Sheffield Wednesday 0 West Brom 3
It’s amazing what a difference a goal can make. Before Charlie Austin converted a 37th minute penalty, it looked as if it would be another frustrating evening for the Baggies, but that goal seemed to foster belief throughout the team and the second half performance was much more like the Albion we have delighted in watching this season.
I suggested in my preview that Slaven Bilić wouldn’t be panicking after two below par performances but he did make five changes to the team that lost at Griffin Park including one or two that weren’t expected.
Charlie Austin was given his first league start since 1st February while Rekeem Harper replaced Jake Livermore in midfield with Filip Krovinović making it a central three. At the back, Semi Ajayi was dropped to the bench for only the second time this season while Dara O’Shea returned at right back. Meanwhile, Matt Phillips failed to make the 20-man squad with Kamil Grosicki included for the first time since the lockdown.
There were a few promising signs early on, but as the first half wore on, it looked like a similar story to the last two games. Albion had plenty of possession but nothing was quite coming off. The mid-half drinks break did seem to have a positive impact, and with half time less than ten minutes away, Krovinović won a free kick near the left corner of the penalty area after some neat work by Grady Diangana. Pereira swung the ball into the box and, at the far post, Moses Odubajo seemed to slip and dragged down Dara O’Shea as he tried to get onto the end of the cross. Referee, David Webb, seemed initially reluctant to give the spot kick, but his assistant convinced him that it was indeed a foul.
Austin, who had worked hard without really threatening to that point, was definitely the man you would want on the field to take a penalty and he calmly slotted home Albion’s first goal in the league since Jake Livermore scored on the stroke of half time on 25th February.
After the break, the Baggies seemed to be transformed into the side that we know they can be. While not everything came off, and there were many times that the final pass was not quite right, there was no doubt that the energy, intelligence and confidence was back.
The second goal was key, and was wonderfully worked. Callum Robinson, who replaced Diangana ten minutes into the second half, received the ball from Pereira in the box – he pushed it out wide to Kieran Gibbs who put in a wonderful cross for Pereira to head into the far corner. It was no more than the Baggies’ bright start to the second period deserved.
With the hosts now chasing the game, Albion had several opportunities to put the game to bed, but it wasn’t until the 85th minute that the points were sealed when the magic Brazilian grabbed his second of the match following some great work by another substitute, Kamil Grosicki.
Wednesday had a few chances with Kadeem Harris striking a post and former Baggie, Jacob Murphy, testing Johnstone from distance late on. Murphy was the hosts’ best chance of getting anything from the game exhibiting pace and directness that was largely lacking from his time on loan at the Hawthorns last season.
But Albion stood firm thanks to a solid defensive display built around a stoic performance from Ahmed Hegazi. The Egyptian produced his best display of the season producing several towering headed clearances in the first half when Wednesday had a series of set pieces. O’Shea was also very solid while Bartley and Gibbs both produced good defensive displays to earn Albion their 12th clean sheet of the season.
In the middle of the park, Rekeem Harper produced a tidy display and came close to adding to Albion’s goal tally with a 20-yard strike that was inches wide just before half time.
Diangana was still well short of the player we know he can be but he did produce one or two moments of skill as he grew into the game in the first half. He was replaced by Callum Robinson who was very lively while Kamil Grosicki certainly looked like he had a point to prove with an energetic cameo for the last 20 minutes.
It is a result and a second half performance that should calm the nerves of fans and players alike and, with strugglers Hull City next up on Sunday, confidence should be high for another three points.
With only six games left, a five point gap to third spot is very handy but there is still plenty of work to do to keep an in-form Brentford at bay. However, this was a massive three points for Albion and a huge boost to their confidence. Promotion is well within their grasp.