After the Battle of the Hawthorns, West Brom secured an uneasy, nervy victory against another West Midlands rival. Rather than end up in infamy like last week’s Black Country derby, this win against Birmingham will be remembered for Andreas Weimann’s late winner that seemingly separated two well-matched rivals. And, sadly, the racist abuse that Birmingham midfielder Juninho Bacuna reported to the referee in the final minutes.
For the winning goal, Darnell Furlong stormed to the baseline and his ball landed at Austrian substitute Weimann, who recently joined on loan from Bristol City. His shot hit the roof of the net. Meanwhile, the stadium roof was blown off the Smethwick End, which houses a section between West Brom fans and their away fans. There was no outbreak of violence, just sheer jubilation on one side and desolation on the other.
Weimann’s intervention won a game that never faltered, which was perhaps for the best under the circumstances. The excessive familiarity between these sites has inspired apathy rather than outright contempt. Last week’s events took place during a game that has become a novelty in recent years. The boilover was embarrassing for Albion and an internal investigation is continuing. Arrests and stadium bans ensued, with the club vowing to ensure such violence “never happens again at the Hawthorns”.
Witnesses report a powder keg situation in areas of the site to which police and law enforcement were less aware. Thankfully no sequel was staged, with the fans in Birmingham being loud and provocative but never threatening. The same was true for the home fans for the most part, apart from one sad person.
“It will be sorted out below,” said Birmingham manager Tony Mowbray, suggesting a life ban as the appropriate punishment. “The consequences must be strong. It is right that (Bacuna) brings this to the attention of the officials. There has to be a deterrent. What drives you to make this comment?”
Carlos Corberán, the West Brom manager, promised his club would carry out a “serious investigation”. The fact that Weimann, a former Aston Villa player, gestured “1-0” to the away fans after the final whistle didn’t help either.
Mowbray, still popular with Baggies fans after his time at the club, reassured himself: “We shouldn’t be too hard on him.” He has righted the Birmingham ship after her disastrous affair with Wayne Rooney. His assessment that “it looked like we were stealing it” was hard to dismiss.
With a line of police between them, the rival fans exchanged insults and foul-mouthed songs early in the game, but the argument was neither sustained nor particularly vicious. Compared to the sulfur of six days earlier, it was a real eye-catcher and often a welcome change from a game that took a lot of time to entertain.
The Blues – who actually wear a coral away kit – play the passing game their manager has long been known and admired for. Under the chinos-clad Corberán, West Brom play the modern pressing style of a high defensive line and exploit mistakes in the opposition half.
In an unsatisfying first half, Birmingham stand-in captain Ivan Sunjic tested Alex Palmer with a long-range throw, while West Brom winger Tom Fellows came to the fore with quick attacks down the left. Both teams suffered from a lack of performance from their strikers. Brandon Thomas-Asante for West Brom and Jay Stansfield, who has been in top form for Birmingham recently, were hunting for shade.
After the break the intensity increased. Mowbray brought Jordan James into midfield for the injured Alex Pritchard, but West Brom looked more likely. The impressive Fellows cut in from the baseline, but Alex Mowatt failed with a header. Next, Thomas-Asante wildly shot a volley wide. As the clock ticked down, the cracking of tackles grew louder, as did the crackling of both sets of fans. Mowbray brought on Paik Seung-ho, while Corberán brought on Weimann and Mikey Johnston, among others.
“I prefer not to suffer,” said a relieved Corberán. “But that’s exactly what the championship demands. If you don’t play better than your opponent, you need a lot of resilience and maturity.”
Shortly before Weimann’s winning goal, Birmingham defender Kevin Long thought his header off the post had landed in the net, but the ball bounced back out. Instead, it was West Brom who were able to celebrate the release of a derby victory that was calm, if unfortunately not without incident.