West Brom 4 Cardiff City 2
Albion moved back to the top of the Championship after beating Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City at the Hawthorns with another display of excellent football.
Slaven Bilić’s team scored four goals but the biggest cheer was saved for Charlie Austin’s first league goal for the club. Not only was it what appeared to be a decisive third goal for Albion, but it came after the former Saints’ striker had failed to capitalise on a couple of great opportunities in the first half. Rather than get on his back, the crowd stayed behind him throughout and it was a great moment when it finally came. What was even more impressive, was that it was one of those chances he had time to think about, and a less gifted goalscorer may well have failed, but he rifled it home and celebrated wildly in the Woodman Corner.
At that point, a 3-0 lead was hugely deserved. The visitors started brightly but failed to really trouble what was a largely excellent Baggies back line and, after the opening ten minutes, Albion started to exert some real control. Matheus Pereira started the pull the strings once again, with Grady Diangana his chief foil, and the two combined beautifully for the first goal finished by the Brazilian with a delightful curling shot.
It was then Diangana’s turn to get on the scoresheet. Jake Livermore pounced to win the ball near the halfway line and played the ball into the West Ham loanne. He took a shot early in and found the bottom corner to give Albion the comfortable lead they deserved.
After Austin’s third, Albion perhaps took their foot off the gas and allowed Cardiff back into the game. It was a mix up between Pereira and Livermore that allowed Nathaniel Mendez-Laing possession of the ball, and he fed Danny Ward who finished with ease.
It was the only time that the visitors really threatened from open play, but they looked dangerous from set pieces, as expected. For the most part, Albion defended them well with Kyle Bartley immense in that back line getting his head on virtually everything that came into the box.
I only counted three occasions when a Cardiff player won a clear header. Once he headed over, once resulted in a goal that was ruled out for offside, while on the third occasion, Ward was unmarked as Ken Zohore and Semi Ajayi failed to attack the ball, and he was able to make it 3-2 to give Albion fans a few things to worry about for the last fifteen minutes.
Ultimately, however, the defence remained solid and there weren’t too many hairy moments. It was, nonetheless, a great relief when the fourth went in and it was that much more special that it was Romaine Sawyers who scored it, his first goal for the club.
All in all, it was a great performance but there were one or two concerns. Cardiff are one of the best set piece sides in the division, so it is no surprise that we had problems, but what was more disappointing was the number of silly free kicks that were given away in dangerous positions.
It was also disappointing to see Grady Diangana leave the field with an injury, which is hopefully not too serious, but I was also concerned about Kyle Edwards’ performance when he came on. In previous substitute appearances, he has done really well and always looked to take on the defender but, against Cardiff, he seemed strangely subdued. Whether he was under instruction to be less ambitious, I’m not sure, but he seemed to be lacking his usual spark.
There were far more positives, however, and as Leeds and Swansea lost, Albion moved back to the top of the Championship on goal difference from Nottingham Forest ahead of the international break. It remains very tight at the top, however, with only three points separating the top nine.
There is a long way to go, but I feel a sense of quiet confidence amongst Baggies fans. There was, perhaps, a little angst when it went to 3-2, but I’m sure most felt that the points would be secure. The football is fantastic to watch and, despite the two goals conceded on Saturday, I feel there is an increasing solidity to the back line which bodes well for the coming months.