James Morrison

Photo credit: @AVFCOfficial

Aston Villa beat West Brom in shootout to reach Wembley final

Leave a comment

Aston Villa moved one giant step closer to a return to the Premier League by topping local rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties in the EFL Championship promotion playoffs on Tuesday.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

West Brom erased what was a 2-1 deficit to begin the semifinal second leg. Away goals are not used as a tiebreaker in the Football League’s promotion playoffs, thus the two Birmingham sides were forced into a penalty shootout, where Jed Steer would atone for a nearly calamitous error early in the game and season full of similar blunders.

Villa were in England’s top tier from 1975 until suffering relegation in 2016; they fell to Fulham in last season’s promotion final at Wembley Stadium. West Brom, on the other hand, saw their eight-year run in the PL end this time last year.

Leeds United hold a 1-0 advantage over Derby County, heading home for Wednesday’s other semifinal second leg.

Craig Dawson scored the second leg’s only goal, a towering header from Mason Holgate‘s long throw-in, in the 29th minute.

Villa’s Tyrone Mings made a goal- and potentially season-saving block in the 53rd minute, after Steer gave the ball directly to West Brom’s Jacob Murphy, who took a touch toward goal and fired for the bottom corner, the ball destined for the inside netting. Mings recovered from out of nowhere — wide left, where he was an option for Steer to play the ball out — to get a foot in front of the ball and boot it away.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Steer started the shootout by denying Holgate with ease, diving to his left and getting both hands behind the ball to keep it out. Conor Hourihane took the opportunity to put Villa ahead seconds later. Steer came up big once again, denying Ahmed Hegazi on West Brom’s second effort. Mile Jedinak‘s first touch after coming on late in extra time came at the penalty spot, and the Australian dispatched his effort as coolly as could be done.

Tosin Adarabioyo got West Brom on the board in round 3, but Jack Grealish restored the two-make advantage by sending Sam Johnstone the wrong way for the third straight penalty attempt. Kieran Gibbs nicked the inside Steer’s right-hand post in round 4, but by the grace of luck the ball found its way into the corner. Albert Adomah put Villa’s fourth attempt over the bar.

James Morrison hammered West Brom’s fifth past Steer, setting up on-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham for the decisive penalty. It wasn’t the best penalty ever hit, as Johnstone got a trailing foot on the ball, but it had enough power behind it to sneak over the line and send Villa to Wembley.

Premier League Preview: West Brom v. Tottenham Hotspur

Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • West Brom has just one win in last 16 against Spurs
  • Tottenham has scored at least once in last 23 league matches
  • Baggies winless in previous six home games (2D, 4L)

West Bromwich Albion hosts Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Baggies aim to stay afloat in the Premier League.

Anything outside of a victory in their final two matches will see West Brom drop to the Championship, as the Baggies sit on 28 points — five out of 17th place.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Baggies are unbeaten in their last four matches, which gives the club genuine hope heading into their last two fixtures, however, only one game has resulted in three points.

Key injuries for both sides could leave them in a bit of a pickle, as Gareth Barry and James Morrison remain sidelined for the Baggies, while Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Harry Winks won’t feature for Spurs.

What they’re saying

West Brom boss Darren Moore named Manager of the Month: “It’s great to be nominated with those calibre of managers, it really, really is – I am honoured. But I will share that nomination with everybody here at West Brom. The reason I can sit up here and talk about it is because of the tremendous work everybody has done behind the scenes.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino on West Brom’s recent form: “West Brom are showing great character in their last few games – the capacity to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and draw with Liverpool. They are doing fantastic in the last few months and of course they have the belief still [that they can stay up]. We are playing to be in the top four and try to play Champions League next season. I think it will be a massive battle for them, but also for us.”

Prediction

The task is anything but simple for the Baggies, particularly against a Spurs side with so much quality. Darren Moore’s side has performed admirably over the last month, but the team needed at least another victory during that span to have a legitimate shot at safety. Even with two wins down the stretch, which isn’t likely, survival isn’t a certainty for the West Midlands side. West Brom 1-3 Tottenham

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd to delay City’s party another week?

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United are the last hurdle standing between Manchester City and the Premier League title, a race which could come to its rather anti-climactic end on Sunday, while Arsenal continue battling for Champions League Europa League qualification…

[ MORE: Man City on the brink of PL title ]

Newcastle United vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

10th-place Newcastle entered the weekend every bit as hot as sixth-place Arsenal, with both sides having won three straight PL games ahead of Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park. The Magpies have clawed their way back following a disastrous start to the season (just four wins from their first 18 games, including a run of one point from nine games from October to December) and are all but mathematically safe from relegation after knocking off fellow relegation battlers Southampton and Huddersfield Town, as well as eighth-place Leicester City. Rafa Benitez will surely feel this is one of the best coaching jobs of his illustrious career, given the (lack of) resources at his disposal in the summer.

