Rochdale 2 Albion 2.
GUS Poyet is raising the bar at Albion like never before.
You might have expected a decent enough away point on the back of eight straight wins in a memorable March to be greeted with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders and a hint of a smile.
Not a bit of it. Albion’s meticulous manager was irritated by the manner in which his side let go of another victory on their way to sealing promotion to the Championship.
That will happen, of course, although we may have to wait now until the next away game at Walsall on Saturday week, if not later.
Successive home victories against Sheffield Wednesday and Dagenham and Redbridge in the next eight days, together with helpful results elsewhere involving Huddersfield and Southampton, are required for a top two spot to be guaranteed sooner than that.
Poyet is far too professional to take anything for granted until the task is completed but in some respects he is already looking ahead to next season.
And he knows performances like this a year on will produce not a point but the now familiar outcome for the UK entry in the Eurovision song contest.
A deeper explanation is necessary, since Albion were brighter and more fluent in an attacking sense than in most, if not all, of those hard-earned victories last month.
The flaws which annoyed their leader were the goals which were missed and the goals which were leaked.
They only managed to score once in open play from a plethora of chances. Even then they needed a twist as improbable as Colonel Gadaffi surrendering – a Gary Dicker header.
At the other end of the pitch they managed to concede twice without their normally rock-solid defence being breached in open play.
Championship strikers will not be as charitable in both respects. They will gobble up a higher percentage of openings and make the most of any defensive frailties.
Once Dicker nodded Albion ahead for the first time in the match, early in the second half, Poyet expected only one outcome.
“It was a matter of time and I thought we were going to score two or three more,” he said. “But we didn’t respect some internal rules we’ve got and gave them the chance to come back.
“Going forward we were decent. I’m a little bit disappointed by how we dealt with a few defensive situations.”
Poyet preferred not to elaborate on the ‘internal rules’ which were broken but it is fair to assume they included unnecessary infringements in dangerous positions.
Dicker said: “We have been quite good at that, staying on our feet and if we are going to foul it has usually been higher up the pitch, so he (Poyet) was a bit disappointed at that and we spoke about it at half-time.
“We were really disappointed about the second goal we gave away but we take the credit and the flak as a team, we are not going to pinpoint anyone. We can learn a lot from this game.”
Ditto Poyet. It is easy to forget he is still in his first full season as a manager. Each and every match is, for him, an education.
“You need to learn to learn from every situation,” he said. “I don’t think the players realise how much I learn about every individual every minute.”
Albion’s superiority in the first half of the first half should have been rewarded by an early goal from Chris Wood but he dragged his shot wastefully wide after Tommy Elphick put him clean through.
Instead they fell behind against the run of play. Robbie Williams has a deadly left-foot and his curling free-kick forced Casper Ankergren into a flying save. The Dane was more alert than his colleagues, on-loan Hull winger Will Atkinson reacting quickest to slot the rebound. Wood, to his credit, was not unnerved by initial profligacy when Craig Dawson, Rochdale’s West Brom-bound centre-half, impeded Glenn Murray from Dicker’s pass.
Albion’s very own Brommie shrugged aside the previous collective penalty woes with a confident conversion from the spot.
They could have been behind again by the break. Ankergren made a breathtaking deflection onto the upright from a swivelling volley by the impressive Chris O’Grady but the keeper was rooted to the spot and helpless when Williams was inches wide with another free-kick.
Dicker’s collector’s item was well-constructed and well-executed. The back-to-form Elliott Bennett combined with Inigo Calderon before crossing for the Irish midfielder, ghosting into the box, to score with a header firm enough that Owain Fon Williams could not quite keep it out.
That ought to have been that but O’Grady, a robust and hard-working handful throughout for Gordon Greer and Tommy Elphick, thought otherwise.
He had his back to goal and Elphick behind him when Radostin Kishishev tried to win the ball. Instead he got enough of the man for Gary Jones to register his 19th goal of the campaign from the resulting penalty.
Any neutral would have regarded it as a cracking contest in which Rochdale, surprise packages after promotion last season and still with an outside chance of a play-off place, played a full part.
Poyet is no neutral though. While Albion have been fortunate to take maximum points this season from neighbouring Oldham, he will feel they have dropped four against Rochdale following the 2-2 draw at Withdean earlier in the season, best remembered for Greer’s debut red card and a rare error late on by Ankergren.
Dicker said: “It’s always nice to score but that is only good when you win games. We have got seven games left now and it’s in our hands.
“We are the only ones who can slip up. I don’t think anyone in the dressing room is relaxing and thinking we are there. The gaffer, Tano and the rest of the staff won’t let us.”
You bet they won’t, particularly Poyet.
Albion (4-1-2-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Greer, Elphick, Painter; Bridcutt (Noone 15), Kishishev (Navarro 72), Dicker; Murray, Wood (Sandaza 82), Bennett.
Subs not used: Brezovan, Sparrow, Taricco, Dunk.
Goals: Wood (29) penalty, Dicker (51).
Red cards: None.
Yellow cards: Painter (27) foul, Navarro (75) foul.
Rochdale (4-5-1): Fon Williams; Wiseman (Widdowson 80), Dawson, Holness, R. Williams; Adams, Done, Kennedy (Barry-Murphy 73), Jones, Atkinson; O’Gray.
Subs not used: Edwards, Akpa Akpro, Josh Thompson, Joe Thompson, Dickinson.
Goals: Atkinson (22), Jones (71) penalty.
Red cards: None.
Yellow cards: Kennedy (8) foul, Wiseman (36) foul.