It was honours even at the Hawthorns as Peter Crouch’s late strike was enough to cancel out Jay Rodriguez’s earlier effort in a feisty match where little separated both teams.
The build up to this almost-local derby (traditional derby rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and Port Vale respectively currently not in the Premier League) was centred around the return to the Hawthorns of Saido Berahino and Darren Fletcher, – one expecting a standing ovation, the other perhaps not -, Tony Pulis’ 12 game unbeaten run against his old club and, rather bizarrely, the potential effect of the McGregor-Mayweather fight (just 9 hours before) on the performance of the players.
Elsewhere – £30 million rated Jonny Evans was not included in the West Brom’s match-day squad suggesting his surprise departure to Man City may be imminent, while their new £15 million signing Oliver Burke started on the bench.
From early on it was clear West Brom and Stoke had set out with two very different game plans – with Stoke having 66% of the possession in the first 15 minutes (a figure that remained a constant throughout the match) while West Brom looked comfortable sitting back and playing the ball long to danger men Matt Phillips, Chris Brunt and new-signing Jay Rodriguez. Stoke’s possession and pressing game brought the first proper chance of the game – with Chelsea-loanee Kurt Zouma’s deflected effort from outside the box forcing Ben Foster to backpedal and tip it over the bar.
Zouma’s assured presence in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role found him battling toe-to-toe with West Brom’s Gareth Barry – with much of the second half consisting of niggling fouls resulting in poorly taken free kicks. West Brom came close from a Chris Brunt free kick following a yellow to Erik Pieters, however Stoke felt aggrieved to have not had a penalty with the same man Chris Brunt handling the ball in the box late on in the first half.
During the last 5 minutes of the half, both teams suddenly came alive, with a passage of end to end football leaving Ryan Shawcross to make a last ditch clearance with Rondon bearing down behind him. Stoke then broke away from the resulting corner, with a 2 on 2 opportunity leading to last weeks goalscorer Jesé Rodriguez finishing into the side netting.
Ultimately the half finished with only a single shot on target from ten – with both sides committing their fair share of fouls. West Brom started the second half encouragingly – with Matt Phillips causing problems down both flanks. However any intensity soon fizzled out with the familiar pattern of fouls, misplaced kicks and long throws leading to a war of attrition that Mayweather and McGregor would have been proud of. However, almost from nowhere – West Brom took the lead, with an opportunistic cross finding Jay Rodriguez in the box sneaking past Cameron and Martins-Indi into the space created by Solomon Rondon’s excellent dummy run.
Instantly, Stoke brought Peter Crouch on for Jese Rodriguez opting to take a more direct role with Shaqiri acting as a central playmaker playing slightly deeper than usual. West Brom’s defence stood impressively firm against this barrage, indicating that even without Johnny Evans they are still one of the most impressive defensive units in the league.
The further Stoke came forward, the more space began opening up on the counter attack for West Brom, and a sloppy handling error from Jack Butland suggested that any hope of a point was slipping away from Stoke. Hughes responded by going for broke – bringing on Ramadan Sobhi for Cameron in a hope of breaching West Brom’s defence.
Finally, after long ball after long ball, Stoke finally grabbed an equaliser as a misunderstanding between Ben Foster and Hegazi following a Sobhi cross left Crouch free to poke in the equaliser securing his 8th goal in his last 19 Premier League appearances.
Further pressure from Stoke yielded no further results (aside from yellow cards for Joe Allen and Solomon Rondon) while West Brom’s introduction of £15 million winger Oliver Burke with 5 minutes was too little to late to secure all 3 points. Ultimately both sides have little to argue with the result as a bad tempered, scrappy clash finished with a fitting 1-1 draw.
Written by Fabian Wood.