Albion keep the embers of hope glowing

West Brom 3 Southampton 0

Albion produced a second successive sparkling performance to keep Baggies fans’ hopes of a miracle alive as they comfortably beat an under par Southampton at the Hawthorns.

As expected, Allardyce opted to start with the 4-2-3-1 formation that performed so well in the second half at Stamford Bridge. Dara O’Shea recovered from the knock that forced him off at Chelsea, so the only change to the starting line up saw Callum Robinson’s brace rewarded with his first start since the defeat to Sheffield United at the beginning of February in place of Semi Ajayi.

The Baggies started the game superbly and should have taken the lead inside five minutes, and were it not for a baffling VAR decision, they would have. Kevin Friend apparently decided that because there was no clear view on whether Diagne’s upper body was off side, that the on field decision should prevail despite the probability that flag was most likely raised because Bartley was standing in an offside decision behind the striker. For me and all observers that I have heard, the pictures seemed to show that the Senegalese was clearly onside.

Thankfully, it was a decision that ultimately made no difference to the result, although as Albion chance after Albion chance went begging, one did wonder how big a decision it might be. Ultimately though, the hosts took a deserved lead when Pereira was taken out by Fraser Forster in the box, and the Brazilian converted himself for his eighth Premier League goal of the season.

Matt Phillips made it two just five minutes later when he converted Mbaye Diagne’s wonderful cross and the only regret for Baggies fans at half time was that they only led by two goals. The visitors did have one or two chances in the first period, but Albion were by far the better side.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side were undoubtedly much improved after the break but the hosts rarely looked troubled as Southampton registered just two efforts on target in the second half, one of which was the penalty that Johnstone saved superbly in stoppage time.

Albion were certainly asked to defend more than they were in the first half, but they were more than up to the task. A combination of Allardyce’s tactics and the quality of Okay Yokuşlu has seen Albion concede just five goals in their last seven games. To a man, the back four were excellent in that second half and it is hard to believe that the same players were conceding for fun a few short weeks ago.

The Saints dominated possession in the first 20 minutes of the second period, but it was Albion that extended their lead. Allardyce had decided to bring Gallagher on for Robinson when the Irish international scored his first Premier League goal against a team other than Chelsea. It was a delightful through ball from Yokuşlu and a confident finish from Robinson. The Chelsea loanee sat back down after that, but only had to wait a few more minutes before he did finally replace the scorer of Albion’s third.

The clean sheet will have been particularly pleasing for the defence, even though it took an excellent penalty save from Sam Johnstone in stoppage time to confirm it.

While Bartley and Furlong were excellent, the man of the match was undoubtedly Ainsley Maitland-Niles. In what was by far his best performance in an Albion shirt, he was full of energy and, in contrast to most of his displays to date, his decision making was excellent. It was his ball that set Pereira up when he was fouled for the penalty and his direct running was a constant threat. Maybe he is a midfielder after all?

AMN may have stood out, but there were no poor performers in the Albion side, and that needs to continue for the remainder of the season.

The result meant that the the Baggies’ recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this season, but they’ll need to do that a few more times if they are to get out of trouble. Survival remains highly unlikely but these two results and performances have been of the required quality – the Baggies are obviously reliant on other results, but if they can continue to take care of their own, who knows what might happen.

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