West Brom 2 Preston North End 0
Albion’s fabulous February continued as they notched up yet another victory, a fifth in their six games this month. It was very comfortable victory over play-off hopefuls, Preston North End, secured with goals from Hal Robson-Kanu and Jake Livermore.
The visitors played some nice football but didn’t register a single shot on target. Albion, on the other hand, hit the target on nine occasions which illustrated the principal difference between the sides – Preston lack that little bit of quality in and around the box and, when faced with a defence as organised as the Baggies are these days, they simply don’t have the magic to find an opening.
Albion, on the other hand, have no shortage of magicians and, in truth, their victory should have been much more comfortable. The front four were outstanding with Callum Robinson, playing against his former club for the first time, playing a part in both goals. The fluidity of the hosts’ attacking formation was demonstrated by the fact that the two goals both originated from deep crosses from Robinson to Robson-Kanu, but from opposite sides of the pitch.
The first came from the left, superbly weighted into the Welshman who controlled it on his chest and fired it underneath the onrushing Declan Rudd. The second ball from the right side of the pitch, was again chested by HRK, but on this occasion skipper Jake Livermore was on hand to fire the ball powerfully into the net.
Livermore was once more excellent despite having to play a slightly different role due to the absence of Romaine Sawyers. Although sitting slightly deeper, he still got forward far enough to score his third goal of the season, and was every bit as influential.
A special mention must also go to Rekeem Harper. With Gareth Barry fit enough to make the bench, Chris Brunt available and Semi Ajayi also an option to replace Sawyers, the fact that Bilić chose Harper shows what faith the Croat has in the young midfielder. After breaking into the side under Darren Moore, Harper has found his opportunities limited this season so much so that this match was his first league start of the season. His attitude has apparently been first class, and the improvements in his game since last season are clear to see. He always had quality on the ball, but I feel that his decision making in possession is much better and the biggest improvement has been in his discipline and positioning when out of possession. He covered the pitch superbly well and the midfield looked no worse for the change. He almost capped an impressive performance off with a goal when he struck the bar with a 20-yard shot in the last minute.
Another player to have come into the side and thrived of late is Ahmed Hegazi. The Egyptian is once again looking like the player that was valued at around £10m when he was playing the Premier League, and looks to have secured his place in the starting line up for the foreseeable future.
The signing of Callum Robinson has been a masterstroke. I actually thought he was trying a bit too hard against his former teammates on Tuesday evening, and I’m not sure whether that contributed to the rash challenge made by Darnell Fisher, not that I thought it was worthy of a red card.
The sending off didn’t have any real impact on the game as Preston never looked like scoring. David Nugent’s first half header was as close as they came. But that poor decision by referee, Kevin Friend, was illustrative of another below par refereeing performance – if anyone expected an improved display from an experienced Premier League referee, they will have been disappointed.
With a home match against Wigan Athletic to come, Slaven Bilić seems a shoo-in for the manager of the month award. It has been a remarkable few weeks in which Albion have shown themselves to be the best team in this division, at least this month.
There are still eleven games to go, however, so no one should be counting any chickens just yet, but it certainly is fun to watch at the moment, and there are few signs of weakness in the team.
Let’s just hope it continues.
Lead photo by Laurie Rampling