West Brom 2 Queen’s Park Rangers 2
Despite failing to win any of their final four matches, Albion won a record fifth promotion to the Premier League after a 2-2 draw was enough to secure the second automatic promotion place.
While some may suggest that the Baggies have stumbled over the line, and in some respects they have, but the fact that Brentford recorded eight straight wins and still didn’t manage to catch them shows how far ahead they were before lockdown. It is a promotion that Slaven Bilić and his players thoroughly deserve having occupied one of the top two positions since 7th September and playing some excellent football.
As I said in my match preview, I did not expect him to experiment in the final game of the season, but experiment he did. It was perhaps not a surprise to see Dara O’Shea switch to left back having looked comfortable there for the last half hour of the Huddersfield game, but Slav’s decision to put Callum Robinson up front was certainly unexpected.
The Croat also opted to start with a 4-3-3 with Filip Krovinović coming back into the side at the expense of Matt Phillips, while Kyle Bartley returned to central defence in place of Ahmed Hegazi. The statistics suggest that Albion perform better when Bartley has started.
After a bright start from the Baggies, my hope that they would repeat their 2-0 wins from their other key last games of the century were shot when Ryan Manning opened the scoring for the visitors on 34 minutes. His initial shot was well blocked by Bartley but the rebound fell kindly for him and he threaded a perfect shot between two defenders into the corner of the net.
Albion deservedly got back on level terms before half time and it was a lovely goal. Pereira fired a firm pass into Robinson on the edge of the box, but he controlled it well before turning and playing a delightful ball through for Grady Diangana who finished clinically between the legs of Rangers’ goalkeeper, Joe Lumley.
The Baggies were on the front foot straight after the break and soon took the lead. It was Diangana and Robinson combining once again, but with roles reversed. The West Ham loanee somehow managed to wriggle between two defenders on the left wing before firing a wonderful cross into the box to give Robinson a simple finish.
With Brentford losing at home to Barnsley, it was all on track for Albion. It should have been even better when Robinson was presented with another gilt-edged chance, but he slotted the ball wide of the post when through on goal. That proved costly when, just past the hour mark, the visitors drew level.
Dara O’Shea, probably Albion’s most consistent performer since the restart, was caught out of position and Eberechi Eze latched on to Yoann Barbet’s pass. His first touch took him away from O’Shea, while the second was an unstoppable shot that flew into the top corner. It was a wonderful goal from the R’s best player, who will surely be moving on in the summer, but it meant that the Baggies needed another goal to secure the three points they needed to guarantee second spot.
Ten minutes later, the news came through that Brentford had equalised and everything was back in the balance. Albion toiled away but couldn’t find a breakthrough with the best chance coming for Krovinović whose shot was well saved by Lumley.
It was good to see Chris Brunt come on for his final appearance in a Baggies shirt while Charlie Austin and Kamil Grosicki were also introduced as Albion looked for the winner.
It wouldn’t come but, in the end, it didn’t matter. Barnsley helped to make the final few minutes a little less tense when they scored in stoppage time to leave the Bees needing two goals to overhaul Albion.
The game at the Hawthorns finished first and there were a couple of minutes to wait until news came through of the final whistle at Griffin Park – the Baggies were back in the big time!