Nathan Ferguson capped off a man-of-the-match performance at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium with his first goal for the club setting the Baggies up for a victory that took them to the top of the Championship table.
He was one of a back four that recorded their first clean sheet of the season with each producing excellent displays the keep an on form Rangers side at bay restricting them to just five attempts at goal, none of which were on target.
At the other end of the pitch, Brazilian Matheus Pereira was the star as he pulled the strings from the number ten position before securing the points with a wonderful free kick six minutes from time.
The 2-0 scoreline in no way reflected the Baggies’ dominance of the match as they record 15 attempts at goal, 7 shots on target and 54% possession. They had a number of chances late on to get a third goal that would have given the result a gloss that it deserved, but there can be no complaints from the Albion fans after this performance.
For the first time this season, Slaven Bilić’s side produced a complete performance and it is perhaps fitting that the result saw them move to the top of the Championship table after nine games.
It was an open and entertaining game with both sides playing good football although the first half produced few clear cut chances. Albion’s defence were largely excellent and, while there were one or two moments when the ball was lost a little too close to their own goal, there was always enough players on hand to recover and Johnstone remained untested.
In the second half, the visitors started to exert their dominance and it was fitting that Nathan Ferguson was the one to break the deadlock. He was excellent defensively throughout and also supported Diangana well. Eight minutes after the break, he moved inside towards the box and, with the R’s defence failing to close him down, he unleashed a curling shot from 25 yards that beat Lumley at his near post to send the away fans at that end wild.
It was clear to see that the goal meant so much to the Baggies youngster, and he was certainly a popular scorer amongst the Albion faithful in the School End.
From then on, Albion looked fairly comfortable although with one a one goal lead, there was always the chance that the hosts could nick an equaliser. The most obvious route to goal for Rangers seemed to be a short corner move that caught the Baggies out twice, leaving Wells with an unchallenged shot on goal from the edge of the box. Thankfully, the Bermudan failed to trouble Johnstone on either occasion.
Charlie Austin, who had worked hard all game for little reward, was withdrawn just after the hour, to applause from all sides of the stadium as a popular former QPR player, to be replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu. Austin had one or two chances with his best chance was the result of a neatly worked corner that gave him a free shot on goal from 15 yards that he blazed over.
The decision to bring the Welshman on was an astute one, with his hold up play a useful trait given the match situation. However, his best moment was a result on him running in behind when he got onto the end of a Romaine Sawyers long pass. He was pursued by Yoann Barbet and as HRK crossed in front of the French defender, his heels were clipped and he went down. Referee, Geoff Eltringham, who had managed to annoy both sets of fans due his inconsistent decision making, had no choice but to show the Rangers’ defender a red card.
If Ferguson was a popular scorer, Matheus Pereira certainly rivalled him. The Brazilian was just superb throughout, looking worth every penny of the £9m that it will cost Albion to sign him at the end of the season should he make enough appearances. He looks undroppable at the moment, so that seems a formality, and his free kick went low through the legs of the jumping players in the QPR wall and into the net.
He showed just as much delight as Ferguson with his first goal for the Baggies, and he certainly looks to be enjoying his football at the Hawthorns and we all hope that will continue for a few years to come!
While Ferguson and Pereira were the stars of the show, the supporting cast all played their roles well. As I mentioned earlier, the back four were excellent with Bartley and Ajayi doing exactly what they needed to in repelling everything the hosts had to offer. While Phillips felt the wrath of the fans of his former club, Darnell Furlong seemed to have been welcomed back with warmth and he produced another performance that reinforced what a good value signing he is proving to be. Meanwhile, Sam Johnstone had very little to do thanks to the performance of the men in front of him.
Grady Diangana was a constant threat and his pace and trickery caused the R’s defence no end of problems while the midfield pairing of Livermore and Sawyers were well on top in their respective battles controlling the centre of the park.
Kyle Edwards also deserves a mention for his performance when replacing Matt Phillips with 20 minutes to go. Phillips, who had been roundly booed all afternoon by the home fans, worked hard but wasn’t at his best in key situations. Edwards cam one and gave the Rangers defence a torrid time, came close to adding to his goal tally and provided several dangerous balls across the box that could have easily resulted in more goals for the visitors.
For the first time this season, I left an Albion match with no real complaints. Perhaps they could have scored more goals, but it was a complete performance and the three points were thoroughly deserved. It is another step in the right direction for Super Slav and his team, and one that shows a hint of the potential of the group that he and Luke Dowling have cleverly assembled.
Attention now turns to Tuesday evening when the Baggies face their toughest test to date with a trip to Elland Road. If Albion leave West Yorkshire still unbeaten, it will be another massive statement about their promotion credentials.