West Brom left to rue missed chances in derby draw

Posted by Matthew Evans

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty ImagesShane Long showed an exquisite first touch before firing in West Brom's opener against Aston Villa.

The tables were turned on West Bromwich Albion as they threw away a two goal lead to draw with local rivals Aston Villa at the Hawthorns.

- Report: West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa

Last season saw West Brom trail 2-0 at halftime before Chris Brunt and Peter Odemwingie scored to earn The Baggies a point. This season it was Albion who were looking comfortable in the first half, only to put in a poor second half performance, which coupled with Paul Lambert's brave substitutions, led to Albion drawing another game this season.

The amount of draws Albion are picking up will start to become a concern for Steve Clarke, particularly if they pan out the way West Brom's last two games have. In the games with both Villa and Chelsea, The Baggies have had chances to put the game to bed but failed to convert them, ultimately leading to West Brom taking two points from their last two games when they should have taken six.

While fingers could be firmly pointed towards a poor refereeing decision for the draw at Chelsea, West Brom only have themselves to blame for the draw with Aston Villa. Stephane Sessegnon missed two gilt-edged chances, once in each half, that would have put Albion into a 3-0 lead which almost certainly would have finished the game off. For Albion to turn these draws into wins, their decision-making needs to be much better.

The main culprit in the last two games has undoubtedly been Goran Popov. The Macedonian was on for all of five minutes against Chelsea, but it was his crazy decision to attempt to score from 40 yards out that gave Chelsea the ball and the opportunity to attack. Against Aston Villa, Popov was in from the start because of an injury to Liam Ridgewell and it is fair to say he had a bit of a nightmare.

In possession, Popov barely found a blue and white shirt all night. In the second half, West Brom struggled to keep hold of the ball, instead resorting to long, aimless balls up the pitch as they tried to protect the lead. Popov was one of the main culprits, but it was his defending that ultimately cost Albion the points. He had a simple defensive header to make, but instead of getting it as far away from the goal as possible, he put it back into the path of Ashley Westwood 25 yards from goal and the Villa man found the net with a stunning strike. But it was a chance that he should never have had if Popov had just headed the ball away.

The re-signing of Popov in the summer was a strange one. It seemed pretty clear last season that Clarke didn't seem to rate the left back that highly, as he wouldn't drop Ridgewell despite his poor form towards the end of last season. Clarke may well be stuck with the hand he has been dealt until at least January, but I wouldn't expect to see Popov featuring too often.

I believe one of the reasons The Baggies resorted to aimless hoofs of the ball was the first goal they scored. Chris Brunt's diagonal ball over the top put Shane Long in behind, the Irishman taking the ball down with a superb first touch, cutting inside the defender before curving a shot into the bottom corner. The problem is that Brunt's ball was played with direction and control, in the second half the passes were aimless and wild.

One of the few positives to emerge from the game was Long's performance. The Republic of Ireland international was absolutely outstanding, particularly in the first half when provided with some decent service. Long struggled towards the back end of last season and the beginning of this one, with the striker almost joining Hull on deadline day. However, he has really found some form in the past couple of games, he is putting in the kind of displays he did when he first arrived at West Brom or in the first half of last season.

Long's pace terrifies defenders while his tremendous work-rate will always endear him to fans. His second goal demonstrated both of those skills, as he intercepted a poor ball across the Villa defence before racing away from the defence and delicately dinking the ball over Brad Guzan and in off the underside of the crossbar. It was a clinical finish, taking him to a tally of three goals in two games and making him The Baggies top-scorer in the league this season.

Chants of "sign him up" may be a bit too soon but Clarke will undoubtedly be delighted with the form Long has displayed in his last two games. The shirt is now Long's to lose and if he continues this form, then those chants will be getting a lot louder.

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