West Bromwich Albion 1 - Fulham 0
Where there's hope there's life: if there wasn't, hope couldn't kill you
Albion started the last ten games of the season 27 points adrift of Fulahm, and so knowing that a loss would pretty much end any "going up as champions" ambitions that Bruce's pedigree might have still engendered. As it was though, the pressure of seeing off one of the chasing pack somehow got to the league leaders, to the extent that produced a lackadaisical performance that the home side eventually took full advantage of.
The visitors' first sloppy pass came after a minute and a half, and resulted in a cross that TGH's attempt to get on the end of forced the defender to concede a corner.
Around five Grant got played in but the tight angle from which he got off the shot saw it end up in the side netting.
Fulham were putting together some crisp passing moves at times although they all seemed to end without Mitrovic really getting a sniff, with the Albion then able to knock direct balls for Grant and Robinson to run onto through a defensive line forced to turn, and indeed, as the half-hour approached, with the home side having created a number of shooting opportunites, Kevin Friend, the top flight referee, the likes of whom the EFL get in to officiate the "big games" (presumably they choose the games at the start of the season?), would have to make a decision, as both Mowatt and a defender looked to get a foot onto a high bouncing ball, which resulted in the defender kicking up underneath Mowatt's foot in the box. Given the defender didn't get anything on the ball, and that it was challenge from behind, although perhaps "challenge from below" would be more accurate, it surely should have been a penalty: not as far as the big game ref was concerned though.
Shortly after that, Grant got played in behind down the right but seemed to stutter before, rather than flow into, his shot on the run and gave the keeper time to get close enough to effect a block.
Two minutes later and it was Robinson's turn to be in on the right but he kind of went with the flow, and so as the defender between him and the goal fell over, ended up getting off a shot when he could have taken another touch or two and made himself a even better chance.
Townsend's run and cross, as the first half moved into the last five, saw a Fulham defender nearly turn the ball into his own net, but the away side would still be level as the halftime stats showed the top of the table side leaving the field without a shot on target to the Albion's three, out of six attempts in all.
The second-half saw Albion produce a well-worked free kick that gave Grant the oppoirtunity for header from a central position but he could quite get enough power into it, and saw Fulham finally round out their passing moves with a couple of efforts on goal, before another episode of the sloppiness that pretty much summed up their performance on the night saw Grant gifted the ball some 25 yards out and in space with Robinson running away to his right. Grant's pass was inch perfect, just eluding the toe of one of four defenders, whose line Robinson was now beyond, and he calmly curled the ball around the keeper and into the goal.
Wasn't clear to me why Bruce felt the need to bring Carrol on for the goalscorer with ten to go, because the tactic of holding the ball up by the corner flag didn't reall start until a while later, and indeed that might have been the result of Mitrovic missing the sort of chance, from nine yards out, that he's been burying all season.Not tonight though.
If Diangana for Grant seemed to turn things into a 541 in an atempt to hold on with five to go, Molumby for Mowatt didn't really seem to change anything, other than the number of names in Kevin Friend's book, with the Irishman getting added to the list within a minute of coming on.
Came as a bit of suprise, given how many Mitrovic has scored, to hear that our goal, resulting from a combination of Grant and Robinson made them the most goalscoring combo in the division, with ten link-ups.
Other results on the night meant that, apart from still being able go up as Champions ahead of Fulham, we didn't really make up ground on the sides we are more realistically targetting, with Boro and Blackburn both winning, although what are now catchup games, involving a number of the sides between us and the top six get played Wednesday, so who knows how we'll look going into the weekend's round.
Well that was a lot more like it.
Bruce went with the same starting a1 for the third game on the trot and the 3-5-2 formation. Personally I thought he was right to resist the temptation to put Carroll in and instead keep him as the off-the-bench option.
And he was rewarded with a first half performance that was as good as any this season and probably beyond.
We pressed high, the back 3 squeezed up knowing that Mitrovic couldn't sprint in behind, and there we signs there that the players were starting to benefit from a consistent 11 with regards to partnerships all over the pitch. It also helped that we were aggressive and worked really hard.
I thought after about 15 minutes that although Fulham weren't fully on the beach already, they were definitely looking at deals on Teletext, and they were not matching our levels of desire or commitment. It was all about managing the game for them, and they were therefore there for the taking.
After plenty of pressure, corners and long throws we should've broken the deadlock when Robinson played a great ball through to Grant who had a good 3rd of the pitch to run on goal. Unfortunately he took a poor touch which meant he ended up in a battle with the centre back but he got a shot off that was well saved.
Moments later Robinson latched onto a ball, cut inside and fired straight at the keeper with his left foot - any supporting midfielder would have had a tap-in I felt.
Another move, coming from a high press, resulted in a Fulham player hitting his own post.
I can't recall a meaningful chance for Fulham during the half but we couldn't find a goal. Half time was a moment though. The players looked a bit stunned as the crowd roared them off almost like we'd won the match - but really just in appreciation that we'd totally dominated the best team in the league.
2nd half we started a bit sloppy and Fulham did create a couple of situations early on - a shot that whistled just wide and getting in behind us out wide but our defence was determined not to concede and our positioning and decision-making was much better than in recent games when we've conceded cheap goals. CBs didn't go wildly running out - they held their zones - and wingbacks/midfielders bust a gut to get back into positions.
The breakthrough came by forcing Fulham into another error and Grant played a good ball through to Robinson who took his time but found the far corner giving us a totally deserved lead.
Fulham reacted and started looking after the ball better. They made some changes and did get a lot nearer to us, flashing chances wide or across our box.
Bruce got the game management right again. Firstly Carroll came on for Robinson with about 15 to go and he battled away as he does in both boxes, but it left Grant's pace still on up there with him to give them something to think about.
We were looking solid enough when Grady came on out on the left for the final 10 minutes or so - and we switched to a more 5-4-1. Thankfully we didn't sit back though and we pressed and got the ball out left to him plenty of times to win corners and run the clock down.
Mitrovic did get one chance that he probably should've finished but he put it over the bar and overall we earned out luck there.
The final time wasting sub allowed Mulumby to come on and get another stupid yellow card within a minute - honestly, is there a betting syndicate going on with him?
A big win and a performance we can all take heart from. Such a shame we didn't pick up another daft win and a draw in the preceding 10 games when we were persisting with Reach over TGH other such frustrations. I still think we'll run out of games for the play-offs but Dike and Phillips coming back into the squad give us some real power at this level to finish very strongly.
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