West Brom 1 Hull City 0
It was not a thrilling game at the Hawthorns, it rarely is when only one side is trying to win the game, but a goal from Karlan Grant was enough for the Baggies to register a fourth successive home victory and condemn Hull City to a fifth successive defeat.
Tigers’ fans look to have already given up on their game with a following that looked to be little more than a hundred hardy souls and, with plenty of Baggies fans also eschewing another night game with a much more attractive Saturday afternoon fixture to come in a few days, the official attendance was just 19,659. That was the lowest attendance at the Hawthorns for a league game (other than when attendance was restricted) for more than 12 years, since about 300 fewer watched a home victory over Ipswich Town in August 2009. That was also the last time the official attendance dipped below 20,000.
For those of us that did make the effort, it was a frustrating evening for long periods but ultimately successful with the evening’s highlight being the performance of debutant Taylor Gardner-Hickman. Ismaël made four changes to the starting line up, an unusually large number for him, but kept the midfield pair, whose selection angered so many at the weekend, unchanged.
We knew that Furlong would miss out through suspension but journalists, Opta and fans alike missed the fact that Kyle Bartley’s booking at Fulham at the weekend was his fifth of the season, not fourth, and so he would therefore be unavailable. Apparently, it was a yellow card he received against Bristol City that most seem to have missed.
In addition to the two forced changes, Big Val also opted to make an additional change in the back line with Semi Ajayi dropping to the bench while Callum Robinson came in for Jordan Hugill.
The opposition failed to really test the new look defence until after they went a goal behind so it was a fairly comfortable evening for a new look back three of Bryan, Clarke and Kipré. The Frenchman was particularly impressive, in my opinion, but the stand out performer of the evening was, without doubt, Taylor Gardner-Hickman. Having made his senior debut in an unfamiliar left-wing position in the 6-0 defeat to Arsenal in the EFL Cup, I was pleased to see Ismaël put his faith in the youngster in his preferred right wing-back role and he looked completely at home. Confident, pacey and intelligent in his use of the ball, he was arguably the best player on the pitch. While he wasn’t really tested defensively, I’m sure Val will have no worries about throwing him into the first eleven again should it be required. Furthermore, Furlong now knows he has some real competition.
There weren’t too many of Gardner-Hickman’s teammates who can be 100% happy with their evening. Karlan Grant took his goal well but missed a much easier chance shortly afterwards when he was through on goal leaving Albion to play out a nervy final few minutes with only a one goal advantage. Phillips flitted in and out of the game, but I personally feel he spends too much time towards the centre of the pitch rather than offering an option wide – while that leaves room for Furlong, or on Wednesday Gardner-Hickman, it can be frustrating at times when the wing back isn’t advanced.
In the middle of the park, I thought Livermore did OK and it was his persistence that led to the goal as he won the ball back high up in true Val-Ball style, but Snodgrass put in another below par performance. His calm, considered approach worked well against Bristol City and, with an opposition likely to play in a similarly unambitious way, I was not surprised to see him selected despite his mistake at the Cottage. His set piece delivery is a big plus point but against Hull, he looked ponderous and rarely looked to find the decisive pass – whether the mistake affected his confidence, I’m not sure, but I felt that he slowed the game down too often on a night when quick incisive moves were required.
When Kean Bryan suffered an injury, it was interesting that Ismaël opted to bring Reach on rather than Ajayi – whether the Nigerian international was maybe carrying a slight knock, or if Val felt that Albion’s approach would benefit from having Reach’s pace and drive as well as Townsend’s, I’m not sure, but Reach did a decent job and Townsend was largely untroubled defensively.
In fact, the entire defence was untroubled until City started to throw everything forward in search of an equaliser in the last ten minutes. There were a few hairy moments although Albion largely coped well, unsurprising given that the Tigers have scored just eight league goals this season, but if Grant had taken that second chance, it would have been a much more comfortable finish to the game.
Overall, Albion did just about enough. Their pass completion ration of 83% was well above their season average of 64% demonstrating their revised approach to games of late, but the final ball was not quite right on too many occasions.
It was always going to be a frustrating evening if the Baggies didn’t get the early goal – they did actually start really well but failed to break through and it settled into a game of cat-and-mouse. I would have started with Grady Diangana as I feel he is one of the few players in the side who can beat one or two men from a standing start but, from the bench, I don’t think he really gets into the game quick enough.
Not a sparkler, but we bank the points and move on to the next game. Colin is back in town.