Stoke City 0 West Brom 2
The Stoke hoodoo is surely dead now as the Baggies recorded successive wins away to the Potters for the first time since 1931. Slaven Bilić’s team also notched up their third clean sheet of the season, all of which have come on the road, in what could be best described as an adequate performance.
In truth, Albion didn’t need to play well against a very poor Stoke City side who, unless a new managerial appointment can dramatically change their fortunes, look destined for a return to the third tier 18 years after Guðjón Þórðarson led them to a play-off win over Brentford to regain their second tier status. It’s just as well, however, as the table-toppers were way below their best.
The early goal was a rare bright spark in what was an uninspiring first half. Grady Diangana’s lovely one-two with Livermore gave him the space to square the ball to the onrushing Matt Phillips for the easiest of finishes.
For much of the remainder of the first forty-five, Albion rarely look troubled but were too often sloppy in possession and a better opposition, or perhaps a more confident one, would surely have punished one or two of the errors.
Matheus Pereira was way off the pace while Charlie Austin was once again ineffective, despite working hard. At the start of the second period, it very much looked like the hosts would get back in the game as they came out with a renewed vigour and dominated the ball for twenty minutes after the break. The Baggies largely defended well, albeit there were one or two moments when Ajayi, Sawyers and Livermore were caught in possession unnecessarily.
As has become expected, the Albion head coach’s substitutions made a huge difference once again. Krovinović looked far more assured on the ball than Pereira had been, while Hal Robson-Kanu was a massive upgrade on Austin. With Stoke still trying for the equaliser, a quick long throw from Furlong was poorly defended and Krovinović found Diangana who was scythed down brutally by Carter-Vickers for the penalty. It was a challenge that perhaps deserved more than the yellow card the City defender was shown.
Albion’s Welsh striker was coolness personified as he waited for Butland to move be slotting the ball into the opposite side of the goal, having already waited for more than two minutes to take the spot kick while Diangana was receiving treatment.
Only after the second goal did the Baggies look like a top of the table side. Robson-Kanu was unfortunate not to add a second when a wonderful break resulted in his header striking the post, but Albion controlled the remaining 15-20 minutes with Sawyers looking particularly imperious and pleasingly kept the clean sheet intact.
The fact remains, however, that better sides will not roll over as easy as managerless Stoke City. Similar sloppiness at the KC Stadium on Saturday will be punished and, while the Baggies remain top of the table, they are perhaps a little fortunate to do so. The adage is that title-winners get the results when they are not playing well and, for me, Albion have not played well for four games – eight points from those four games is a good return, but they will need to play much better to continue that points haul.
After a trip to a dangerous Hull City, the Baggies face four of the top seven in the subsequent quartet of games – if they are still top after that, they will have done well.
I may have been a tad over-critical about tonight’s match, but not until the last five minutes did I feel confident about the victory. As against Barnsley and Charlton, the Baggies did not impose themselves on the match as they are able to – I don’t think it’s complacency, but maybe there is a hint of over confidence at times. Bilić is known for instilling belief in his team, but every point needs to be earned in this division, and no side wins games simply because they have better players.
With almost a third of a season gone, the Baggies are as in as good a position that the Hawthorns faithful could have hoped for at the start of the season. But promotion isn’t won in the autumn.