The Tigers hosted West Bromwich Albion in a game manager Phil Brown called "Must not lose". We didn't lose, ending a run of 6 successive defeats and picking up our first Premier league point since mid-December. It barely felt like a point gained though as we led twice against an appalling West Brom side and failed to win because we conceded two horrible goals.
Phil Brown tinkered again with the side as he looked to find the right formula to ending that horrible run. In the end, he made 3 changes. Cousin (injured), Manucho and Geovanni dropped out. Mendy came in on the right to make a four man midfield with Kilbane on the left and Garcia and Fagan started up front. Disappointingly, Jimmy Bullard missed out with a knee injury. The side looked pretty average on paper, featuring a lot of the players that were around last season but they performed well. The plan was obviously to put a lot of pressure on them without the ball which we did right from the start. Fagan and Garcia led by example, stopping West Brom from playing the ball out and forcing them to kick the ball out or to boot it aimlessly. We won a lot of ball in the air and worked hard to pick up loose balls. We were the better team and the one looking to create the openings. West Brom only managed one attack in the entire half, they were garbage. We didn't create much for a while but we did a good ob of grinding them down, pinning them in their half and getting into good wide positions. Our main threat came from Ricketts' long throws. He hurled in three beauties, the first bounced right across goal, the second was pulled down by Fagan but he couldn't get a shot away and the third was almost headed into the net by their defender. We missed the best chance of the half, Garcia heading over after a terrific delivery from Kilbane. Garcia was all alone 6 yards out, he should've buried it. Just before half time, we broke the deadlock. Ashbee picked up a clearance and lofted a terrific ball into their half. The defence concentrated on playing Fagan offside but couldn't stop Mendy bursting from his own half on our right; he latched onto the ball, drew the goalkeeper, skipped around him and then slid the ball into the empty net with his left foot. It was a deserved lead but one that didn't appear to be coming.
City started the second half well and continued to put them under pressure. Kilbane forced a fair save from the hesitant Carson and Garcia's effort on the rebound was blocked. From a corner, the keeper somehow held a Turner header on the floor. Having played well and defended well throughout, limiting West Brom to one hopeful volley in the opening hour, the defense will be disappointed to have conceded a soft equaliser. Brunt found Morrison in the box, he drew Turner, who dived in rashly, and then Zayatte who should've stood up and tried to push him away from goal but he jumped in and allowed Morrison to skip past him too. Morrison's poke forward found Simpson and Fortune 8 yards out and played well onside by Dawson. Simpson swiveled and finished easily. It was a sickening goal to concede because it came out of nowhere. West Brom had their best spell of the game in the following five minutes, forcing two corners and a free kick. We didn't look confident and had Meite met a corner that was allowed to fall to him in wide open space in front of goal, we might've struggled. In general though, we did well to work our way back on top, quickly nipped their initiative in the bud and put ourselves on the front foot. Like the first half, we never really turned the advantage into chances and we looked to be growing frustrated. Then, with 20 left, we scored a beautiful goal. A West Brom clearance bounced in the centre circle, Marney had to reach the ball to stop a good breakaway. Not only did he beat his oppo to the ball but he lifted it into Mendy in space on the right. Mendy crossed early into the space around the penalty spot where Fagan raced onto the ball and headed over Carson and into the far corner. An absolute belter! Unfortunately, we surrended the lead within 5 minutes. Zayatte lost Fortune, who trudged onto a forward ball and shot hard and low forcing a good save from Duke. The ball came straight back out, the city defenders made a mess of clearing up and as Koren burst onto the loose ball, Zayatte dived in at him. It looked soft, Koren launched himself like a swimmer off the starting blocks, but it was a rash tackle and refs are always going to give them. Brunt struck the penalty hard and low to Duke's right. Dukey went the right way, but couldn't get down to it. Phil Brown threw Folan on for Garcia to try and find a winner but the game ended level. Neither side looked like they had the legs to go on and win it. A terrific strike from Ashbee was dealt with by Carson, that was as close as anyone came, though Andy Dawson made a fine tackle to stop Simpson going through one on one.
