Reading 1 West Brom 2
Albion took full advantage of their nearest rivals dropping points by claiming all three at the Madejski Stadium to move six points clear at the top of the table.
It was the Baggies’ first ever victory at the Mad Stad, the Royals’ home since 1998, meaning that they broke two stadium ducks in four days having also won for the first time at the “new” Den on Sunday.
The performance against Reading was not quite as dominant as the one at Millwall, but the victory was well deserved in my opinion, despite of what Royals’ boss, Mark Bowen, may have said after the game. The Baggies had 56% possession and 26 shots to the hosts’ 11. Seven of the visitors’ attempts were on target while Reading’s only shot on target was the penalty that put them ahead.
It was a mad moment from Kyle Bartley to concede the penalty, one that even he couldn’t explain, but I always felt that Albion’s dominance before and after the incident would see them over the line. It was, perhaps, fitting that it was Bartley who scored the winner with a looping header from Krovinović’s cross.
In between times, Matheus Pereira capped off a fine performance with a goal just before the break. Callum Robinson advanced down the left and his excellent cross was met by a left foot volley from the Brazilian. His first effort was saved by Reading goalkeeper, Rafael Cabral, but he could do nothing about his countryman’s second effort as Pereira fired the rebound into the net from about eight yards.
The Baggies had plenty of other good chances and the scoreline should have been much more comfortable. Before Reading took the lead, luck was on Cabral’s side when he could only half-save a powerful shot from Krovinović only to see it deflect under his body and up onto the crossbar. Hal Robson-Kanu also hit the bar in the second half while Jake Livermore missed a glorious opportunity late on when he fired over from six yards with Robinson the provider once again.
Slaven Bilić opted to go with exactly the same starting line up as for the trip to Millwall, looking to maximise the momentum and confidence that result will have brought. The bench was also identical and he even used the same substitutes with the only difference being that Matt Phillips replaced Filip Krovinović on Wednesday evening having come on for Matheus Pereira on Sunday. It will be interesting to see whether he will stick to the same line up for the crunch match with Forest on Saturday lunchtime.
The slight tweak to a 4-3-3 formation with Krovinović playing deeper certainly seems to be working, and the Croat seems to be developing a great understanding with Matheus Pereira. Krov seemed to be playing more on the left side of Sawyers and Livermore, as opposed to the more central role he occupied against the Lions. He, like Pereira, definitely has the freedom to roam, however, making it very difficult for either to be picked up effectively.
The form of Krovinović in recent weeks has been hugely impressive, and with both him and Pereira on the field, opponents are starting to have the same dilemma they faced when Dianagana was playing alongside the Brazilian – you can’t double up on both, and if one doesn’t get you, the other one will.
It bodes well for the rest of the season, particularly when you consider that Diangana should be back in a few weeks. Robinson has done well in his three games so far, but Diangana on his day offers that extra bit of magic. We know what damage Pereira and the West Ham loanee can do together – adding Krovinović in his current form into the mix is mouthwatering.
Perhaps the only slight concern from these two impressive performances is that both victories should have been much more comprehensive. Leeds United have discovered what can happen when you don’t take your chances, and Albion need to convert their dominance into goals to ensure that those odd mistakes or instances of bad luck don’t cost them points.
However, to make too much of that at present would be churlish. The Baggies are in a good place at the moment, and long may it continue!
Lead photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images