Match Reports

Tough night in Rome for Albion

A 4-0 defeat in their Europa League Round of 16 first leg tie leaves us with huge task at the Amex next Thursday.

By Bruce Talbot • 07 March 2024

By Paul Hazlewood
Danny Welbeck was twice left frustrated by brilliant saves from Mile Svilar in the Stadio Olimpico.

Albion will have to pull off something special to keep their Europa League campaign alive after a testing night in the Stadio Olimpico.

It was always going to be a tough ask against a Roma side now unbeaten in 12 home games in the competition, although the first-half goals by Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku came from Albion mistakes. Two more in four minutes midway through the second period by Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante gave Roma a comfortable cushion to take to the Amex next Thursday.

By Paul Hazlewood
Danny Welbeck gets his shot away. He also had two first-half headers saved.

Albion will reflect on missed opportunities. Roma keeper Mile Svilar left Danny Welbeck frustrated with two brilliant saves from close-range headers and Simon Adingra’s early deflected shot hit the post, but it was another game when the absence of key players was keenly felt.

Roberto De Zerbi had shuffled the pack again with six changes. Billy Gilmour returned in the middle of his domestic ban and Igor Julio, Pascal Gross, Welbeck, Jan Paul van Hecke and Facundo Buonanotte came into the side beaten by Fulham.

By Paul Hazlewood
More than 3,000 Albion fans made themselves heard in the Stadio Olimpico.

Albion have encountered some hostile atmospheres in Europe this season but Roma’s Curve Sud took it to a new level. On the anniversary of the club’s foundation in 1927 they were at their flag-waving, foot-stomping, flare-detonating, raucous best – and they would have been cheering an early goal had it not been for Jason Steele’s reflexes when he flipped Lukaku’s close-range over in the third minute after Leonardo Spinazzola was given too much room on the left to find his teammate.

Lukaku dragged a shot wide after Steele’s pass was cut out but Albion were denied a goal by the width of the post in the seventh minute. Adingra collected Julio Enciso’s pass and cut inside and his shot rebounded off Evan N’Dicka and onto the upright.

By Paul Hazlewood
Igor takes on Roma's Bryan Cristante.

The visitors seemed to have settled only to concede after 13 minutes. Lewis Dunk just failed to cut out Leandro Paredes’s pass from midfield and Dybala bent his run perfectly and rounded Steele before slotting into an empty net. The assistant flagged for offside, but the VAR over-ruled him and Albion had conceded their first Europa League goal for 7 hours 13 minutes.

An open game developed. Albion went close again on 23 minutes with Adingra providing a great left-wing cross which Welbeck met with a powerful header that Svilar saved with his right leg without knowing too much how he’d done it.

But then it was 2-0 and another self-inflicted wound. Dunk failed to clear a long ball down the left and Lukaku was away to sweep a low right-foot shot past an exposed Steele, his seventh goal in this season’s competition. Coming two minutes before the break it was a big blow, although there was still time in a breathless first half for Svilar to deny Welbeck again when he turned his powerful header from another excellent Adingra cross over the bar.

By Paul Hazlewood
Julio Enciso tries to find a way through during the first half.

Ansu Fati came on at the break and his first involvement was to test Svilar with a shot from 15 yards. Moments later, though, Albion were indebted to Steele who spread himself to keep out Lukaku’s far-post header.

Adingra was Albion’s biggest threat throughout and a storming run in the inside-left channel and pass to the overlapping Welbeck created another decent chance, but Welbeck scooped his effort disappointingly over and Albion’s night then got a lot worse.

On 64 minutes they failed to clear a corner and when Stephan El Shaarawy whipped in a right-wing cross to the far post Mancini stretched to divert it past Steele. Four minutes later and it was 4-0 with El Shaarawy again the creator on the left and Bryan Cristante had too much space to pick his spot with a flying header.  

By Paul Hazlewood
Lewis Dunk gets to grips with Romelu Lukaku.

Albion kept creating chances and when van Hecke inadvertently flicked Pervis Estupinan’s shot on Dunk steered a shot agonisingly over before Tariq Lamptey went close. It was that sort of night in front of goal.

Nonetheless, 3400 stood to applaud the players at full-time. Four-goal first leg defeats have been overcome before in Europe… you never know.

Albion: Steele, Lamptey, van Hecke, Dunk, Igor (Estupinan 75); Gilmour (Baleba 82), Gross; Buonanotte (Veltman 75), Enciso (Fati 45), Adingra; Welbeck (Ferguson 82).

Subs: Verbruggen, McGill, Webster, Lallana, Moder, Peupion, Baker-Boaitey.

Referee: Francois Letexier