West Brom's numbers come up short in shoot-out lottery

Posted by Matthew Evans

Ian Kington/AFP/Getty ImagesLady luck was not on West Brom's side as the Baggies fell to Arsenal in penalties.

Penalty shoot-outs are a lottery that any team I follow never seem to win. West Brom's numbers came up short against Arsenal, with Craig Dawson and Morgan Amalfitano missing the final two penalties, letting slip an advantage given to West Brom by Luke Daniels saving Arsenal's second penalty.

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It was quite surprising that neither Graham Dorrans nor Scott Sinclair took penalties in the shoot-out. Dorrans, when starting, has been Albion's designated penalty taker while Sinclair had the same role when he played for Swansea and was very efficient from the spot. He is also clearly able to take them under pressure, having scored a penalty in a play-off final. You'd have expected both of these players to take one, but perhaps playing the whole 120 minutes had caught up with their legs, particularly with both men playing in midfield.

A lot has been made about teams devaluing this tournament and it's true that both Arsenal and Albion fielded weaker sides than the ones they put out last weekend. However, it was still the strongest Albion side I've seen put out in the Capital One Cup in a long time. Of the 14 players used by Steve Clarke, 10 were full internationals with three others are current or former England U21 internationals. Daniels was the only player in the Albion side with no international honours.

It wasn't team selection or tactics that led to Albion's downfall, it was down to a combination of an individual error defensively and poor finishing, coupled with some excellent goal-keeping from Lukasz Fabianski, that meant the game went down to a penalty shoot- out.

Albion had more than enough chances to win in normal time and extra time. Fabianski produced two excellent saves to deny Steven Reid and Youssouff Mulumbu in the first 90 minutes. In the extra half hour, Sinclair missed a good chance and Amalfitano smashed a shot against the bar for the second game in a row. But the biggest chance fell to sub Markus Rosenberg, who is still waiting for his first Albion goal in competitive football. He did everything right in lobbing the ball over the advancing Fabianski, then showed great composure to spin and open up an angle for himself. Unfortunately, he then proceeded to hit his shot straight into the defender rushing back to the goal-line, when he had near enough the rest of the goal to aim at. Rosenberg is perhaps destined to never find the net for the Baggies.

It's ironic that amid the criticism of Clarke picking a weaker team, it was one of the few first choice players selected who made the individual error that led to Arsenal's goal. Mulumbu played the kind of defence-splitting pass that was lacking in the forward areas, feeding the ball straight into the path of an Arsenal player 30 yards from goal, leaving the defence completely exposed. It was an uncharacteristic error from someone who is usually so reliable.

Of the fringe players, there was some who performed better than others. Goran Popov and Dorrans were poor; Dorrans did improve in the second half but quite frankly, he couldn't have done any worse than he did in the first half.

Saido Berahino demonstrated why Clarke is so keen to keep him at Albion rather than loan him out, grabbing his fourth Capital One Cup goal of the season, his sixth overall. Berahino looks a very impressive player, particularly as he isn't playing in his natural central striking position for the Baggies. He has good pace, quick feet, a nice first touch and has certainly shown himself to be a decent finisher. West Brom have a good prospect on their hands, which makes the cup exit a bit more disappointing, as it is a great way of providing young players like Berahino with first team chances.

The other two players on the fringes of the first team who impressed the most were the centre back pairing of Diego Lugano and Craig Dawson. Lugano looked average in his first game for the club against Newport. He was slow, poor on the ball and given the run around by Newport's striker. Against Arsenal, it was clear that getting a bit of fitness had done him the world of good. He reacted a lot quicker to loose balls; he made some important challenges and looked composed on the ball. It's clear that he isn't the quickest but playing against a big physical presence in Nicklas Bendter, he did very well.

But it was Dawson who was even more impressive, despite the penalty miss. He was fantastic all night, winning everything in the air and looking composed on the ball. It was a challenge he made in extra time that made him stand out though. Although he may have been caught slightly out of position to allow Bendtner to be put in on goal, Dawson chased back and won the ball with a superb sliding tackle. It's the kind of challenge that if you mis-time by one second, you are sent off and the opposition have a penalty. It was a stunning tackle and again it's clear why Clarke wants Dawson to remain at the club.

With him and Lugano in the ranks, there is now a lot more depth at centre half for West Brom, which they lacked last year meaning Jonas Olsson continued to be picked despite admitting himself he wasn't in the greatest form.

It was disappointing to exit the tournament at such an early stage. Albion are unlikely to ever win the Premier League or even qualify for Europe, so this presented a very realistic chance of silverware and European Football. A cup run can certainly raise morale around the club, which would also have been nice after a relatively poor start to the season. Clarke now has until January to focus on the league and if he can get West Brom into a decent enough position, perhaps The Baggies will be able to go for it in the FA Cup.


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