Hull City 0 West Brom 1
Slaven Bilić’s Albion recorded another victory and another clean sheet on the road to keep ahead of the chasing pack in the Championship. It was a victory that was due in no small part to a superb performance by Baggies’ captain, Jake Livermore, capped by a wonderful strike to score the only goal of the game.
The former Hull City midfielder produced one of his best displays of the season as he controlled the tempo of the game complementing another good performance from his partner, Romaine Sawyers. The one negative to come out of the day was that both picked up their fifth bookings of the campaign, and will miss Albion’s next game against Sheffield Wednesday as a result.
There is no doubt that Albion deserved the three points, but it could have been very different, particularly had Kamil Grosicki taken a wonderful chance for the hosts before Livermore put the visitors ahead. In truth, the Baggies played some wonderful football but clear-cut chances were few and far between and the xG stats back that up with Hull leading that particular measure 1.6 to 0.4.
Thankfully for Albion, the only stat that matters is the 1-0 result. It means that no Baggies team since Vic Buckingham’s “Team of the Century” in 1953 have enjoyed a better start to a league campaign.
While the visitors were clearly the better side, it was a game that was decided by a few key moments. After Grosicki’s miss, Livermore’s sweet strike from 25 yards gave Albion a deserved lead, and before half time, a wonderful save from Sam Johnstone denied Irvine. Bowen was on hand to tap home the rebound, but he was offside and the Baggies escaped.
There were fewer chances in the second half although both Diangana and Pereira had chances to put the game safe, while the Tigers had one opportunity late on when de Wijs skied his effort on goal from ten yards. The visitors controlled much of the possession playing some absolutely stunning football at times, but the final ball was never quite there and Long was largely untroubled in the Hull goal.
Bilić made another decisive substitution when he replaced Phillips with Krovinović, and his fellow Croat helped to keep control of the ball in the centre of the park as Pereira moved out wide. The man who started the season in the number ten position seems an obvious choice to take up one of the central midfield positions against Wednesday.
A special mention should also go to Hal Robson-Kanu. Having been superb off the bench in the last few weeks, the Welshman was given his second league start of the season – in his first, at Elland Road, he struggled to impact the game but at the KC Stadium, he was excellent. He may not have had too many chances, but his tireless running and superb hold-up play was a key factor in Albion’s victory and his efforts were well recognised by the away end when he was substituted in stoppage time.
It was expected to be a tough test, and it was, but Albion came through it well. City fans I spoke to after the game were certainly complimentary about the Baggies and felt that Hull had been fortunate to lose only 1-0 – it’s easy to look at your own team and see the problems, and it is always encouraging to hear a positive assessment from your opponents.
As we go into the final international break of 2019, Albion are top of the table as they were before the previous one. The team are playing some fantastic football but there are still areas for improvement with the most obvious being that none of the strikers are properly firing.
It would be churlish to criticise too much, however. The Baggies are top of the table, and top or joint top of the 6, 8, 10 and 12 match form tables, with Preston their nearest challengers in all respects. The trip to Deepdale on 2nd December is looking increasingly important.