Stoke City 0 West Brom 1
West Bromwich Albion produced a solid performance to take all three points at the Bet365 Stadium and move back to within four points of an automatic promotion spot ahead of Sunday’s Old Farm Derby.
Dwight Gayle’s first half winner came from a wonderfully worked free kick taken by debutant, Stefan Johansen, with Ahmed Hegazi providing the assist with the perfect ball across the six-yard box.
It was fitting that the Egyptian was involved in the goal as it was his display at the back that was the cornerstone of the Albion performance as the hosts were restricted to a few long range shots and the odd set piece. It was a defensive masterclass from Hegazi, and he was ably supported by Craig Dawson alongside him.
I felt it was as comfortable as a 1-0 victory can be and it was further proof that this side can see a game out, something that they have continually done on the road in the past few months, but they need to show the same level of resilience at the Hawthorns.
There was one moment of fortune when a handball by Gareth Barry was not spotted by the referee, but I feel that Albion would have been able to push on and score the second would it have been needed.
My dad commented that it was a “Megson performance” but, while the defensive performance was reminiscent of the Yorkshireman’s team, the quality in possession of Moore’s team was far better and it was definitely easier on the eye.
Baggies fans got a chance to see all three of their new signings from last week with Jacob Murphy and Stefan Johansen in the starting eleven (as I predicted in my match preview) and Jefferson Montero coming on for the last fifteen minutes.
Of the three, Johansen was the most impressive for me. There were some obvious signs of a lack of match sharpness, but he showed some real quality in his passing, tenacity in the tackle and a willingness to drive the team forward. Alongside Gareth Barry, who was excellent once again, and Jake Livermore, it was a very strong midfield three. Johansen is a very welcome addition to the squad that, with Field, Harper and Phillips all competing for the midfield positions, gives Moore some really good options for the remainder of the season.
Based on that performance, Jacob Murphy does not look like a replacement for Harvey Barnes but it’s unfair to make a judgment too quickly. There is obviously some talent there, but he probably needs a little bit more time to develop an understanding with the players around him, particularly Mason Holgate. There is a danger that he could become the victim of comparisons with Barnes and he needs to show more effort and desire than he did at Stoke if he is to win the support of the fans. He was noticeably affected by the kick he took midway through the first half, and it was no surprise when he was withdrawn. The jury is out on Murphy for now.
As for Montero, I thought he did show some real energy and desire when he came on, but like Johansen, a lack of match sharpness. He has some real quality on the ball and is genuinely two-footed and, whether from the start or off the bench, there are signs that he could make a difference in the promotion run-in.
Attention now turns to Tuesday evening when another three points would see Albion move up to third, two points behind Leeds, with their promotion rivals not playing until Wednesday.