If it wasn’t so utterly predictable then it could have been mistaken for a nightmare.
An Albion team with no strikers, one league win all season and a team full of half-hearted plodders (by their own fans’ admission), deserving a 3-2 win on our own patch with two unfathomable refereeing decisions thrown into the mix for old time’s sake.
Like every time we play West Bromwich Albion in the last 30 years or more – barring one or two rare exceptions – we lose, with each defeat more damaging than the one before. How we could induce more pain than the Molineux Massacre nine years ago is an incredible feat that even I thought was impossible. But achieve it they did and we sleepwalk towards a relegation dogfight with a squad full of puppies.
Quite how this bad dream will all end is yet to transpire, but like the 1-5 embarrassment in 2012, the Jordao winner in 2002 when he should have seen red, the Matt Carbon career ender on George Ndah in 1999, a Kevin Muscat penalty miss, a Keith Curle own goal and most other times we play WBA in between, this feels too seminal.
At worst, this pathetic defeat will spell the beginning of the end of Nuno’s glorious reign as it did for Mick McCarthy in a symmetry too cruel for words. At best, it might just give the players the kick up the backside they need to switch off a collective airplane mode and treat our predicament with some sort of urgency.
As was the case for most of Big Mick’s tenure in the Premier League, we can only look over our shoulders and pray that there’s three worse teams than us in the league, in some sort of pseudo-support for any clubs playing our lowly rivals. In the absence of our own players doing themselves a favour – or the officials or VAR which will never be the case – we can only hope that other clubs will give us the leg-up we need to stumble over the line.
Replays showed that Willy Boly’s challenge on Callum Robinson was outside the box for Albion’s first penalty, in a decision so soft that no fan of a stripy persuasion could have expected after seeing it in real time or on the slow motion afterwards? Commentator Ian Darke sounded flabbergasted! Michael Oliver couldn’t blow his whistle quickly enough though, while VAR turned the other channel when Kieran Gibbs caught the ball with both hands a few minutes later in another incredible decision exclusive only to Wolves in Black County derbies.
But all that being said and done, we deserved what we got for squandering the initiative after half time in a crazy five minutes of non-defending that was only marginally less embarrassing than the last time WBA were in town. Once we gave away two goals – featuring a second penalty with less contact than Albion inflicted on Nelson Semedo outside their box moments before which Michael Oliver ignored – we didn’t have the spirit, backbone or character to turn the tide.
The concession from the long throw was from the school of Sunday morning defending and when looking for leaders for a response, there was none. By the end, the spectacle was a footballing equivalent of Covid, as we looked listless, fuzzy headed and running on empty in a general state of confusion.
And if Nuno honestly thinks that the solutions lie within then we will be lucky to avoid relegation, as Fabio Silva can’t lead the line and misses too many chances, while Patrick Cutrone was hopeless near the end with the goal gaping. Morgan Gibbs White, meanwhile, looks physically incapable of passing to a player in the same coloured shirt in one of the most clueless cameos since Ali Dia. Juxta-posing this with the sales of Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty – and the most braindead replacements in our 144 year history – and we can only wish we’ve been dreaming.
The footballing gods don’t react well to such stupidity, as history keeps telling us. Whether Nuno was responsible or they were thrust upon us by Jorge Mendes matters little now.
Mendes counts his pennies, Nuno counts the cost and until Fosun stops twiddling its fingers, we’ll all count an ever-shrinking points gap between our fledgling failures and the relegation zone.
Them’s the rules, as imposed by the Albion, again. We should know them off by heart now.