Andreas Weimann strikes late to give West Brom edge against Birmingham
After the Battle of the Hawthorns came an uneasy, edgy victory for West Brom against another rival from the West Midlands. Rather than enter infamy like last week’s Black Country derby, this win against Birmingham will be remembered for Andreas Weimann’s late winner separating what had looked like two well-matched rivals. And, regrettably, the racial abuse the Birmingham midfielder Juninho Bacuna reported to the referee in the closing minutes.
For the winner, Darnell Furlong scampered to the byline, his ball finding the Austrian substitute Weimann, recently arrived on loan from Bristol City. His finish hit the roof of the net. The stadium roof, meanwhile, blew off the Smethwick End that houses a division between West Brom fans and their away counterparts. There was no explosion of violence, only mere jubilation on one side and desolation on the other.
Weimann’s intervention won a game that never set alight, which was perhaps for the best in the circumstances. Overfamiliarity between these sides has bred apathy rather than full-blooded contempt. Last week’s events came during a fixture that has become a novelty in recent years. Its boiling over was an embarrassment to Albion and an internal investigation continues. Arrests have been made and stadium bans imposed, with the club promising to ensure that such violence “is never repeated at the Hawthorns”.
Witnesses describe a tinderbox situation in areas of the ground that the police and stewards were less attuned to. Thankfully, no sequel was staged, with the Birmingham supporters raucous and provocative but never threatening. The same mostly went for the home fans, aside from one sorry individual.
“It’s getting dealt with downstairs,” said the Birmingham manager, Tony Mowbray, suggesting a lifetime ban as a suitable punishment. “The consequences need to be strong. It’s right that [Bacuna] brings it to the attention of officials. There has to be a deterrent. What drives you in your mind to make that comment?”
Carlos Corberán, West Brom’s manager, promised his club would carry out a “serious investigation”. That Weimann, a former Aston Villa player, gestured “1-0” at away fans followingafter the final whistle was not helpful, either.
Mowbray, still beloved among Baggies fans after his stint at the club, cooled waters: “We shouldn’t be too harsh on him.” He has righted the Birmingham ship after their disastrous dalliance with Wayne Rooney. His assessment that “it looked like it would be us that would nick it” was difficult to dismiss.
With a line of police between them, rival fans exchanged insults and uncomplimentary ditties as the game began but the beef was neither sustained nor especially vicious. It was knockabout stuff compared to the sulphur of six days previously, and often a welcome distraction from a match that took its time to entertain.
The Blues – actually wearing a coral away kit – play the passing game their manager has long been known and admired for. Under the chino-clad Corberán, West Brom play the modern pressing style of a high defensive line, seizing on mistakes in their opponent’s half.
An unsatisfactory first half had the stand-in Birmingham captain, Ivan Sunjic, testing Alex Palmer with a long-range chip, while the West Brom winger Tom Fellows came to the fore with speedy incursions off the left. Both teams suffered for a lack of service to their forwards. Brandon Thomas-Asante for West Brom and Jay Stansfield, lately in scoring form for Birmingham, were chasing shadows.
The intensity increased after the break. Mowbray introduced Jordan James into midfield for the injured Alex Pritchard but West Brom looked the more likely. The impressive Fellows cut to the byline only for Alex Mowatt to get his angles all wrong with a header. Next, Thomas-Asante wildly crashed a volley wide. As the clock edged onwards, the snap of tackles became sharper, as did the crackle from both sets of fans. Mowbray sent on Paik Seung-ho, with Corberán bringing on Weimann and Mikey Johnston among a raft of changes.
“I prefer not to suffer,” said a relieved Corberán. “But this is what the Championship demands. If you are not playing better than the opponent you need a lot of resilience and play with maturity.”
Not long before Weimann’s winner, the Birmingham defender Kevin Long had thought his near-post header was in the net, only for the ball to bounce back out. Instead, it was West Brom who could enjoy the release of a derby win passed off quietly, though sadly not without incident.