West Brom 1 Sheffield United 0
A goal from on-loan midfielder, Conor Gallagher, was enough to earn Albion their first victory of the season to move them out of the bottom three. It wasn’t their best performance of the season, but it was sufficient to see of the challenge of Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.
There is no doubt that the Baggies rode their luck, particularly in the closing stages when the visitors had a number of good chances to equalise, but given their misfortune in their last two games, it was, perhaps, deserved.
Defensively, it wasn’t as good a display as Albion had produced against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur with the Blades able to record 22 shots and recorded an xG of 3.3, the most by any Premier League team this season without scoring. However, the Baggies had 17 attempts of their own meaning that the match had a total of 39 shots, the joint highest of any Premier League game this season. Far from the tight nervy encounter most expected, it was an open game both sides played attacking football knowing that a draw would not be a good result.
For me, it was that desire to attack rather than any particular poor performances that meant that Albion looked less solid at the back. Obviously, late in the game, the hosts dropped deep to protect the 1-0 lead and, with Wilder throwing on more attacking players, it made for a nerve-shredding last five minutes, or twelve minutes as it turned into. But Albion held out.
There are a number of excellent performances to pick out – Conor Gallagher was superb once again, and obviously capped the performance off with a goal. Only Ollie McBurnie (6) had more attempts than Gallagher (5) although several of the Chelsea-loanee’s shots came from corners with Wilder’s defensive setup leaving him unmarked on the edge of the box. The Blades boss blamed the poor clearance rather than the defensive organisation for Gallagher’s goal, but time and again he was left free and Pereira tried to find him directly on more than one occasion.
The Brazilian himself had one of his most influential games of the season – he created nine chances during the match, the most of any Premier League player this season, and that position in the hole behind a front two certainly appears to suit Pereira extremely well.
The wing backs both performed well with Darnell Furlong putting in one of his best performances of the season, and even Matt Phillips did a good job when he was thrust into an unfamiliar left wing back role after Conor Townsend had to withdraw due to injury. It was a surprise to see Phillips rather than O’Shea come on, but perhaps Bilić wanted a player with more experience in such a crucial phase of the game.
The back three did well with Kyle Bartley putting in another impressive performance – he was unlucky not to mark it with a goal as Ramsdale pulled off a superb save to deny him.
But when it comes to superb saves, Sam Johnstone was once again the master. His best was the first when he pushed over Burke’s headed effort early on, and Albion’s number one is growing in confidence game by game and put in another excellent display. He will never do enough to satisfy some Baggies “fans” but, for me, he is the player of the season so far, albeit Gallagher is running him close.
It was particularly nice to watch a game without any interference from VAR, largely thanks to, I think, a good refereeing performance from Mike Dean – he may not be a likeable character but he’s one of the best referees in the country
Hopefully, this result will breed confidence and the Baggies can start to put a decent run of results together. With Crystal Palace at the Hawthorns next weekend, and a trip to Newcastle United to follow, the opportunities are there to put some more points on the board to close the gap that has opened up between the bottom four and the rest.
It’s wonderful to get that first W on the board, but that can only be the start. Onwards and upwards!