Aston Villa 0 West Brom 2
The Baggies made it seven wins from their last eight league games away from the Hawthorns with what was ultimately a very comfortable 2-0 win at Villa Park as Darren Moore continues to improve his credentials as a head coach.
Admittedly, Aston Villa were a shadow of the side that drew 2-2 at the Hawthorns just two months ago, but you can beat what is in front of you and Albion did just that with ease thanks to a controlled performance that the likes of Tony Pulis and Gary Megson would have been proud of. Megson was the last Albion manager to record four successive clean sheets on the road back in 2002 when Moore himself was in the back line, but Big Dave has done that and will be looking to match his former manager’s record of five at Loftus Road on Tuesday evening.
Tammy Abraham was denied by the excellent Sam Johnstone early on, but that was as good as it got for the hosts, as Albion took control of the game in the first half.
There were excellent performances all over the pitch from the Baggies team. Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu toiled tirelessly up front and were rewarded with a goal apiece in a four minute spell just before half time. Their displays meant that the absence of Dwight Gayle was barely felt and JRod’s goal puts him one ahead of the Newcastle loanee in the battle to become Albion’s top goalscorer this season.
Robson-Kanu’s performance was particularly impressive given that he suffered a knee injury just ten days before. Whether his injury was partially behind his withdrawal at half time, I’m not sure, but the Welshman has been slowly winning over the doubters during the past few months. His importance to the squad cannot be underestimated and he will continue to play a major part in the club’s battle for promotion with more performances like that at Villa Park in the coming months.
Murphy ran the channels well and had a few decent opportunities in the first half, and I was impressed by his discipline after the break. He still has some work to do to win over the fans, but I think he’s improving with every game.
The midfield three all played well – I’d hoped to see Johansen along side Barry and Harper, but Moore opted for Livermore and the former England international did not disappoint. He worked incredibly hard for the full ninety minutes to stop the Villa midfield. Gareth Barry was imperious again controlling possession in the centre of the park and earned an ovation from all four sides of the stadium when he was withdrawn late on.
Rekeem Harper continues to grow as a player and seems to impress on every occasion. In the first half, it was he that provided the drive and energy while after the break, he showed his versatility in playing as both a false nine and a winger late on.
Moore’s decision to replace Robson-Kanu with Sam Field at half-time was a surprising one, and potentially a brave on. He was banking on Albion being able to produce a defensive display similar to that at Stoke last week, and on Villa being as insipid in attack as they had been in the first half.
He was proved correct on both counts. Elphick had a header cleared off the line, McGinn brought a decent save out of Johnstone and Abraham had a decent chance with a header that he put wide late on, but that was it for the hosts. Villa dominated possession after the break but they just didn’t have the guile to break down a resolute Albion. Those tactics will not necessarily work against the better attacking sides in the division, but they were perfect against a Villa side missing their most creative force in Jack Grealish.
Of course, the cornerstone of the performance was the back line. Sam Johnstone produced the sort of performance that made him a favourite at Villa Park last season – he wasn’t tested that often but, when he was, he was not found wanting. Mason Holgate proved what a good defender he is when he needs to be, while Hegazi and Gibbs did everything we expect of them these days.
The pick of the bunch, however, was Craig Dawson. His mistake may have cost Albion two points on Tuesday, but he was flawless at Villa Park. It does make you wonder why Tony Pulis wasted him at full back for so long.
The second half display was even more reminiscent of Gary Megson’s teams as they surrendered possession but never looked like being breached. A third goal would have been wonderfully sweet, but three points and a clean sheet is more than enough from what could have been a tricky fixture.
Darren Moore is learning fast and this display is another example of how he can switch his tactical approach to suit the situation. Players will occasionally let him down, and he will make mistakes in the future, but for me, he is developing into one of the best young coaches around.
Whether Albion win promotion this season or not, I feel that Darren Moore should be at the helm at the Hawthorns for some time to come.