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Feb 9, 2014

Palace defeat a sad reflection of West Brom's season

The realisation that relegation is a real possibility finally seems to have sunk in after West Brom dropped into the bottom three following their 3-1 defeat to relegation-rivals Crystal Palace. If West Brom put in many more displays like the one they did at Selhurst Park, then avoiding the drop will be very difficult.

Albion were once again shambolic at the back, much like they were in Pepe Mel's first away game at Aston Villa. All three goals scored by Crystal Palace were the result of bad defending, with mistakes coming from even the most reliable of West Brom's players. Tom Ince was allowed to run into the box with no-one tracking him to score the first goal, whilst Joe Ledley was given a free header by Billy Jones for his goal with goalkeeper Ben Foster in no man's land.

- Daly: Where Eagles dare to dream - Mel fumes over Palace penalty

The third goal came about through a mixture of poor defending and another recurring theme from West Brom's season: poor refereeing. Gareth McAuley misjudged the bounce of the ball which allowed Marouane Chamakh to go clean through on goal only for Foster to tackle him, the direction in which the ball went made it obvious to everyone but Chris Foy that keeper had cleanly tackled the forward. When Chamakh put the penalty away, Albion's hopes were gone.

It's been said that Albion have been unlucky this season with refereeing decisions, which is true, but you can only blame this for so much. Whilst the penalty decision killed all the momentum that West Brom had built in the second half, it didn't cost them the game. It was the inept first-half performance that ruined any chance Albion had of winning the game.

The Baggies had over 60 percent possession in the first half but only once was that possession used to craft any kind of chance; Chris Brunt's superb ball putting Victor Anichebe through one on one but he wasted the opportunity. All of that possession was in front of Palace, Albion offered no threat and lacked any kind of pace to their play. Palace looked threatening every time they got the ball forward. It was only once Thievy Bifouma came on at half time that West Brom had something a little different to their attacking play, but by then it was too late.

Whilst you have to admire the way that Pepe Mel seemed to fire West Brom up after half time, it is incredibly worrying that the Baggies often have to go a goal or two down before they start actually playing. Perhaps what was more worrying is Mel's post-match interview where he said: "I can't understand why there is such a difference between the two halves." If he doesn't know, how is he going to change it?

The second-half performance was good but not only was it too late, it also perfectly summarised the problems Albion have had for the majority of this season. Thievy produced an excellent, clinical finish for his goal, but that was the exception rather than the rule for West Brom. Anichebe missed another great chance in the second half after doing some fantastic work to get into a shooting position, but the biggest culprit was Scott Sinclair. He was presented with a fantastic chance from a corner and whilst Julian Speroni made a great save, it's the kind of chance that has to be put away when you're in a relegation dogfight like Albion are. It only served to emphasise the fine margins in Premier League football as it was from the next attack that Palace were given the penalty.

The other problem it highlighted was how criminal it was of West Brom to not bring in a left-back capable of challenging or preferably, replacing, Liam Ridgewell in either of the transfer windows. Instead, the loan of Goran Popov was renewed, despite it being clear that Steve Clarke didn't really rate him and he was never likely to displace Ridgewell having failed to do so for the entirety of last season. Ridgewell has struggled for form again this term and he was hauled off against Palace at half time, not the first time that has happened this season.

Unfortunately, that meant Chris Brunt was forced to play left-back. Since Mel has come in, Brunt has arguably been the outstanding player in the Albion side. He seemed reinvigorated playing in his best position on the left-hand side of midfield and he is West Brom's most creative player. Having to put him at left-back is a waste of his ability and harms the Baggies' forward play.

West Brom's transfer policy in the past two windows has been confusing at best, at worst it has been catastrophic. Mel has been left with a squad that is top heavy with strikers, but none who are regular goal-scorers. He's got midfielders who are all very similar players for the most part and a lack of decent cover or options at the back.

Mel is simply going to have to adjust his style to try and keep Albion up this season, he can't afford to play a high line as West Brom look like conceding every time the opposition attack. Mel has got a big job on his hands, you just have to hope he is the right man to do it.