For Arsenal, the top-four is no longer a possibility (they sit 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur), and even fifth appears a big ask with just five games to go (six points separate them from Chelsea). In short, Arsene Wenger is all-in on the Europa League, which will see them face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals beginning next week. Similarly to Newcastle, their three-game streak has come against sides all currently 12th or lower in the table (12th, 18th and 19th). After a late scare away to CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarterfinals second leg, expect a heavily rotated lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (flu)

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man City’s win over Spurs ]

Manchester United vs. West Brom — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho’s Man United already delayed Man City’s PL title-winning party one week, and they have the chance to do it again on Sunday. City breezed past Tottenham on Saturday, leaving them three points from the title, which could also be achieved by a United loss to last-place West Brom at Old Trafford — an unlikely outcome, in all honesty.

“During the week I was trying to fight that result (the win over Man City) by working hard and trying to make the players understand that it’s not enough to deserve to finish second, we need the points to finish second,” Mourinho said this week. “Obviously to finish top-four we need four or five points, but to finish second we need much more than that and after three important points last weekend, we have to try to … be closer to the second position, which is, in this moment, our ambition.”

As for West Brom, their fate as a Championship side next season could be sealed as soon as next weekend. A loss on Sunday would mean the only way to avoid relegation is to win their final four games and Swansea City would have to lose all of their final five while overturning a minor goal-differential disadvantage (-19 to -26). An even more unlikely sequence of extraordinary events.

“From my discussions with the owners already, I know there is a genuine desire to build a team with greater goal power and attacking threat which can capture the fans’ imagination,” chief executive Mark Jenkins said this week. “In the event of our losing Premier League status, it will be a squad we will want to compete strongly for promotion back to the top tier.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (fitness), Daley Blind (fitness), Sergio Romero (knee) | West Brom — OUT: Gareth Barry (knee), Hal Robson-Kanu (concussion), James Morrison (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), Jonny Evans (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Man City go for 19; WBA-Arsenal

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

How much longer can Manchester City keep up to their winning ways in the Premier League? Their latest test comes on Sunday…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea leapfrog Man United for 2nd ]

Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

At some point, one would presume, Man City will lose a PL game again. Whether or not it happens this season is the storyline on everyone’s mind: they’re 20 games through the 38-game campaign, and yet to taste domestic defeat. Sunday’s trip to Selhurst Park will afford Pep Guardiola‘s side the opportunity to make it 19 straight wins, thus extending their own English top-flight record. After winning three straight by a combined score of 12-1, Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle United felt uncharacteristically laborious for the Citizens, but they held on to turn Raheem Sterling‘s 31st-minute goal (his team-leading 13th of the PL season) into the winner.

“I don’t think anyone is really thinking about records,” Sterling said this week. “They’re nice to have on your CV but we have to keep winning and getting three points. Records only stand for a certain amount of time. Three points add to the table.

After a dreadful start to the season (they didn’t win a point — or score a goal — until game no. 8), Crystal Palace put together a seven-game unbeaten run starting in mid-November, only to see all their hard work go up in flames in Thursday’s 3-2 home defeat to Arsenal. Sunday’s clash with a record-setting City side is, to put it lightly, hardly an ideal opportunity for Roy Hodgson‘s to get back to winning ways.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Mamadou Sakho (calf), Connor Wickham (knee), Chung-Young Lee (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: Vincent Kompany (calf), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

West Brom vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It’s no 18-game winning streak, but Arsenal do enter Sunday’s trip to The Hawthorns with a five-game unbeaten run in tow — that’s the positive spin. Here’s the negative from the other side: the Gunners have won just two of those five games and have fallen behind Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur while slipping to sixth place (from fourth) in the PL table. The victory over Palace did see Arsene Wenger‘s side overcome a bit of adversity, as they were pegged back to 1-1 after taking an early lead. Alexis Sanchez responded with a second-half brace just four minutes apart. Palace finished the game with a second goal a furious fight for an equalizer, and Wenger was largely pleased with the result.

“Overall, I think it was a very good, positive performance. We were fluid going forward and controlled the game well,” he said. “At half-time it was 1-0, but it should have been more and then of course at some stage the home team who fights against relegation will come at you. I thought we had two good chances and after it was just down to 1-1, then we showed resources and character, were leading 3-1 and controlled the game quite well, but at 3-2 we became quite nervy again and we finished in a bit of a less controlled way, but overall it was a good team performance.”

West Bromwich Albion are currently the anti-Man City: having won their first two games of the season, the Baggies are without a win in their last 18 PL games and have fallen into 20th place, currently three points behind Palace who sit just outside the relegation zone. Similar to the Eagles, West Brom have a genuine mountain to climb if they’re to reverse fortunes on Sunday.

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Salomon Rondon (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), James Morrison (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Nacho Monreal (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

West Brom vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


Bournemouth vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals scored in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)