West Brom's promotion campaign: The games that defined the season
It was a long and gruelling season which – thanks to coronavirus – was even more demanding than usual.
Albion fans experienced all the highs and lows football has to offer during the 2019/20 campaign.
It’s true that any team who wins promotion over the course of a 46-game season deserves it.
But there were some matches that were slightly more important than others.
Here, Joseph Masi looks at seven crucial games in Albion’s quest to reach the Premier League.
QPR 0-2 Albion, September 28
There is always a match that makes your promotion rivals stand up and take notice.
And Albion’s trip to Loftus Road in September was the day when Slaven Bilic’s side announced themselves as genuine title challengers.
The hosts entered the game on the back of three successive wins and with many people tipping them to be dark horses to finish in the top six.
But from the first whistle to the last, Albion dominated this game – with a talented QPR side barely laying a glove on them.
Bilic’s men took the lead with a long-distance Nathan Ferguson strike.
Matheus Pereira then wrapped things up with a wonderful free-kick which he rolled under the QPR wall.
It was a display of total control that showed Albion’s players were starting to really understand what Bilic wanted from them.
“This is the best performance that we played so far,” the boss said. “Straight from the start, we were on the front foot. They didn’t have a sniff.”
Albion 5-1 Swansea, December 8
The day when Matheus Pereira secured the crown as the best player in the Championship, the Baggies blew Swansea away in a display of pure swagger.
Pereira not only got himself on the score sheet, he also set up the other four for Semi Ajayi, Hal Robson-Kanu, Matt Phillips and Kyle Edwards.
It was a sixth successive win and sent out a serious promotion warning with a good Swans team ruthlessly brushed aside.
The Welsh outfit hadn’t actually lost on the road until this heavy defeat. And after falling 2-0 down, they got themselves back in the game through Sam Surridge.
But from that point on Albion were magnificent and thoroughly deserved to win by such a comprehensive scoreline.
“Pereira is a great player, a great talent, he’s very hungry, he likes to learn, he wants to improve and he’s enjoying it,” Bilic said.
“But it was a really great team performance, defending as a group, getting second balls, counter-attacking, long attacks, set-pieces - to be fair, apart from their goal, it was all us.
Albion 2-0 Luton, February 1
A seven-game winless run had seen Albion’s cushion in the automatic promotion slots cut from 12 points to just two.
With the team in need of freshening up, the likes of Callum Robinson, Kamil Grosicki and Lee Peltier were added to the squad before the January window closed.
But they still needed to get back on track on the field in what was really a must-win game against Luton.
Albion got a bit of luck when Luton’s Donervon Daniels put through his own net after 14 minutes.
Semi Ajayi’s second goal in successive home games then wrapped up the points in the second half – much to the relief of Bilic and Albion’s supporters.
“It was very important for us to get back on a winning track. We created a lot of chances and should have scored more goals,” the head coach said.
“Callum Robinson was one of the players we really wanted to get in the summer but he wanted to play in the Premier League.
Millwall 0-2 Albion, February 9
Immediately after the Luton clash, the Baggies faced a tough trip to The Den against a Millwall side battling for a place in the top six.
In the middle of Storm Ciara, Albion completely put their bad run to bed as they outfought, outclassed and outworked the Lions.
Filip Krovinovic scored just before half-time and Dara O’Shea netted with six minutes remaining to get the squad firmly back on track.
Many felt the horrendous weather conditions would suit Millwall and their players more. But Albion showed bundles of grit and character to claim the points.
“I’m emotional now,” Bilic said afterwards. “To come here and not just match them, but better them in a physicality against a team who are best in the league for that, that means something.”
Bristol City 0-3 Albion, February 22
Lead by skipper Jake Livermore, Albion played some of their best football of the season in what turned out to be a comfortable win at Ashton Gate.
Callum Robinson and Hal Robson-Kanu put them 2-0 up before half-time in a dominant display.
It was not all plain sailing as Romaine Sawyers was sent off in the second half but within two minutes Robson-Kanu added a third to end any worries.
But while this was a performance where everyone excelled, it was Livermore who was truly outstanding.
The skipper’s relentless energy ensured the Baggies kept winning possession high up the pitch – Bristol City just could not live with him as he covered every blade of glass.
“For the whole season he (Livermore) has been brilliant for us,” Bilic said.
“Jake is a proper captain, he forced everybody else to step up.
“I don’t like to single out the player but this was his win to be fair, brilliant. Brilliant.”
Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Albion, July 1
Having lost 1-0 to Brentford in their previous game and drawn 0-0 with Birmingham in their first outing since lockdown, Albion entered this match needing to get back on track.
They struggled to find any rhythm for a good half an hour at Hillsborough until a Charlie Austin penalty settled the nerves.
But after the break, they returned to their swashbuckling best with a Pereira double then wrapping up the points and reaffirming their status as promotion favourites.
“I liked the performance – it was not easy to play that game,” Bilic said.
“There was big pressure on us and we responded like a proper, mature, quality team and that’s what I like about it.
“You can crumble under the pressure but we didn’t. Hopefully, we are back in town.”
Albion 2-0 Derby, July 8
The pressure was on after Brentford’s 2-1 win over Charlton the day before left Thomas Frank’s side just a point behind second-placed Albion.
And Derby were tough opposition with the Rams having enjoyed the best record in the Championship since Wayne Rooney left DC United to join them in January.
But Albion were brilliant from the first whistle to the last to sweep aside Phillip Cocu’s men.
Grady Dianagana’s early opener settled the nerves and the Baggies produced an accomplished and professional performance which was wrapped up by Dara O’Shea’s second-half header.
“Of course it is all about the points at this stage of the season,” Bilic said.
“But there is a way to get the points and we were magnificent to be fair. We were fantastic in every aspect of the game.”