It is not the end of the world for West Brom even if the rain during this Black Country derby came close to apocalyptic. But this draw leaves Sam Allardyce’s side perilously close to relegation, and they could be demoted even before they play Arsenal on Sunday if other results go against them.
“As professionals we owe it to everybody to go out and try to win every game we have left and hope that by some magic miracle and fairy dust we stay up,” said Allardyce.
The way West Brom fell behind to Wolves just before half-time summed up how this season has gone for them, as Fábio Silva opened the scoring with a freakish goal. The hosts battled back to equalise through Mbaye Diagne but could not summon the winning goal they yearned for.
West Brom began with a peculiar lack of conviction, looking like a side who could not make up their minds whether to fight for their lives or just resign themselves to an inevitable fate. Possibly they were a touch nonplussed by Wolves’ lineup. Nuno Espírito Santo sprung some surprises, introducing three youngsters – Silva, Owen Otasowie, and Vitinha – and switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
That was partly a reaction to the ramshackle defeat to Burnley in their last match but mostly down to enforced absences, including to Willy Boly, who is suffering from after-effects of Covid-19. “He is in a tough moment,” said Nuno of the Ivory Coast international.
The most remarkable feature of a mostly turgid first half-hour at the Hawthorns was the sound of the pitiless rain beating down on the stadium’s roof, evoking old-fashioned fan rattles, poignantly emphasising on a frigid evening just how bleak football can be without supporters. Perhaps it was sheer tedium that drove Semi Ajayi to try to pirouette with the ball in his own box after dispossessing Silva in the 30th minute; as he spun he nudged the ball right into the path of Nélson Semedo, whose fierce shot from 16 yards brought an excellent save from Sam Johnstone.
Allardyce decided radical change was needed so made his first substitutions after 32 minutes, withdrawing a centreback – Dara O’Shea rather than Ajayi, curiously – and introducing Matt Phillips as he switched to a 4-3-3 system. West Brom found more fluency and posed more of a threat. They came close to scoring in the 42nd minute, when Romain Saïss cleared off the line after Diagne got his head to a cross by Conor Gallagher following a short corner.
Then, in a spell that encapsulated West Brom’s woes this season, the visitors scored without even shooting. After a lovely exchange between Semedo and Vitinha, Kyle Bartley beat Silva to the ball about 16 yards out and tried to clear it. But he whacked it off the striker’s standing foot, sending the ball looping back over Johnstone and into the net. “Talk about a kick in the teeth,” said Allarcyce. “You look at that and think: ‘Why can’t we get a bit of luck like that?’”
Silva continued to threaten in the second period, twice forcing good saves from Johnstone. But as the derby gained intensity West Brom bared their teeth, too.
They deserved their equaliser when they scored it just after the hour. Before that Rui Patrício had to beat away shots by Okay Yokuslu and Conor Gallagher, but the goalkeeper was helpless when Conor Townsend flew down the left and delivered an ideal cross for Diagne to head into the net from six yards.
Both sides attacked with more gusto than precision after that as the rain practically turned into a torrent. Neither could force a breakthrough. West Brom were left with a sinking feeling.