West Brom 4 Hull City 2
In the end, it was relatively comfortable but Hull City made a real game of it at the Hawthorns and it was the hosts’ quality in attacking areas that made the difference.
It will be galling to Tigers’ fans that one of the key architects of their downfall was playing in their shirt earlier in the season. Kamil Grosicki celebrated his first start for the Baggies with what was probably the key goal of the game firing home Albion’s third within a minute of the visitors equalising for the second time immediately after half time.
The Pole became the 20th different goalscorer for Albion this season, with Ahmed Hegazi becoming the 19th when he headed home the Baggies’ second, the Egyptian’s first goal since November 2018.
Charlie Austin celebrated his 31st birthday with a goal inside four minutes when he controlled Matheus Pereira’s free kick on his chest before firing it past George Long in the Tigers’ net. He also become Albion’s top goalscorer this season as a result overtaking Hal Robson-Kanu with his eleventh goal in all competitions.
It was also the first of three assists for the mercurial Brazilian – it was his corner that was headed home by Hegazi and his sublime pass inside the full back that led to Grosicki’s goal.
In truth, Albion should have been out of sight by half time. Rekeem Harper fired over from 15 yards for what was their best chance, but thy played some wonderful football before half time and 2-1 was not a fair reflection of the game.
I had half-expected Pereira to be rested by Bilić given the schedule of games to come, but it was the right decision not as he dominated the game. When Diangana came on, it was like having the band back together again. For the first time this year, the two of them looked on the same wavelength once again and it was no surprise that the West Ham loanee found the net to open up a two goal lead after a spell of concerted Albion pressure – the only surprise was that it wasn’t Pereira who supplied the assist; that honour went to Jake Livermore.
It was also great to see Chris Brunt on the pitch for the last 20 minutes and it was a cameo that shows that he still has plenty to offer. It was a smart move by Bilić as the Ulsterman helped provide a little calmness and passing quality in the middle of the park and Albion rarely looked like conceding once he was introduced. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see him this season.
While the Baggies were impressive up front, they were far too open at the back in contrast to their first three games since the restart. For the first, a weak punch from Sam Johnstone was compounded by a sleeping Grosicki to allow Stewart to fire home from the edge of the box with the aid of a deflection. For the second, most of the Baggies defence seemed to have come out for the second half in a daze and it was ultimately Conor Townsend who flat footed as the impressive Mallik Wilks beat him to the header.
If Johnstone was partly at fault for the first goal, he made up with it with two fine saves to keep Albion ahead when it was 3-2 demonstrating why he has the second best save percentage of all goalkeepers in the second tier.
Slaven’s concerns over the defensive frailties exhibited in this game will be further exacerbated by the injury to Kieran Gibbs and the late red card for Ahmed Hegazi. Gibbs’ hamstrings remain his biggest flaw and it looked as if he has tweaked one again, while I felt that Hegazi was very unlucky to get a second yellow card.
With an on form and Wayne Rooney-inspired Derby County to come on Wednesday, Albion will need to defend much better if they are to make it three successive victories.
For now, though, we can all enjoy these three vital points and the five point gap over Brentford for a couple of days at least. The Bees play Charlton on Tuesday evening so could reduce the deficit once again, but with Leeds not playing until Thursday, Albion could move back to the top of the table if they avoid defeat to the Rams.
It’s still all to play for, but one more game is chalked off and the Baggies are still well placed for a top two finish.