West Brom 0-0 Birmingham City: Baggies’ chase for Premier League promotion dented by stubborn visitors despite edging to the top of the table
- West Bromwich Albion go top of the Championship on goal difference
- But they have played a game more than title rivals Leeds United
- The Baggies though are seven points clear in fight to land automatic promotion
West Brom are destined to limp rather than sprint their way back to the Premier League as they failed to score for a third consecutive time with just two of 21 shots on target.
Their absent fans won’t care how promotion is achieved of course and the irony of the only goalless game in The Championship is that it could turn out to be a decent result for Slaven Bilic.
Fulham’s defeat earlier in the day meant Albion’s cushion in the automatic promotion places has increased to seven points and they are back on top of the table, at least until Leeds face Cardiff on Sunday.
Callum Robinson of West Bromwich Albion is crowded out by the Birmingham City defence
Jude Bellingham and Matheus Pereira of West Brom vie for the ball in the Championship clash
Further consolation came with an impressive performance from Portuguese winger Matheus Pereira who looked lively on his 30th game for the club on loan from Sporting Lisbon..
That milestone is significant as it means West Brom have automatically triggered an £8.25million permanent transfer for the 24-year-old talent.
‘I am not happy with the result but the table looks even better now,’ said Bilic, whose post-match mood was definitely that of a manager with his glass half-full.
Scott Hogan of Birmingham City is tackled by Kieran Gibbs of West Bromwich Albion
‘We deserved to win. We had enough to win to be fair. You need that bit of luck but the number of shot and crosses we had were extremely high.
West Brom (4-2-3-1): Johnstone 6; Furlong 6, Heghazi 7, Ajayi 6, Gibbs 7; Livermore 6.5 (Krovinovic 85), Sawyers 6; Phillips 6 (Edwards 60 6), Robinson 7 (Diangana 60 6), Pereira 7 (Zohore 85); Robson-Kanu 6 (Austin 6)
Subs unused: Bond (Gk), Bartley, Harper, O’Shea
Birmingham (4-4-2): Camp 6; Colin 7, Dean 7, Clarke-Salter 7.5, Harding 6; Crowley 6 (Boyd-Munce 90), Kieftenbeld 6.5, Bellingham 6.5 (Bela 71 6) , Gardner 6; Jutkiewicz 6, Hogan 7
Subs unused: Trueman (Gk), Bajrami, Burke, Stirk, Concannon, Reid, Gordon
Booked: Clarke-Salter, Crowley, Kieftenbeld
Referee: Darren Bond 6
‘Our control of the game was more than enough to win. Wwe need matches to get sharp, everything else was there. We had an opportunity and wanted the result but we didn’t get it.’
Albion dominated territory from first to last. Birmingham still need a couple of points to guarantee their own safety and clearly came with a gameplan to sit back and try to kick and head everything away.
They achieved that with manager Pep Clotet happy to admit: ‘The last thing I wanted was an open game. Tactically the team was superb. We had to work very hard to make sure we took a point and I think we also had a couple of chances.’
Their battling qualities were summed up by skipper Harlee Dean who put his body on the line throughout. ‘Harlee led the team very well. I have asked him to do that for nine games,’ added Clotet.
West Brom failed to break down Wigan and Swansea before lockdown and there will be frustration they didn’t create more clearcut openings with their 65% possession and 12 corners.
Pereira went close with a couple of shots while Romaine Sawyers also squandered an opening when he blasted over. Closest of all, Callum Robinson headed into the sidenetting when left free from a corner.
In the second half, Robinson and Pereira both fizzed in crosses which failed to get a finishing touch. Blues goalkeeper Lee Camp gratefully fell on to Pereira free-kick while Bilic used all five substitutes to try and snatch a winner including strikers Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore.
Baggies boss Slaven Bilic gives instructions to his side during a drinks break
The last chance fell to Zohore whose header at the far post drifted just wide. It was that kind of day for The Baggies though Birmingham will point to a late rally which saw Scott Hogan send a free header at Sam Johnstone when he could have completed a smash-and-grab.
Like everywhere else in the country the match was played out in front of deserted stands
Clotet already knows he’s leaving Birmingham at the end of the season so one has to admire his desire to keep them in the division for Lee Bowyer, Neil Warnock or whoever his successor may be.
Injuries meant only one of his nine substitutes was aged over 25. Their outstanding youngster Jude Bellingham, who doesn’t turn 17 until the end of the month, was deployed in the central midfield and impressed in his 71 minutes, breaking forward at one point to have a crack from 25 yards.
For West Brom, they will be comforted by having lost fewer games than anyone else in the division. They have points in the bag and from that point of view another draw in their next game t fourth-placed Brentford wouldn’t be the worst result in the world either.
Slowly but surely, they are crawling back to the top flight.
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