A second string Albion side laboured to a disappointing 2-1 Carabao Cup defeat against Millwall - Slaven Bilic’s first reversal as manager.
The Baggies made 8 changes to the side that drew with Millwall on Saturday. But debuts for deadline day signings Charlie Austin and Grady Diangana couldn’t galvanise Albion as they again struggled to break down their stubborn opponents.
It all started well for Albion who, for the first 20 minutes, looked sharp with neat passing and good movement with Kyle Edwards looking particularly lively. Charlie Austin looked alert and he will never score an easier debut goal, following up and nodding in from a couple of yards after Diangana’s long range effort could only be helped onto the bar and fall invitingly for Albion’s new striker.
The Baggies faded however and it was of little surprise when Millwall equalised with a simple set piece. A close range header from Tom Bradshaw gave stand in goalkeeper Jonathon Bond little chance.
Albion thought they had retaken the lead against the run of play as Chris Brunt’s excellent corner delivery was well converted by the unmarked Semi Ajayi but the referee had stopped an infringement in the build-up and the Nigerian’s first goal for the club was chalked off.
The Albion stopper then made an excellent double save to prevent the visitors taking the lead as they took control of the game. Bond looks to be an excellent shot stopper but struggles to command his area, a problem which Sam Johnstone also suffers from.
West Brom continued to struggle in the second half, Rekeem Harper and Chris Brunt being overrun in the middle of the park and a second set piece deservedly saw Millwall take the lead. Poor marking again allowed the ball to be headed back across goal and the resulting goalmouth scramble saw O’Brien poke the visitors in front.
Albion toiled but failed to create any meaningful chances in their search for an equaliser. Oli Burke, who had moved into a central position following the removal of Charlie Austin, failed once more to stake a claim for a first team spot. There was a lack of movement from the Scot and on the few occasions the midfield did manage to get the ball into him, it rarely stuck and Millwall found it easy to defend against.
This game will have highlighted to Bilic all of his teams shortcomings. We lack a combative midfielder, Jake Livermore being the closest we have. The manager will also realise that he will have to get the best out of Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore as there is very little strength in depth at the top end of the pitch. Austin showed some nice touches but needs to improve his fitness after missing nearly all of pre-season.
It was a disappointing performance all round from the Baggies but there were one or two positives to come out of the game. Defender Dara O’Shea made his full debut and despite losing a couple of aerial duels, he looks composed and defended well making two or three excellently timed tackles. Secondly, Albion’s new wingers both showed flashes of what they could do but we will need them to perform consistently if we are going to start creating more chances and making sure we can convert our possession play into wins.