Sheffield Wednesday 0 West Brom 3 - Report and pictures
Albion registered their first win since lockdown and strengthened their position in the automatic promotion slots by securing a 3-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday.
A Charlie Austin penalty along with a brace from Matheus Pereira saw the Baggies dust off the cobwebs to run out convincing winners at Hillsborough.
Slaven Bilic’s side had looked disjointed and rusty against both Blues and Brentford - their first outings since football resumed following the coronavirus outbreak
And for the opening half-hour they struggled to find any cohesion at Hillsborough until Austin put them ahead from the penalty spot.
That goal visibly lifted Bilic’s side who looked much more like themselves after the interval.
A brilliant Pereira header doubled their advantage before the Brazilian then grabbed his second and Albion’s third with a low drive from 12-yards.
The win, the Baggies 12th away victory of the season, means they are once again five points clear of Brentford in the race for automatic promotion. They are also just a single point behind leaders Leeds
Having been understandably disappointed with the performances against both Blues and Brentford, Bilic rang the changes for the trip to Hillsborough.
In total, the boss made five from the loss at Griffin Park with a number of high profile players making way.
Darnell Furlong, Semi Ajayi, Jake Livermore and top scorer Hal Robson-Kanu all dropped to the bench while Matt Phillips missed out on a place in the squad completely.
In their place, Dara O’Shea, Kyle Bartley, Rekeem Harper, Filip Krovinovic and Charlie Austin all came into the starting XI.
It meant Albion returned to the 4-3-3 system that was so successful before lockdown with Harper and Krovinovic joined by Romaine Sawyers in midfield.
In attack, Austin got the nod as the central striker with Matheus Pereira on the right and Grady Diangana on the left.
Wednesday continued in the 3-5-2 system that saw them draw with Nottingham Forest and then beat Bristol City in their first two outings since the coronavirus pandemic.
It allowed Jordan Rhodes to partner Connor Wickham up front while ex-Albion loanee Jacob Murphy operated as right wing-back with Kadeem Harris on the left.
The Baggies appeared to have settled well in the opening 10 minutes with Krovinovic and Diangana particularly bright as Bilic’s side moved the ball well through the thirds.
Gradually, though, the hosts wrestled away that initiative and began seeing more of the ball.
And with their tails up, they created two half chances to open the scoring.
First, an unmarked Wickham met a corner at the back post only to head into the side netting.
The Crystal Palace loanee then produced a lovely bit of skill to brush off a challenge from Kieran Gibbs on the left flank before darting towards goal.
The ball was then worked to Reach but from 20-yards the midfielder drilled a strike wide.
Wednesday continued to be the brighter of the two teams as the clock ticked towards the half-hour mark.
Again it was Wickham causing problems with Gibbs making an excellent sliding challenge to prevent Reach latching onto his incisive through-ball.
Albion were struggling to find any rhythm with their play disjointed and lacking any tempo.
But they were gifted the lead in the 37th minute when - following a dangerous free-kick from Pereira - O’Shea was tumbled over in the box by Moses Odubajo.
Referee Webb paused for a good minute before deciding to point to the spot.
Austin then made no mistake from 12-yards with the striker calmly slotting the ball into the bottom right corner.
The goal - Albion’s first in five league games - lifted Bilic’s side who then had two decent opportunities to double their lead before the interval.
After breaking three-on-three, Pereira looked to have a simple pass to slip Harper through on goal after the midfielder made a good run.
But the Brazilian could only find the feet of Odubajo who was able to clear.
Good play from Diangana then saw the West Ham loanee tee up Harper on the edge of the box.
The 20-year-old then fizzed a rasping drive that sailed just wide of Joe Wildsmith’s post.
Wednesday made a change at the break with Alessio Da Cruz replacing Rhodes up front.
Bilic’s side, though, now had a much greater spring in their step with the Baggies suddenly able to move the ball crisply and with more purpose.
Nevertheless, the boss opted to make a change just before the hour mark with Callum Robinson replacing Diangana.
And the sub proved to be a masterstroke with Robinson having a hand in the Baggies doubling their advantage just moments later.
The 25-year-old, on loan from Wednesday’s rivals Sheffield United, collected the ball in the box before finding Gibbs.
The full-back then whipped in a wonderfully inviting cross which Pereira brilliantly glanced beyond the reach of Wildsmith and into the corner of the net.
Wednesday came a whisker away from pulling a goal back instantly with Harris darting towards goal before hitting an arrowed drive which beat Sam Johnstone but cannoned off the post.
With 20 minutes to go, Bilic switched Kamil Grosicki and Robson-Kanu for Austin and Krovinovic.
It meant a return to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Grosicki on the right, Robinson on the left, Pereira in the number 10 role and Robson-Kanu up front.
And again, the change almost paid instant dividends with Robson-Kanu slipping in Grosicki who saw a shot well blocked by Wildsmith.
The Baggies now looked a completely different side from the one that put in a lacklustre display in the first half.
And they almost grabbed a third when Odubajo made an excellent block to keep out a Grosicki shrike after he’d latched on to a Robinson cut-back.
Wednesday again responded and almost pulled one back when Wickham saw a goalbound shot well blocked by Gibbs.
But with five minutes to go, Albion put the game to bed once and for all.
After Robson-Kanu saw a shot in the box blocked, Grosicki worked the ball to Pereira.
And from 12-yards he then drilled the ball past Wildsmith and into the net to register his eighth of the campaign and secure a crucial win for his side.
Sheff Wed (3-5-2): Wildsmith, Palmer, Iorfa, Odubajo, Murphy, Reach (Nuhiu 62), Bannan (Hunt 87), Luongo (Lee 62), Harris, Rhodes (Da Cruz 46), Wickham.
Subs not used: Dawson, Pelupessy, Shaw, Brennan, Hughes.
Albion: Johnstone, O’Shea, Bartley, Hegazi, Gibbs, Sawyers, Krovinovic (Grosicki 70), Harper (Ajayi 88), Diangana (Robinson 57), Pereira (Livermore 88), Austin (Robson-Kanu 70).
Subs not used: Bond, Furlong, Townsend, Brunt.