Nottingham Forest 1 West Brom 2
Stand-out performances from Nathan Ferguson and Kyle Edwards helped Slaven Bilić to start his reign at the Hawthorns with a victory in what was a hugely encouraging start to Albion’s campaign.
The hosts dominated the first ten minutes of the match, taking the lead through Matty Cash, but from then on, it was the Baggies who controlled the game and ultimately claimed a deserved victory.
Other than the Forest goal, when both Kyle Bartley and Sam Johnstone will feel they should have done better, Albion were defensively solid and, despite the slender one goal lead, saw the second half out with relative comfort. Eighteen-year-old, Nathan Ferguson, was particularly impressive on his senior debut keeping Forest danger man, Joe Lolley, under wraps to such an extent that his manager, Sabri Lamouchi, felt the need to substitute him with twenty minutes to go.
Bartley and Ajayi looked very comfortable in the middle of defence and Gibbs was reliable as ever with Townsend also doing well when he came on.
One thing that certainly helped the central defence was the mobility in the centre of midfield. In stark contrast to last season, Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers, in particular, were consistently offering an option for the pass which, with Ferguson and Gibbs also providing an outlet in wide areas, allowed Albion to build many neat passing moves and to control possession of the football.
Filip Krovinović was busily effective in the number 10 role, very reminiscent of Robert Koren, and not just in looks, while Phillips and Edwards were a constant threat from the flanks. Edwards’ tendency to always look to commit the defender would have had the Albion fans of their seats on numerous occasions had any of them been sitting down in the first place. His goal was a prime example as he turned Cash inside out before firing in a shot that Muric probably should have done better with.
Matt Phillips’ winner may have been somewhat fortunate, but the victory was no more than Albion deserved.
Perhaps the one slight concern was that Kenneth Zohore did not offer much of a threat. I do feel that he needs to play with a second striker and, while Bilić didn’t really have that option for this opening game, it will be interesting to see if the signing of another striker this week may see a change in formation for the visit of Millwall to the Hawthorns next weekend.
It’s not an easy decision as the 4-2-3-1 worked very well, but Robson-Kanu probably suits that lone striker role better than KenZo. Bilić has previously suggested that he wants to play two strikers, but what that would mean for the midfield is unclear. Livermore would seem to be the obvious player to drop out should the Croat revert to a 4-4-2, but that would leave a lot of work for Sawyers to do at the base of midfield.
Bilić certainly seems happy to trust the youngsters and you have to wonder whether Chris Brunt could find his way back into the side, particularly given that Rekeem Harper and Sam Field are both waiting in the wings. Harper may feel a little concerned that, after finally signing a new contract this summer, he found himself on the bench, but we all know that Championship campaigns are long and draining, and the squad will need to be well utilised. Harper will undoubtedly get plenty of opportunities this season.
On a weekend when many of the promotion favourites slipped up, it was great to see the Baggies start with a win, with a performance that bodes well for the remainder of the season, particularly with a few days of the window still to go.
The main problems last season, namely an often static midfield and shaky defence, seem largely to have been solved based on this display. Replacing the goals of Gayle and Rodriguez remains the key concern, but hopefully a signing or two this week will go some way to plugging that gap.