Slaven Bilic has angrily criticised West Bromwich Albion’s decision to sell 29-year-old centre-back Ahmed Hegazi to Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad for £4 million hours before his side faced Brighton.
Bilic insisted he had been given assurances the player would remain at the Hawthorns and that the defender had been due to play at the Amex Stadium. Although West Brom recovered after falling behind to a first-half own goal to claim their first away point of the season, through Karlan Grant’s equaliser in the 83rd minute, Bilic made no attempt to disguise his fury at losing a player he wanted to to keep, raising further questions about his relationship with the club’s hierarchy.
“It definitely wasn’t my decision. It wasn’t a football decision, I’m very disappointed. We’re a team that needs all our good players,” said the manager. “He is a player that has know-how in the Premier League, vast experience, he’s an international, a great professional, he played versus Burnley and was training the whole week. I had assurances he’d stay so that makes me very disappointed that he left.
“I was assured this week he was staying. He was meant to play today, he’s a top professional, he had to wait for his chance but because of his know-how I counted on him big time. To lose him on basically Sunday morning, yesterday morning, to find it out, makes me really disappointed.
“There are economic reasons, there are football reasons. We were nowhere near as active like other teams. At least keep our players. He wanted to stay.
“You need numbers, you need quality so being angry and disappointed doesn’t change anything, but my feeling is very negative, of course.”
Bilic could at least draw satisfaction at the way his side responded in the second half against Graham Potter’s side, after having been outplayed during the first period when they fell behind to Jake Livermore’s own goal. Grant’s goal, his first since his £12 million move from Huddersfield, was particularly pleasing for the manager.
“If I had to pick one player to score it is him, because he is our striker,” he said. “He took the goal really well. In the second half he and the whole team was very dangerous. He took his goal really well, he didn’t panic, he didn’t want to shoot just for the sake of shooting. He acted like a proper centre forward.”
Brighton paid the price for failing to make more of their chances during a first half when they dominated long periods of play.
“That’s the challenge,” said Brighton manager Potter. “The hardest thing in football is to score goals and put the ball in the net and we created some chances, we created some opportunities and we need to carry on with that and then we have to learn a bit more about the second half and what we can do a little bit better.”
Brighton striker Neal Maupay spurned two good opportunities before they were gifted the opening goal five minutes before the break. Adam Lallana found space before seeing his shot blocked and the ball deflect wide to Tariq Lamptey.
The right back drilled in a low cross from a tight angle that Branislav Ivanovic attempted to hook clear but he only succeeded in firing the ball against Livermore who was unable to stop the ball rebounding into the net. For a team desperately seeking a morale-boosting first league win, it was a painful goal to concede and it was to the visitors’s credit, then, that they responded positively after the break.
Bilic’s side were building momentum and their efforts were rewarded when Grant levelled in the 83rd minute after good work by substitute Callum Robinson. He carried the ball forward before finding Grant, positioned close to the penalty spot, and the striker took one touch before drilling his right-foot shot past Mat Ryan.