Bristol City v West Brom preview: Ugly work making Baggies look good
It is a case of maintaining the standards they have set over the past few weeks when Albion travel to take on Bristol City tomorrow.
The Baggies have been hugely impressive in their last four outings, with that run seeing them secure wins over Luton, Millwall and Reading before then outplaying Nottingham Forest only to be held to a draw.
That form is in stark contrast to a spell from December through to January when Slaven Bilic’s side went seven league games without a win.
There are a number of factors why the Baggies have rediscovered their best form recently.
The addition of Callum Robinson has reignited a spark in the final third.
A tactical tweak from 4-2-3-1 to a new 4-3-3 system has also given opposing teams something different to think about and rejuvenated Filip Krovinovic.
But the main reason Albion are playing well again is that they are doing the ugly side of the game so much better.
With Krovinovic in the midfield three, they are able to win more second balls.
Led by skipper Jake Livermore, they are pressing better and winning possession higher up the pitch.
And that, in turn, is limiting the chances opposing teams are creating.
In their last two outings, both Reading and Forest have managed just one shot on target.
At Millwall, the Lions had three attempts on goal. But they were all long-distance efforts from Jed Wallace – and didn’t really test Sam Johnstone in the Baggies goal.
It sounds very simple, but if Albion defend as they have in their last four outings, the quality they boast going forward means they will win promotion to the Premier League.
Despite their new-found solidity, however, it is probably only at centre-back where Bilic is contemplating making a change tomorrow.
Kyle Bartley has enjoyed an excellent campaign and is a major reason why the team has soared to the top of the Championship.
But he’s made a couple of costly errors in his last two outings.
At Reading, he inexplicably handled the ball in the box to gift the hosts a penalty, while against Forest he scored an own goal and was also a touch fortunate not to concede another spot-kick when his hand again came into contact with the ball.
With the mistakes tally creeping up, Bilic may feel like giving Bartley a breather and restoring Ahmed Hegazi to the starting XI.
The likelihood, though, is that the head coach will name the same line-up for the fourth game in a row.
After all, that is the side that has built a seven-point lead over third-placed Fulham.
A lot was said and written when – during their poor run – Albion saw an 11-point cushion to third evaporate.
But gradually that gap has started to grow again.
Bilic, though, is adamant there will be no complacency.
For him, results from December through to January act as a timely reminder that the job is far from done.
And that’s why – as far as he is concerned – it’s just a case of taking things one game at a time from now until the end of the season.
Two players who do have to have a little eye on the future, though, are Livermore and midfield partner Romaine Sawyers.
Both players have picked up eight yellow cards this season.
But if either one of them was to pick up two more in the next four games, they would receive a two-match ban.
FA rules state that after 37 league fixtures, yellow cards are effectively wiped.
And with every game now crucial, you can bet Bilic has told Livermore and Sawyers to make sure they don’t pick up any needless bookings over the next few weeks. The priority, though, is getting points on the board as quickly as possible.
But after hammering City 4-1 at The Hawthorns earlier in the season, Albion know tomorrow they face a promotion rival with a point to prove.