Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 West Brom 3
Any win over Wolves is worth celebrating, but this victory is particularly important given the season that Albion are having. It is not just the result that is encouraging, however, as the performance was by far the best under Sam Allardyce, and arguably the best of the season.
The hosts will have been hoping to get their season back on track with a win, but Albion’s excellent record over Wolves in the 21st century continued as they recorded successive league wins at Molineux for the first time in more than 90 years.
A positive COVID test meant that Sam Johnstone missed a league game for the first time since he joined the club in the summer of 2018, while Matt Phillips was ruled out for the same reason and Grady Diangana missed out due to a hamstring issue. With Conor Gallagher suspended and a new face in the squad in Robert Snodgrass, there were six changes from the last league match against Arsenal. Kamil Grosicki came in on the left wing, Snodgrass on the right while Livermore came into the centre of midfield. At the back, Kyle Bartley and Kieran Gibbs came in with Dara O’Shea switching to right back.
While the hosts unsurprisingly had the majority of possession, the Baggies competed extremely well and offered more as an attacking force than we have seen for some time, probably more than at any time during the current campaign. They scored three goals for only the second time in the Premier League this season and, despite Wolves having almost twice as many attempts as Albion, the visitors’ chances were better with an xG of 2.46 to the hosts’ 1.94. It is the first time the Baggies have outscored an opponent on xG this season.
Even without the stats, it was easy to see how much better Albion played. While passes were going astray on occasion, there was much more confidence in possession with Matheus Pereira looking more like the player we fell in love with last season.
Having not been awarded a penalty all season, Albion have now had three in the last two games. Obviously, I am ignoring the one that was awarded but then overturned at Old Trafford and, ironically enough, it was the same VAR covering this match, David Coote. This time, he opted to stick with the match referee’s decision with the only real query being whether the first offence was inside the area. The little Brazilian took both of his spot kicks with calm assurance, unlike the one he missed in the shootout last week.
Speaking of the match referee, I thought Michael Oliver was excellent – obviously Wolves fans will complain about the tight decisions that went against them, but I think Oliver reinforced his position as the best referee in the Premier League.
Albion’s other goal came from an extremely well-worked long throw by Dara O’Shea. Bartley moved in to nod the ball on and Semi Ajayi guided a wonderful header over Patricio and into the corner of the net.
It was fitting that those two players were involved in a goal as they were both outstanding on the night. Kyle Bartley loves to defend and he had plenty of opportunity to show that during the game – he had a fantastic game and his performance was epitomised by a fantastic block late on.
One thing that was noticeable throughout the game was that the team were much more vocal than I have noticed before. Bartley, Livermore and Button were the most frequently heard voices, with Bartley lambasting Romaine Sawyers after making that block with the languid midfielder having let his man wander past him. Talking is something that this side have not done enough of this season, and it is good to see that changing.
It was obviously a blow to lose Johnstone but I thought Button had a decent game. Admittedly, he didn’t have a huge amount to do such was the profligacy of Wolves’ finishing, but what he had to do, he did well – he had no chance with either goal.
The goals conceded were the one real negative of the game. The first, in particular, was very avoidable with Livermore missing his header before the pinball on the six-yard box. However, one of the biggest positives came as a result of that turnaround before half time – Albion came out after the break with energy and attacking intent and turned the game back their way with those two early second half goals.
It was a result and a performance that has brought back some hope that Albion can survive this season – that it came at Wolves’ expense makes it that little it sweeter.