Impressive Albion beat the leaders to keep play-off hopes alive

West Brom 1 Fulham 0

West Bromwich Albion produced arguably their best performance of the season to deservedly beat the best side in the division. It was only by a single goal but the Baggies should have won by more with Robinson and Grant both having excellent chances in the first half.

Furthermore, Albion should have had at least one penalty, if not two, before the break. Referee, Kevin Friend, apologised to Steve Bruce after the game for missing the foul on Mowatt by Harrison Reed, while a few minutes after that, Kyle Bartley was wrestled by Chalobah at a corner but perhaps the Baggies defender didn’t claim loud enough. Despite those decisions, I actually thought Friend had a decent game – it certainly makes a difference having a Premier League referee in the middle.

But enough of the referee, for the first time for a while, it time to heap some praise on the boys in blue and white. To a man, they were excellent, although Sam Johnstone didn’t exactly have a lot to do such was the level of performance from the men in front of him.

The back three were immense – Clarke and Ajayi were particularly good but it’s not that Bartley was off his game at all. The man who has scored eleven more goals than any other footballer in the top four divisions this campaign was restricted to just one chance which he fired over the top, and even that would have been controversial given that Carvalho was offside in the build up. Harry Wilson went close from distance but Fulham had just one shot on target in the entire match.

It wasn’t just an excellent defensive performance as Albion looked dangerous going forward, particularly in the first half. From the off, the Baggies players were in Fulham’s faces winning the ball high up the field and creating some fantastic opportunities. Whether it was that last ten minutes against Huddersfield on Friday, I’m not sure, but the confidence was flowing as was the silky football.

Karlan Grant had the best opportunity of the first half when he was put through on goal by Robinson – Fulham centre back, Tim Ream, did well to get back alongside Albion’s top scorer and Grant’s shot was saved by the Cottagers’ ‘keeper, Marek Rodák, who was the only reason Fulham were still in the game at the break.

Robinson had his own great chance when a lovely ball by Livermore put him through on the right hand side; he cut back inside leaving former Baggies loanee, Tosin Adarabioyo, on the floor but he rushed his shot, perhaps unaware of the time he had, and it was beaten away by Rodák.

Albion had dominated the first half and had a succession of chances while Fulham had failed to register a single shot, but the game remained goalless. The crowd roared the team off the park at the break in appreciation of a team transformed, but the fear was that the hosts would be unable to contain the stand out team of the division in the second half.

Fulham were indeed brighter after the break but the Baggies defence looked in control for the most part and Albion retained a threat on the break. The possession stats were building for the visitors but goal attempts remained few and far between, and none troubled Johnstone. Their only shot on target in the entire match was a mishit effort from substitute, Rodrigo Muniz, that bobbled into Sam’s hands. Harry Wilson probably went closest with a shot from the edge of the box that flashed wide, but it was pretty meagre fare for a side that is only ten short of a century of goals in the Championship this season.

Just after the hour mark, Albion got the goal that their performance deserved. It actually started with a poor clearance under pressure from Clarke which went straight to Neco Williams, but as Fulham played the ball across the backline, Livermore, Gardner-Hickman and Callum Robinson pressed hard and forced Antonee Robinson into a loose pass that was picked up by Grant. He then threaded a pass between the Fulham defenders to send Robinson through on goal, and this time he made no mistake as he slid the ball underneath the onrushing Rodák and into the net.

Shortly after that, Sky produced a stat that the Robinson-Grant combination is the most potent in the Championship this season with one having assisted the other ten times during the campaign.

While Fulham had their opportunities, with Mitrović’s shot over the bar being the clearest, but it certainly wasn’t backs-to-the-wall stuff from Albion. A second goal would have been nice, and certainly deserved, but it was ultimately fairly comfortable for the Baggies to see the game out.

Fulham were perhaps a little below par, but Albion were outstanding, particularly in the first half. It was certainly the best footballing performance by the Baggies this season, if not their best overall with only the 4-0 win over Sheffield United coming close. While the 5-2 win at Stamford Bridge was the best result of recent times, I think that this was the most complete performance from an Albion side since the 3-0 win at Ashton Gate in February 2020. It is, perhaps, fitting that Steve Bruce’s side head there next full of confidence.

The quality of the players has been called into question repeatedly over recent months. I believe that tonight showed what this group are capable of – most have played in the Premier League and the display tonight was the first time they have showed that for some time.

Albion need a monumental run in order to reach the top six. This display was the first sign that they just might be capable of pulling it off.

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