I can honestly say I don’t remember the last time I was so stressed over a game and my stomach was knotted for the majority of it.
In the first half we lacked the self-assuredness we’ve shown for the last couple of months and our play just looked disjointed. When Whelan made a mistake to let Gayle in for a well taken goal, I was seriously worried.
We should give Albion credit here, as they looked very organised, worked incredibly hard and looked threatening on the counter.
I just had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be our day.
I wanted changes for the second half, but Smith decided against at half time and not much changed until Hourihane and Green came on just after the hour mark.
After Grealish had been playing most of the game far too deep to be a threat, he got hold of the ball in their area and setup Hourihane for a good shot and goal. Just as I was thinking about how inneffective he’d been up till then.
That’s what makes him such a good player; he has the ability to create something just when it seems unlikely.
And then Jack won us a penalty just five minutes later when he was clearly tripped by Kieran Gibbs.
There was no mistake from Abraham who had seen very little of the ball before then and he cracked it home for 2-1.
Then, we looked much better and were creating and threatening more, although Albion can feel aggrieved that they didn’t get a penalty after a Tammy Abraham push.
And then Dwight Gayle got sent off after recklessly piling into Jed Steer, which earned him a second yellow and more importantly a one match ban.
He won’t be facing us on Tuesday and that’s a massive blow for them, as he played well and we couldn’t handle him.
Did the pressure get to us today?
It seemed like it to me as that was probably the worst we’ve played in quite a while.
But again we showed our resilience in coming from behind and demonstrated that the game isn’t over till it’s over.
So I called the result correctly and while I’m glad, it certainly wasn’t an easy game to watch.
For the majority of it, I was wondering how we were going to take anything from the 2-legs and going into Tuesday’s game a goal down would have been a serious psychological blow.
Now, with us having the lead and Gayle missing the game, it gives us the advantage and I’m relieved.
It all makes for a very interesting second leg, where Albion will need to come at us, hopefully leaving themselves open.