I’m not sure what the away pub was called near the Hawthorns, but for sure it should have been the Last Chance Saloon. An afternoon when City could finally cross the state boundary, away from the heady cocktail of a Premier League dream and back into the Championship land of prohibition.
Team selection looked in part to be looking towards next season, with a whiff of the scrapings from the barrel bottom. Sam Byram into defence, Lungi Sorensen back into midfield (with on loan and surely soon to return Isaac Hayden on the bench), Dimi Giannoulis in for the suspended Sam McCallum and Marquinhos making an appearance as the only right-sided player fit enough to start.
Heavy rain before kick-off ensured a slick surface. In the opening minute, Wallace sailed past Giannoulis but his through ball was too heavy and went straight through to Angus Gunn.
At the other end, Gabriel Sara won the ball in midfield. Christos Tzolis cut inside and his shot was parried by keeper Palmer for a throw.
City should have taken the lead in the fourth minute. City worked the ball out from the back nicely. Tzolis played a neat ball to Josh Sargent who cut back on the edge of the area, but, with Palmer diving the wrong way, screwed his left foot shot wide of the post.
Then the Baggies had a chance. A neat turn in midfield split the City defence and Thomas-Asante was through on goal with Andy Omobamidele trailing in his wake. Gunn was quick off his line though, made himself big and produced a good save to block the goalbound effort.
Sorensen was looking much more at home in midfield, playing the McLean role. He hit a superb long ball on 13 minutes which saw Giannoulis through on goal. The Greek has never scored for City and the way the ball spooned off him shows why.
Not only was Sorensen looking comfortable, but also Tzolis. So often the target for criticism, he seemed to be at the centre of every City move in the first half.
On 25 minutes, another slick move saw City into the opposition’s box. Tzolis was being bundled from behind before playing the ball to Sara. The West Brom player seemed to foul him but referee Bobby Madley, who was on the spot, saw nothing. Replays showed the Baggies’ player was standing on Sara’s foot and it should have been a penalty.
As the half went on, the home team began to exert more and more pressure on City. Molumby beat Sam Byram, who recovered to tackle and concede a corner. In a repeat of last week, Ajaye had a free header and Gunn had to be at his best to tip over for a second corner.
The second corner was cleared. Tzolis played it out of defence to Sargent, but he promptly lost the ball. Omobamidele blocked a shot with his trailing leg, and two crosses in quick succession were cleared by City, but they could not get out of their half.
On 40 minutes, another superb Sorensen tackle broke the West Brom possession. Sara picked up the pieces and the ball came to Giannoulis on the left. He played it to Sargent on the edge of the area who took a touch before slotting past Palmer to give City the lead.
It was short-lived. Four minutes later, a looping ball on the edge of the box saw Giannoulis and Grant clash. If anything, Grant went in with the higher foot but in reality, there was little between the two players. There was no clear foul for sure.
But not according to referee Madley. He awarded the home team a free kick right on the edge of the box before taking the City wall back a healthy 10 yards.
After last week, I noted that the time City were taking to concede a goal was doubling, and predicted that City might get to half-time this week before letting one in. I was just about right.
Townsend hit a curling left-foot shot into the top left corner. A good strike, nonetheless, but entirely owed to Madley.
There were no changes at half time, but City were slow out of the blocks.
For 10 minutes, the game was in an uneasy stalemate. City not providing any real threat, but defending well and largely keeping West Brom at arm’s length, all bar an awkward free kick that dropped in the six-yard box awkwardly before eventually being cleared.
City have no one but themselves to blame for the second goal.
Omobamidele won the ball in defence, but Marquinhos somehow conspired to lose a simple ball on the left. West Brom broke with an overload on the left. On the far side, Giannoulis was tracking back. Twice he checked over his shoulder to see where Wallace was yet opted to amble towards the middle of the penalty area. When the cross came in, Wallace gratefully accepted the free hit to guide the ball past Gunn.
City tried to hit back. Another Sorensen ball found Liam Gibbs on the left. Tzolis got a head to his cross, and Sargent a brief touch, but the ball was cleared by a grateful defence.
Then Sargent was bundled over 25 yards out. The resultant free kick was another training ground routine which eventually came to Aarons on the right. His eventual cross was over everybody.
On 64 minutes, Wagner made a quadruple change, Teemu Pukki, Isaac Hayden, Adam Idah and Jon Rowe replacing Gibbs, Sorensen, Tzolis and Marquinhos.
Perhaps it was too many changes. From that moment on City rarely threatened as West Brom settled for control of the game over ambition to increase their lead.
Marcelino Nunez came on for Sara with 10 minutes to go. He at least showed some creative spark, but more often than not his execution was poor with most of his passes overhit.
It took until the fifth minute of added time for City to even worry the home side, when a hopeful long ball forward caused mild alarm and confusion between keeper and defenders.
So that’s it. Finally, the playoff places are mathematically out of reach. Yesterday’s showing, well the first half at least, was an improvement. Less bad than in previous weeks.
Sorensen played well in his preferred position. Byram looked more solid at the back. Tzolis looked like the player we thought we had signed. Sargent had two chances, and scored one.
As for Marquinhos. I’m not sure what Arsenal saw in him. File him under ‘Harry Kane’ no doubt in the annals of City loanees.
As for the subs that came on, Idah got the ball once. Maybe twice. Pukki ran the channels and Rowe looked far too desperate to impress.
From five wins in seven to one win in ten. As dramatic a slump as you will see, albeit precipitated by multiple injuries to key players, and a squad shorn of depth during the abbreviated summer break.
So, just the Pukki party and the Barry Butler trophy to worry about on May 8 then.
Oh, and the inevitable protests.