West Bromwich Albion 3 Hull City 1
Albion made it three wins in a row for the first time this season to keep them firmly in the play-off picture in fifth place in the table. It was a victory that owed much to another strong defensive performance but was secured by two superbly worked goals with Grady Diangana very much at the heart of them.
Carlos Corberán opted to shuffle the pack once again with his starting line up with Furlong, Townsend and Thomas-Asante coming in for Pipa, Pieters and Chalobah. Defensively, it looked like more of a back four than a back three but, in order to counter the issue with playing out from the back that I felt we had against Huddersfield, the last time we played with a back four, Alex Mowatt was dropping very deep to act as a third option with Townsend pushing out wide.
Phillips being pushed further forward was perhaps a contributory factor in Hull’s goal. Twine’s deep cross found Townsend overpowered at the back post with two men to mark after Phillips failed to track Lewie Coyle, the goalscorer, and he was free to finish with a well-executed volley.
By that time, of course, the Baggies were already ahead after Jed Wallace capitalised on an error from Jean Michaël Seri when playing out. It was a theme throughout the match as both sides tried to play through a high press with varying degrees of success. For a period after half time when the rain was pelting down, both sides were really struggling to control the ball and I was pleased when Alex Palmer opted to play it longer as another costly mistake from one of the teams seemed to be only a matter of time.
That didn’t happen in the end as Albion’s second-half goals were both well worked. The visitors dominated possession, with Seri excellent in the middle of the park apart from the error for the goal, but Rosenior’s assertion in the post-match interview that Hull were on top throughout ignores the fact that their possession was almost entirely in front of the Baggies’ defence and was rarely threatening. Albion seemed happy to concede possession for long periods but defended superbly for the most part. The loss of Bartley ten minutes into the second half did not disrupt the defensive organisation as Semi Ajayi put in an excellent performance capped off, of course, with his second goal of the season.
Such was Albion’s defensive superiority that the Tigers’ centre forward, Liam Delap, had only five touches in the box all game and failed to register a single attempt on target
For those Albion fans who are frustrated when attempts to play out from the back often seem fruitless need only watch the Baggies’ second goal to understand why Corberán, and most other head coaches these days, persist with the approach. That passage of play whereby the Hull side were drawn forward, and the ball was then played quickly through midfield with accurate one-touch passes to set Diangana away is precisely what can happen when it all goes to plan. Yes, it doesn’t always work as the opponents, surprisingly enough, are trying to stop it, and often you have to start again, but it is an approach that does work but needs patience from both players and supporters.
On this occasion, Grady was through and, while it looked as if the opportunity was lost when he cut inside, he knew that Phillips was advancing into a better position and he set it up beautifully for Matty to finish coolly with time to take a touch.
The Baggies’ third was all Diangana – the visitors foolishly left him unmarked for the quick throw from Furlong and he easily beat Harry Vaughan by the goalline and pulled it back for Ajayi who’s shot was deflected past Allsop to make the points safe.
The return of the Nigerian from injury was obviously welcome given his impact on the game, but so was that of Jeremy Sarmiento who gave Hull something else to worry about in the closing stages. His pace and trickery is every bit as dangerous as that of Diangana, albeit the Congolese international has that little bit more experience to fall back on. Grady has improved significantly with a prolonged run in the side allowing his confidence to grow, and the more minutes Sarmiento can get, the better he can become. He had some great moments in his brief cameo on Saturday, including one mesmerising run finished off with an extravagant pirouette. His one start so far, in the 0-0 draw with Millwall, proved to be frustrating, but I’m sure we will see him given another chance soon.
Albion now head to Southampton, the side immediately above them in the table, having lost just one of their last ten matches and having won five of their last seven. With the Saints unbeaten in seven themselves, it should be a competitive match between two form sides, but one that Albion should relish, not fear.