‘Premier League bound’ West Brom remain unbeaten as fans hail ‘Super Slav’ and Fulham boss gives his verdict
MINI MATCH REPORT
Seven games, 13 points.
West Brom are still unbeaten in the league under Slaven Bilic after picking up a point at Fulham that they secured late on at Craven Cottage.
The Baggies, unchanged from the side that beat Blackburn, equalised with ten minutes to go thanks to Semi Ajayi’s first goal for the club. Anthony Knockaert had given the home side a deserved lead after the interval.
Fulham, boasting a star-studded team with Championship quality throughout it, took the game to their visitors from the off.
Sam Johnstone was forced into a couple of very important saves to firstly deny Tom Cairney – though the officials missed the save and gave a goal kick – and then to prevent Bobby Reid giving the Cottagers the lead.
The Albion players who stood out a fortnight ago against Blackburn – namely Romaine Sawyers, Jake Livermore and Matt Phillips – struggled to stamp their authority here and were overrun by Cairney, Reid and Harrison Reed.
The goal didn’t come in the first, but the Whites didn’t have to wait long after the restart.
Knockaert collected the ball on the angle of the area, and what appeared to be a cross looped over Johnstone and found the far corner.
It was no more than the hosts deserved to that point, but Albion didn’t respond immediately.
Indeed the Cottagers, sensing blood, put their foot on the gas and continued pushing hard for what would’ve been a decisive second.
They were kept at bay by the excellent pairing of Kyle Bartley and Ajayi, and then Slaven Bilic’s changes kicked in.
Hal Robson-Kanu and Kyle Edwards – captain for the day upon his entrance – helped to turn the tide and they forced a leveller.
Pereira, through good work of his own, took a corner that needed to be clawed out by Marcus Bettinelli but it was only into the path of Ajayi, who nodded in from close range.
Albion, after seven games, remain unbeaten and escape the Cottage with a decent point.
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WHAT THE BOSS SAID
Slaven Bilic backed his own judgement as he turned around to assess his own options with 20 minutes to go.
With Albion a goal behind at Fulham, and with only a single substitute left to use up, it was a straight shoot-out between Kenneth Zohore and Hal Robson-Kanu.
Zohore, the £8m summer arrival, has two goals to his name this season and impressed from the bench, or Robson-Kanu, the forward who has struggled with injury but who netted a reserve team treble in the week?
Bilic opted for the latter – and it paid off.
Robson-Kanu joined in seamlessly with Albion’s attack as they went in search of an equaliser that eventually arrived via Semi Ajayi.
“Kenneth came on a few times for us and did really good,” Bilic explained. “I don’t know why but I felt that this is the game for Hal.
“Hal’s a good player. He’s got the touch between the lines, he’s swimming and roaming between the lines. He can turn. That’s Fulham’s strength, but they don’t have an old fashioned holding midfielder that’ll sit there and mark a number ten – especially when that number ten is a striker, like Hal.
“For defenders, when you’re winning, it’s not comfortable to go and mark that player. For Hal, he’s perfect for that. He’s got that touch, he knows where he is.
“He can play the balls to the wingers, and we are good there, or to Charlie.
“That’s why I opted for Hal, and it proved a good decision.”
They’re still waiting on their first clean sheet of the season, and are still to escape the habit of conceding first, but largely Ajayi and partner Kyle Bartley were excellent.
The pair worked together to silence Aleksandar Mitrovic, the in-form Serb who is widely considered to be the best centre-forward in the division.
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Bilic didn’t need to warn his back-line of Mitrovic’s threat, but he was left pleased with how the duo – potentially slugging it out for a place once Ahmed Hegazi returns – dealt with the imposing striker.
“I know Mitrovic. We’re from the same part of Europe. Top player. Makes a difference, strong, a great finisher,” Bilic added.
“I told my centre backs that they’d have to take care of him, but they’re good centre backs. They’re physical, both are good on the ball when they’re confident.
“Semi has the pace of a centre forward, which helps us a lot to keep a high line.”
Keeper Sam Johnstone, too, offered another accomplished display of shot stopping. The Albion stopper tipped a Tom Cairney strike onto the crossbar, something that the officials didn’t pick up on, before he denied both Anthony Knockaert and Bobby Reid with fine reaction stops within the space of ten seconds.
“A couple of good saves. That’s why he’s there. I expect him to make those saves, but he’s a top goalkeeper. Not only with his feet, but with his blocks and hands,” Bilic continued.
“I do not hide it – we are happy to have him. He’s very important and a big part of our team. He’s one of the biggest reasons we’re unbeaten after seven games.
“It gives you that little bit of extra confidence.”
WHAT THE FANS SAID
Kevin Woodall: Trust in Slav, he knows what he is doing… Top manager…
Steve : Very good performance against a very good team… Johnstone kept us in it. HRK changed the game. In Bilić we trust. Fans were top as usual.
DOM: UP THE BAGGIES
Liam Jones: Premier League bound
Drew Peacock: Still unbeaten, turna few into wins and we’ll be well on our way
Scott Parker had this to say:
“I’m disappointed with the result and the way the match ended because for 60 minutes we controlled the game. I don’t think anyone would have begrudged us if we had been 2-0 up at half-time.
“But then we stopped doing it. We went from front to back very early and played into the hands of a team that has a lot of pace on the break.
“We kept turning the ball over and, if we turn games into basketball games, we are going to be beaten because we haven’t got the players to play like that.
“I want the players to understand the best way was for us to be successful is how we played in the first hour.”
West Brom take on Huddersfield at The Hawthorns on September 22nd – 12pm