West Brom 1-1 Burnley: Mixed emotions as Clarets are dramatically denied big Championship victory they would not have deserved
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Struggling to break free from the clutches of West Brom’s narrow midfield, the usually-dominant trio of Josh Cullen, Jack Cork and Josh Brownhill never really got going as they were suffocated by Okay Yokuslu and Jayson Molumby in the centre of the park, unable to play the swift, ‘olé’ worthy passing game of the weeks before.
And whilst Jay Rodriguez’s penalty just before the half-hour mark sent the Clarets into the lead at the interval, a Connor Roberts mistake handed the Baggies a 98th-minute draw that they more than deserved on the balance of play.
The warning signs were there from the first minute with the hosts breaking free down the right-hand side and winning a corner which Irishman Dara O’Shea glanced over when he should have done better.
Nathan Tella did see one promising break over the top cut short by David Button but the Clarets were second to every ball, with John Swift and Jed Wallace being the architects.
More slack defending gave Karlan Grant the chance to fire off a pop-shot from the edge of the area, but Charlie Taylor and Taylor Harwood-Bellis were equal to the challenge.
The hosts had the best chance of the game up to that point on the 20-minute mark.
Another break down the right - where it must be said, Ian Maatsen struggled throughout - saw Wallace swing the ball in, and though his back-post cross was met by Conor Townsend, Arijanet Muric got down well to save. Kyle Bartley rose well from the resulting in-swinging corner, and he left Muric stranded as his header hit the bar.
Yet on the 27-minute mark, Burnley’s defensive work was rewarded when a Muric long ball found Tella in acres of space. The speedster brought the ball down expertly before delightfully taking it past a stranded Button who brought him down.
Question marks may stick about the penalty incident - you’d feel that Burnley fans would be aggrieved had James Linington pointed to the spot at the other end - but once the whistles and jeers had toned down with Rodriguez walking up to the spot, he was the coolest man in Smethwick, sending Button the wrong way before jetting off to a joyous away end.
Still, West Brom threatened to level soon after; Wallace beat Maatsen again but his drilled, near-post effort was parried well by Muric. For all their hard work down the wings, it seemed that Wallace was the only man able to conjure anything up for the hosts. .
And he almost did so again just moments later. Initially, it was Bartley who rose high from a cross and should have scored from six yards out, though his feeble effort was straight at the domineering Muric. The Kosovan was then called into action just two minutes later; Wallace broke down the left this time, and after seemingly firing a shot under the stopper, it flicked onto the post before bouncing out to Steve Bruce’s despair.
Tella then had a real chance to double the lead as Button hesitated on a long ball but he was thwarted before tumbling over the advertising boards.
The second half, by contrast, started slowly. The home fans were complaining about fouls, Burnley slowed the tempo of the game down and ultimately, Baggies fans became restless.
Maatsen could have broken through to put Rodriguez in behind, but his adventurous cross-field pass was just a touch too heavy. The right ideas were brewing at least.
The home side continued their press forward and again could have equalised after Swift was fed through with an acute through ball; though his indecision allowed Connor Roberts to get back and cut any passing lanes.
Tella departed the field for Darko Churlinov in the Clarets’ first switch of the game, whilst Johann Berg Gudmundsson came on for Maatsen and the pair almost linked up superbly. Churlinov was freed down the left, and with Gudmundsson in acres of space, the Macedonian however opted to go alone to no avail.
And he again should have done better five minutes later, latching onto a feeble back-pass from an Albion defender, but only able to smack the post as Burnley fans thought their side had doubled their lead.
Admittedly, whilst the game could’ve been killed off, the Clarets should have seen a penalty for handball from O’Shea as Churlinov aimed to beat him; though given the circumstances, Kompany’s men shouldn’t be talking about luck.
They were then saved by Taylor in heroic fashion moments after. With five minutes left on the clock, Gudmundsson went down under a strong challenge as he closed the ball down in Albion territory and with the Clarets out of shape, Wallace was found in acres of space. Taylor was on hand however to get his foot in superbly to deny the ex-Millwall favourite.
The Baggies continued to knock on the door but a good chance for Ashley Barnes came at the other end, only for him to produce a wayward shot.
Then came the heartbreak.
Swift was afforded space on the right, and his clipped ball in dropped to Roberts’ feet. The Welshman had enjoyed a good game but his feeble, awkward tap-cum-panicked pass bounced up to Baggies debutant Brandon Thomas-Asante to leave The Hawthorns jubilant.
Yes, Barnes should have scored. Yes, Churlinov could have added a couple or provided for others. Yes, the Clarets may have had a penalty. But Burnley were poor overall - sloppy and lacking composure.
All is well that ends well though. A point away at one of the tougher sides in the league is still a good result, especially given the performance. it’s the manner that will sting.