Duke made one fine save. He only faced about 6 shots and 3 of them went well wide. His kicking was worrying again, one was really poor. Changing the goalkeeper has had no affect whatsoever on the defensive unit. The problem is further forward. Zayatte is becoming a bit of a liability. He made a few rash decisions again and they are costing us dearly. He's a superb athlete and is fine on the ball, so would be a fine asset in a holding midfield role but he just doesn't have the consistency to play centre back. The sooner Gardner is fit, the better. Turner did a good job with the ball in the air and in bringing the ball out but three times, he dived in to make a tackle or interception, committed himself and took himself out of the game. It maybe that he's feeling unsettled. Dawson was again the best of the back four but even he played them onside twice with near catastrophic consequence. He got into really good attacking positions but crossed poorly, looping the ball rather than whipping it in and allowing defenders to deal easily. Ricketts was better than he was on Wednesday but wasn't as much of an attacking threat, leaving it to Mendy to maraud on the right.
The midfield did well defensively, picking up a lot of ball and not allowing West Brom to play at all. They didn't look capable of opening West Brom up too often but were the solid foundation we needed. Ash and Marney know each other well and tend to easily produce a 7/10 performance as a pair. Ash showed great character to recover from three early mistakes to impose himself on the game. He passed well too. When West Brom found a bit of momentum following the first equaliser, it was broken by a towering defensive header from Ashbee. He might've won the game for us too. Marney was as frustrating as ever, he's just so inconsistent. In the space of 30 seconds in the second half, he made a super pass forward to Ricketts while moving backwards and falling off balance. He got the ball back 15 seconds and instead of finding Ricketts again, passed a much simpler ball straight into their full back. He was fine overall, showed good energy and passed quite well but he still has the same problems as always, the inability to be involved in the game for the whole 90 minutes and to do what he does well time and again rather than every other time. Kilbane gave us good balance on the left. He isn't going to run past full back's or get to the bye line but he rarely wastes the ball, he gives a good physical presence, works back well and can deliver when he gets into the right positions. When you have someone who's talented but erratic on one side, it helps to have someone steady on the other. Mendy gave Robinson a roasting. In the second half, his kick the ball past the defender and run like hell routine wore a bit thin but whenever he has the ball wide, he looks like he'll cause a problem. His goal was superbly taken and his cross for the second was terrific. I'd like to see him mix things up a little. In the first half, he came inside on one occasion and took on two defenders and it opened things up in a different way as well as putting some doubt in the defenders mind as to what he'd do in future. Towards the end of the game, he made a good run down the wing, held up the ball and slid it across for Marney to score. A defender got a nick on the ball and it just skipped over Marney's boot but the run and the composure from Mendy was great to see.
The front pairing aren't two guys that you'd rely on to score goals too often but they did a fantastic job today. They gave us everything we needed at the front, starting with putting the defense under a lot of pressure and forcing them backwards. They didn't win a lot in the air, but did a terrific job of getting themselves in front of the defenders and being very strong. Fagan's touch wasn't always great but he made up for it in other areas. Garcia ran himself into the ground. He played very intelligently, making runs wide, pulling defenders about and winning free kicks. He was probably the better of the two but blotted his copybook by missing a golden opportunity; Folan came on late in the game but couldn't affect it at all. Our play in the last 5 minutes was very lazy, we looked tired and chose to hit the ball long at him. Another option would've been Geovanni from the bench which might have been worth a go to see if something dropped to him but the pattern of the game towards the end wasn't made for him at all.
So we finally move off 27 points. That would normally be something to celebrate but on this occasion, a point against such a pathetic outfit just doesn't feel like enough. After Chelsea and the next round of the cup, we've got a run of about 8 really winnable games. We need to be in the right shape to play them. It's crucial that we get Gardner and Bullard fit and that we find the right mentality at the back. We're making too many mistakes, both as individuals and as a unit and are paying dearly for it.
Ratings: Duke 6, Ricketts 6, Dawson 7, Turner 6, Zayatte 6, Mendy 8, Kilbane 7, Ashbee 8, Marney 7, Garcia 8 (Folan), Fagan 7.