Fulham, so easy on the eye for so much of the season, deserved absolutely nothing at the Hawthorns this evening and that’s exactly what they got. Marco Silva’s side were perhaps showing signs of tiredness playing their fourth game in the space of ten days but they utterly failed to match the sharpness and intensity of a West Brom side who appear to be enjoying their football again under Steve Bruce. The league leaders were fortunate to be level having been completely outplayed in the first half and when Callum Robinson capitalised on an atrocious pass out from the back by Antonee Robinson, it was the least the Baggies deserved.
Fulham’s riposte was limp, just like much of their football throughout an uninspiring ninety minutes. Nathaniel Chalobah flicked an improvised finish across the face of goal, Fabio Carvalho flashed an angled shot wide and Neco Williams lashed wastefully over from a short corner before the man you would have put your house on to level things up, Aleksandar Mitrovic, blazed over from seven yards after a clever Carvalho cut back. Five minutes of added time came and went without any threat from the Londoners. A dispirited Silva trudged off having seen his side fail to test Sam Johnstone at all – and waste the chance to set a club record of twelve league games unbeaten.
The Portuguese head coach, whose adventurous approach has been such of a breath of fresh air this term following the stale football of Scott Parker, must shoulder some of the blame himself. He made only a single change to a side that had looked sluggish at Barnsley on Saturday – opting for Nathaniel Chalobah’s physicality over Jean Michael Seri in central midfield – and didn’t freshen things up after Fulham had been dominated in the first 45 minutes. They couldn’t match the Baggies’ bright start and were indebted to the quick reflexes of Marek Rodak for keeping them in the contest by the break.
Albion had clearly taken confidence from coming from 2-0 to salvage a draw against in-form Huddersfield on Friday night and were determined to throw the first punches against the table toppers. Bruce’s decision to keep veteran striker Andy Carroll, who had scored the equaliser against the Terriers, on the bench and persist with Callum Robinson and Karlan Grant almost paid immediate dividends. The duo linked up along the left after just six minutes with Grant firing into the side netting after escaping beyond the Fulham defence.
Grant then saw a powerful first-time volley palmed away by Rodak, who reacted quickest to fist the ball further clear of danger with Robinson lurking to profit from any rebound. He produced another smart save to thwart Grant in a one-on-one after the former Charlton forward had outsprinted Tim Ream and then made himself big at the near post to deny Robinson as Albion piled on the pressure. Harrison Reed turned a Connor Townsend cross onto his own woodwork as Fulham finished the first half under serious strain.
The pattern of proceedings continued initially after the interval with Grant visibly upset not to make better contact with Semi Ajayi’s flick on from a free-kick as Rodak was relieved to only have to make a routine save. Fulham gradually enjoyed the share of possession they have come to expect in the Championship this season but struggled to break down a resolute home defence. Carvalho sent a low effort wide of the far post after latching onto a pass from Bobby Decordova-Reid whilst Harry Wilson fired fractionally wide himself after cutting in onto his favoured left foot.
Just as you felt Fulham were going to move into top gear they gifted Albion an opener. Robinson surrendered possession with a horrible square ball from his left back position. Grant seized upon it and weighted a lovely ball outside Ream, who couldn’t readjust to track the run of Robinson, who made a difficult low finish across Rodak and into the far corner look straightforward. Bruce’s side were largely comfortable in holding onto a slender lead – with Mitrovic’s glaring miss from a low Carvalho cross their only real hair-raising moment.
The result might mean little when we come to consider the final complexion of the Championship table, especially as Bournemouth dropped more points after being held at home by relegated-threatened Reading, but the woeful performance will be a concern for Silva, whose side looked as flat as they have been all season. A two-and-a-half week break before the west London derby with Queens Park Rangers might just be the perfect time for a few home truths to shared alongside some much-needed recuperation.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (3-5-2): Johnstone; Ajayi, Clarke, Bartley; Furlong, Townsend, Gardner-Hickman, Livermore, Mowatt (Molumby 87); Grant (Diangana 84), C. Robinson (Carroll 77). Subs (not used): Palmer, O’Shea, Kipre, Reach, Diangana, Carroll.
GOAL: C. Robinson (63).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams (Muniz 81), A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Chalobah, Reed (Cairney 72); Wilson, Decordova-Reid (Cavaleiro 72), Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Hector, Seri.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)