Baggies’ jinx goes on

TONY Mowbray’s dour expression and studied under-statement may belie it, but nobody could accuse West Bromwich Albion of being dull.

At home, Mowbray’s side have rarely failed to thrill, scoring 39 goals in just 15 league games while, on occasions, simply swatting less talented opposition on an apparently relentless march back into the Premier League two seasons after they fell back into the second tier.

Away from the comfort zone of the Hawthorns though, it is a completely different story with Albion seemingly gripped by inhibition and a loss of self-belief.

Two weeks after they fell at struggling Preston, Mowbray’s team were again well beaten by supposedly inferior opponents, this time to a Barnsley side who had won just one of their previous 10 league games and who could have been forgiven for having one eye on next weekend’s trip to face Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round.

The result was that the Midlands club conceded their position at the head of the table to Watford as the Championship’s game of musical chairs continued. Just two points separate the top four clubs, none of whom seem capable of putting together the run of results that would lift them from the increasingly congested group of clubs still harbouring ambitions of promotion.

As frustrating it may be for Mowbray and his fellow managers as they head nervously into the final third of the season, the gap between leaders Watford and 12th placed Wolves currently standing at 12 points, ensures that the division will continue to provide an absorbing, meaningful contest with many more twists and turns to come.

If Albion are to engineer a return to the top-flight before they lose the advantage of the two-year parachute payment that accompanied their relegation in 2006, they must remedy their frailties away from home. On this occasion they were utterly flustered by Barnsley’s robust approach that delivered a two-goal lead, courtesy of Daniel Nardielo and Jon Macken, before the break that realistically could have been more. James Morrison’s neatly worked reply in the 58th minute promised a fight-back that the visitors were ultimately unable to deliver.

“Is our away form a concern?” said Jonathan Greening, the midfielder. “Of course it is, because we need to get as many points on the board to get promoted. We play some great football at home and we can’t seem to capture that form away from home. We need to all stick together.”

Victory means Barnsley will almost certainly avoid a repeat of last season’s brinkmanship when a late flurry of goals from Nardiello finally delivered survival. The striker then left for QPR, but returned to the club on last month after six frustrating months at Loftus Road.

“It was a nightmare at QPR and I am just pleased to be back here and playing,” he said.

BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Warner 7, Foster 6, Souza 7, Nyatanga 7, Kozluk 7, Devaney 7, De Silva 8, Howard 7, Leon 7 (Hassell 86, 6), Macken 8 (Ferenczi 81, 6), Nardiello 9 (Coulson 73, 6).

Subs Not Used: Hassell, Odejayi, Campbell-Ryce.

WEST BROMWICH (4-4-2): Keily 6, Hoefkens 6, Albrechtsen 5, Cesar 3 (Barnett 46, 7), Robinson 6, Teixeira 7, Morrison 8, Greening 6, Brunt 5 (Gera 64, 4), Phillips 6, Bednar 6 (Beattie 46, 5).

Subs Not Used: Danek, Pele.

REFEREE: Tony Bates (Staffordshire) 6: Mowbray and his players should be grateful the match official turned down two strong claims that could easily have resulted in penalties for the home side.

MATCH RATING: **** The league leaders thoroughly out-played by a team more concerned with putting clear water between themselves and the bottom three? Now that wouldn’t happen in the Premier League.

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