Penalty controversy blights brilliant Baggies performance

Posted by Matthew Evans

West Brom players Andre Marriner vs ChelseaPA PhotosWest Brom players remonstrate with referee Andre Marriner after his decision to award Chelsea a late penalty.

Before the game if you'd have asked Steve Clarke if he would have taken a point at Stamford Bridge, he'd have said yes. If you'd have asked the same question of Clarke and West Brom fans at half-time with Chelsea 1-0 up, they'd have said yes. At the end of the game, however, West Brom were left angry and disappointed with only getting a point.

The Baggies were on the verge of recording a second historic away win this season, following the 2-1 win at Old Trafford in September, until referee Andre Marriner inexplicably awarded Chelsea a late, late penalty which Eden Hazard converted to preserve Jose Mourinho's unbeaten home record in the Premier League. How Clarke managed to remain calm in his post-match press conference is beyond me, as there have been a number of debatable penalty decisions go against West Brom this season.

Despite the disappointment and anger, West Brom must focus on the positives from the point. Clarke's approach to the game was perfect. Claudio Yacob was brought in for James Morrison to add some more defensive steel to the side, with Steven Reid replacing the injured Billy Jones at right back. There was very little attacking threat from the Baggies in the first half but that wouldn't have bothered Clarke, as he clearly intended to keep it tight in the opening exchanges. For 45 minutes, Albion did this to perfection.

They contained Chelsea, Albion closing off the space out wide meaning all of the play was coming through the middle, which West Brom dealt with easily. It was a basic error from Liam Ridgewell that gave Chelsea the lead, his dithering on the ball in his own box allowing Samuel Eto'o to sneak in and put Chelsea ahead just before half-time. It was the kind of error that teams simply can't afford to make, particularly against a big club.

It was always Clarke's intentions to open up a bit more in the second half, but he was probably forced to do so earlier than he would have liked because of the goal. Despite the statistics showing West Brom only had 31 percent of possession in the game, the Baggies really did dominate the first 25 minutes of the second half. There was some tremendous counter-attacking football on show, the type of football that has seen Albion lose only one away game all season.

Shane Long West brom celeb
GettyImagesShane Long impressed at Stamford Bridge and was rewarded with a goal, though not a win.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the second half for Clarke would have been how well Shane Long played. The Irishman was ineffective against Crystal Palace and he struggled in the first half today, often left chasing lost causes or hopeful balls forward. Because of the way Albion opened up and played more of the ball on the floor, Long came into the game a lot more, giving John Terry and Gary Cahill a tough time of it.

The type of service that Long was given in the second half is the kind he flourishes on. Instead of long punts forward, often aimless, there was more direction and it's no surprise Long won a lot more aerial duels, in more effective areas of the pitch. In addition to that, Albion also have a lot more quality in the wide areas. In particular, Morgan Amalfitano and Chris Brunt can provide the type of crosses that Long can attack. He hit the post from one Amalfitano cross, before getting West Brom's equaliser with a powerful header after Gareth McAuley's initial effort was saved.

It's quite a remarkable statistic that it has taken until the Nov. 9 for one of Albion's senior forwards to find the net. Now that Long has scored one, you have to think he is going to be the first-choice striker, at least for the next game. Albion do seem to employ a more direct game when Long plays, as his ability in the air is one of his strengths. Sometimes the players seem to get too drawn into playing too many long balls to him, instead of persisting with the passing game that Clarke employs. If Albion could combine the two more often, that would only help Long.

With the kind of service he received in the second half, Long could be a potent threat for the Baggies and it may be too early to write off the Irishman's Albion career. Long seemed certain to leave in the January but if he can keep up this kind of form, Clarke will be left with some tough decisions to make.

Credit must be given to Liam Ridgewell for the way he recovered in the 2nd half after his poor error gave Chelsea the lead. Ridgewell was far more firm at the back and he also laid on the 2nd goal for Stephane Sessengeon, cutting in and feeding the ball to the diminutive attacking midfielder who dribbled past one man before placing the ball into the net. Sessengeon was relatively quiet against Chelsea, but he provided a moment of quality in the opposition area that you need against the top clubs.

The impact of Sessengeon and Amalfitano since their arrival has been monumental. In the eight games played since then, West Brom have only lost one, scoring 12 goals and conceding only nine. If they had been able to bring them in earlier in the transfer window, the Baggies could be sitting even higher in the table.

The undoubted talking point of the game will be the late, controversial penalty given against Albion but to focus only on that would be taking away from a superb tactical display from the players and Albion's head coach, which so nearly the apprentice overcome the master.

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