all the composure and power of an established Premier League full back.
From left back Pocognoli did his job defensively while constantly looking to add to the West Brom goal tally with long shots and through balls to the attackers. Andre Wisdom was nearly as impressive, yet it was clear that his debut nerves got to him slightly.
Another new boy, Craig Gardner, put in a man of the match performance from the midfield, his penchant for testing the keeper from range truly exhibited. When he and Graham Dorrans were taken off late on in the game, the decision was met with groans from fans both in the Hawthorns and in their armchairs at home.
Up front, Saido Berahino made his case for a regular place in Irvine’s starting XI with a brace, albeit one that began with a soft penalty decision. Victor Anichebe was strong physically, but with regards to his attacking ability he was weak at best, so when the chance came up to go down rather easily, he took it with both hands.
Berahino stepped up and dispatched the penalty, setting off the Hawthorns faithful and his goal count for the season.
With Brown Ideye spectating from the West Brom bench, Berahino displayed true poacher’s instinct to latch onto Craig Gardner’s floated cross. It’s a no-brainer to me that West Brom should do everything they can to keep this plucky youngster, and play him as often as possible, whether on the wing or up front as a partner to Mr. Record Signing.
By the looks of the first match of the Baggies’ season, Alan Irvine – particularly with the chance to play Ideye and Sessegnon also – shouldn’t have too much problem scoring a few goals, but he should look upon his defence with some longing for improvement.
Hopefully Lescott and McAuley’s return to football should solve many of the problems discovered yesterday – all of which root from the centre of the back. Even the disappointing second Sunderland goal (in the 85th minute) was due to a collective lapse in concentration from Olsson and Dawson, letting Seb Larsson slot the ball into the net.
Ideye should bring a further level of attacking prowess to the Baggies, while the midfield thus far looks strong. Although Irvine’s first Premier League match ended with only one point, the fact that the match came against a notoriously tough Sunderland side and exhibited attacking threat that is unmatched by other sides who finished near West Brom last season showed the Baggies’ intent to climb the table this year.