Baggies remain unbeaten as Ajayi nets equaliser

Fulham 1 West Brom 1

Slaven Bilić’s side were perhaps a little fortunate to escape Craven Cottage with a point after the hosts dominated the first half.  By the same token, it was a game that they could have easily won after getting on top for the closing minutes.

For all the possession that Scott Parker’s side enjoyed in the first half, clear cut chances remained at a premium.  Cairney hit the bar, while Johnstone was forced into two saves in quick succession from Knockaert and Reid, but there was little else in the first half to trouble Albion thanks to some excellent performances from Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi in the middle, and both full backs.

Jake Livermore looked a little lost in the middle of the park as Fulham’s midfield three of Reed, Reid and Cairney were just two quick for the former England man.  Sawyers too was struggling for the first time this season, while Pereira was the only one who seemed able to use the ball well being at the centre of everything positive that Albion did muster, not that there was much for the Baggies faithful to get excited about in the first half.

To go in at 0-0 was a positive and it was hoped that Albion had seen off the best of Fulham’s play, but the hosts started the second period with renewed vigour and took the lead within five minutes of the restart.  The goal itself was somewhat fortunate as Anthony Knockaert swung in a cross that deceived everyone and found its way into the top corner.  A stroke of luck for Fulham, but it was a lead their first half performance probably deserved.

I always felt that Albion were in the game, however, with Pereira looking dangerous every time he got on the ball.  It took an intervention by Slaven Bilić to get things going Albion’s way as he made a double substitution just before the hour mark replacing Livermore and Phillips with Krovinović and Edwards.

To me, it felt as if things were slowly turning towards Albion although Fulham remained a threat.  A third substitution saw Hal Robson-Kanu join the fray to replace the somewhat underwhelming Grady Diangana – using the Welshman rather than KenZo was perhaps a surprise, but it was game that suited HRK.  He has the ability to hold the ball up better than any other striker at the club, and he is, perhaps, that little but cuter and quicker of foot than the big Dane, able to bring other players around him into the game.

Pereira takes the corner that led to Albion’s equaliser

Ultimately, it was Pereira who made the equaliser.  The Brazilian’s influence on the game had steadily increased throughout the second half, taking on two or three defenders at a time on more than one occasion.  With ten minutes left, his corner was flapped at by Bettinelli in the Fulham goal, and Semi Ajayi was there to nod home his first goal for the Baggies.

The momentum was all with Albion in the closing stages with Furlong coming closest to winning it as his header flashed inches wide of the post.

While the Baggies might be slightly fortunate to come away with a point, it is a testament to an excellent defensive performance that they did.  Ajayi and Bartley were both superb in keeping Mitrović, arguably the Championship’s most potent striker, fairly quiet while full backs Furlong and Ferguson also had a decent amount of control over Knockaert and Cavaleiro.  The hosts dominance of the ball in the first half should have resulted in many more chances, but the Albion defence restricted them well.

Sawyers probably had his poorest game in an Albion shirt and, while Austin didn’t really impact the game too much, a full ninety minutes on the pitch will have done him the world of good.

This could prove to be a very important point come the end of the season.  Albion are two points ahead of Fulham, who will surely be there or thereabouts come the promotion shake-up, but it remains tight at the top with just four points separating the top ten. The Baggies are right in the mix just three points off joint leaders Leeds United and Swansea City.

Their next four fixtures see them face the other two relegated sides along with Leeds United and a rejuvenated QPR who sit just behind Albion on goal difference.  Eight points from those four fixtures should see them very handily placed as the nights draw in.

A win against a struggling Huddersfield Town at the Hawthorns next weekend will put Albion back on the two points per game average – it is the sort of game that Bilić’s team needs to win if they are going to be serious challengers.

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