West Bromwich Albion fell to defeat away at Sheffield United in a relegation six-pointer that will prove to be crucial for both teams come the end of the season.
Both teams started the game brightly and Albion came closest with Callum Robinson after fifteen minutes, in a similar chance to the one he tucked away against Chelsea back in September.
New signing Mbaye Diagne’s hold-up play was impressive and led to a couple of half chances involving Matheus Pereira and Robinson.
The Blades had the lion share of possession and pressed the Baggies high, though failed to really trouble Sam Johnstone in the opening 30 minutes.
Sheffield United’s best chance came close to the end of the half when Billy Sharp rose high for a header, which was sent wide.
Sharp went on to rue his miss as the resulting goal-kick led to Albion’s first goal. A quick attack saw Robinson have his shot saved by Aaron Ramsdale – Diagne missed the follow-up but in came Matt Phillips to tap the ball home instinctively just four minutes before half time.Embed from Getty Images
You could say the goal came against the run of play, though the Blades did not threaten too much – but this is exactly what Albion have been lacking: goals, goals against the run of play, a bit of luck.
The second half picked up where it left off: with the Blades pressing Albion. You got the feeling that the Baggies could not keep this up for another forty minutes.
This culminated in the 55th minute, with a goal-mouth-scramble leading to Jayden Bogle smashing the ball home. Game on.Embed from Getty Images
Albion almost came agonisingly close with 30 minutes to go as a sumptuous ball from Phillips dropped right in front of Robinson, only for Ramsdale to make a stunning save – replays show it would have likely been offside.
A match of football became a match of basketball as attacks from both side went from back to front – Albion never really came close and in the 72nd minute, Sharp stabbed the ball home to give the hosts the lead.Embed from Getty Images
Ultimately, this was enough to see Chris Wilder’s men over the line. The Blades ground out the result like truly seasoned Premier League side, and the one year’s experience truly told come the final whistle.
The Baggies were solid for large parts of the game but when push comes to shove, the story remains the same. Sloppy defending, sloppy goals.
In a reverse scenario to the game against Fulham, Albion’s second half was much worse than the first. Credit due to Wilder’s boys, however.
The result looks even more bleak with context: a draw at home to Fulham, Brighton beating Spurs and Manchester United and Spurs to come.
It really would take a miracle to save Albion now. Big Sam, do your best.
Player Ratings: Johnstone (6); O’Shea (5), Semi Ajayi (5), Kyle Bartley (7), Townsend (4); Phillips (6), Livermore (5), Snodgrass (5), Pereira (6); Robinson (5); Diagne (6). Subs: Grant (4), Gallagher (5), Robson-Kanu (4)
West Brom: Johnstone; O’Shea, Ajayi, Bartley, Townsend; Phillips (Gallagher 74′), Livermore, Snodgrass, Pereira; Robinson (Grant 68′), Diagne (Robson-Kanu 68′)
Unused Subs: Button, Furlong, Gibbs, Peltier, Ivanovic, Sawyers
Booked: Pereira (90+4′)
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Basham, Egan, Ampadu; Baldock (Lowe 44′), Lundstram, Norwood (McBurnie 46′), Fleck, Bogle; McGoldrick, Sharp (Burke 86′)
Unused Subs: Foderingham, Bryan, Jagielka, Ndiaye, Brunt, Brewster
Referee: Paul Tierney