West Brom 2 Derby County 0
Slaven Bilić’s Baggies produced a controlled, professional performance to record their third successive victory and return to the top of the table, for 24 hours at least. Such was the quality of the display that the Croat declared that his players were “excellent at everything” in his post-match interview.
It was arguably one of the Baggies best performances of the season, and certainly their best since football restarted. It may seem strange to suggest that a team that enjoyed just 41% possession dominated a game, but Albion did just that. The visitors may have held onto the ball for long periods, but they rarely threatened Sam Johnstone’s goal and his scariest moment was caused by a misplaced pass by an Albion defender in the dying minutes. That mass of possession for Derby produced just four attempts at goal, none of which were on target.
In contrast, the Baggies looked dangerous every time they got close to the Rams’ penalty area and probably should have scored many more goals given the chances that they created. The first goal certainly settled them down and was the result of a superbly timed pass and run from Grosicki and Diangana respectively, and the latter finished with an exquisite finish bending the ball in off the far post from a tight angle.
The game then settled into a routine of Derby probing but finding no weaknesses in the Baggies back line, before the hosts won the ball back broke upfield and created another goalscoring opportunity. Two goals was a meagre return for 18 attempts, 7 on target, and the visiting goalkeeper, Ben Hamer, producing a string of fine saves.
Nonetheless, with just a one goal lead, there was always the chance that Derby could nick an undeserved equaliser as they did against Forest last weekend, so the second goal was extremely welcome. Buchanan collided with Hamer as he was collecting the ball thereby conceding a needless corner, and Pereira’s near post corner was guided into the net by Dara O’Shea for his second goal of the season.
There were excellent performances all over the park and Bilić was rightly delighted with his team’s display. The fact that I am mentioning Wayne Rooney only to say that he had a limited impact on the game is evidence of how well Albion dealt with his threat – his most telling contribution was a well-timed challenge to deny Pereira a clear shot on goal and he was withdrawn with six minutes remaining.
The one negative was the injury to Grady Diangana that saw him withdrawn shortly after half time. Hopefully, it is not too serious and we will see him again before the season is out.
With four games left, Albion know that three wins will see them promoted and, after today’s performance, I’m feeling increasingly confident that the Baggies will be back in the Premier League next season, whenever that may be!