West Brom 3 Hull City 2
A double from Dwight Gayle proved to be the difference at the Hawthorns on Good Friday as the Baggies made hard work of earning all three points against Hull City.
As the two sides ahead of Albion swapped places once again with Leeds taking their turn to drop points, faint hopes of an automatic place remain although this victory has all but secured a play-off place for Jimmy Shan’s team.
There were a couple of changes in the starting line-up as Shan opted to rest Jay Rodriguez, playing Hal Robson-Kanu in his place, in an attempt to manage his squad ahead of a play-off campaign. It was the first time this season that J-Rod has been missing from the starting line-up in the league, which is a remarkable statistic in itself. The other change from team that beat Preston saw Harper come in for Livermore.
The first half was a fairly low key affair in which both sides probed but neither came close until Gibbs opened the scoring. Tosin Adarabioyo, who had come on for Ahmed Hegazi, put in a wonderful ball which found the former England full back at the far corner of the six yard box and he found the opposite corner of the net with neat volleyed finish.
The Tigers, who were still retaining their own hopes of finishing in the play-offs, were always likely to respond and Albion allowed them to with some very sloppy defending in the first 20 minutes of the first half.
Gibbs stood off Todd Kane as he was left two-on-one with the full back with Harper caught up field, and the City right back struck a firm shot from 25 yards the found the back of the net. On viewing the replay, it seems clear that Johnstone should have really done better.
Worse was to come for Johnstone a few minutes later when Kane’s cross headed goalwards and the Baggies stopper failed to deal with it and it, too, found the net and the visitors were ahead.
From that point on, however, it was pretty much all Albion.
Within a few minutes, Gayle had squared the match as he managed to lose his marker at the back post from a Chris Brunt corner and nodded in for his 22nd goal of the season. There were a succession of corners and free kicks but the Baggies couldn’t convert.
Hal Robson-Kanu, who had some decent moments in link-up play but had never looked that dangerous, was replaced by Jacob Murphy with 20 minutes to go.
Murphy first frustrated before delighting. He found himself in a number of promising positions as the hosts swarmed forward looking for the winner, but failed to find the right ball or, on one occasion when he was through on Hull ‘keeper, Marshall, the right finish. But then, with five minutes to go, he found himself on the byline and pulled the ball back for Gayle to tap in the winner. Murphy was potentially offside when he was put through, and Marshall will feel he should have done better, but it was nothing more than Albion deserved.
The injury to Hegazi is perhaps the most concerning news although it has been reported that it is not a serious problem. He was frustrated at not being able to complete the match due to the ankle injury, and he may well sit out the trip to Reading on Monday, but it should hopefully not be a long term issue. Tosin played well when he came on, but I noticed that Bartley switched out to the left side with Dawson playing the central role – I’m slightly concerned by that prospect against the better sides as he looks far more comfortable in the middle of a three.
I felt that Harper had a poor game – he remains good on the ball but he still has much to learn when out of possession. Matt Phillips looked ok when he came on, if understandably a little tentative on occasion, and I’d expect to see him play alongside Livermore and, perhaps, Johansen on Monday. I’d also like to see Sam Field given some more game time – for me, he’s done nothing wrong when he has appeared.
Sam Johnstone had a day to forget as he was not only at fault for both goals, but also had one or two wayward balls out. I still feel the crowd’s nervous tension whenever he receives the ball cannot help, but it is something he needs to deal with. I wouldn’t drop him, as some fans are calling for. His shot-stopping has been very good for the most part and switching goalkeepers can have a massive impact on the defensive structure.
Four straight home wins for Jimmy Shan is fantastic, but those two defeats on the road are especially disappointing as we see the two Yorkshire sides continuing to drop points. But on we go to the Madejski.