West Bromwich Albion played out a goalless draw with Midlands rivals Birmingham City to edge seven points clear of third place Fulham and return to the top of the Championship on goal difference.
In an eerie atmosphere at The Hawthorns, it was noticeable that the players weren’t quite up to scratch following their three month break from competitive action, with Albion’s decision making costing them dearly as the Baggies have now failed to win 11 of the 19 home matches they have played this season.
Slaven Bilic’s men started the game quite brightly with Jake Clarke-Salter making a crucial block to deny Matt Phillips.
In what was a drab first half, Callum Robinson headed wide shortly before the end of the opening 45 minutes.
Scott Hogan had two good chances towards the end of the game to get Birmingham in front with his close range header going straight at Baggies keeper Sam Johnstone and then his fine volley was caught by the shot-stopper once again.
Albion came mightily close to winning the game right at the end as Kenneth Zohore’s header went wide of the goal.
Here’s how we rated the WBA players in the 0-0 draw:
Sam Johnstone - 7
Made a poor punch in the first half but made two decent stops to deny Hogan late on. Wasn’t tested heavily throughout the game.
Darnell Furlong - 7
Furlong got up the line well and delivered some teasing crosses that weren’t diverted in by the forwards. Was very accomplished all afternoon.
Semi Ajayi - 9
Man of the Match. Showed why he is Premier League quality. Dealt with the physical battle of Jutkiewicz exceptionally and mopped up every ball with ease.
Ahmed Hegazi - 8
Hegazi also was solid at the back and got himself out of trouble well on a couple of occasions. Formed a nice partnership with Ajayi which helped Albion keep a clean sheet.
Kieran Gibbs - 7
It’s been a tough campaign for Gibbs who hasn’t featured a lot this season but he impressed frequently today, getting up and down the line to support Robinson. Made a terrific tackle to deny Blues going through in the first half but his final ball up the other end wasn’t good enough which summed up Albion’s day.
Jake Livermore - 6
Livermore was sloppy all game with various overhit passes when trying to put his teammates in. Made a vital challenge in the second half though which earned Albion a point.
Romaine Sawyers - 8
Sawyers was cool, calm and collected on the ball throughout the game and really dictated the midfield battle. Blazed over the bar early on in the game, but it was a really improved performance from Sawyers, who had dropped off shortly before the lockdown.
Matheus Pereira - 6
Pereira, as always was the Baggies focal point in attack. Dragged a shot wide in the first half before blazing erratically wide later in the second. Made a few misplaced passes in the game too which cut a frustrated figure at the end of the game.
Matt Phillips - 5
Phillips was denied with some good defending by Clarke-Salter early on. Phillips from that point on though didn’t really threaten for Albion as he put over some poor crosses.
Callum Robinson - 5
Robinson on the opposite flank was very similar. Dug a subtle cross out that was narrowly missed by Robson-Kanu in the first half and had a couple of efforts that didn’t trouble Blues keeper Lee Camp. Was quiet for most of the afternoon.
Hal Robson-Kanu - 6
Robson-Kanu on a couple of occasions showed his neat hold up play to get Albion up the pitch but he never had a clear cut chance. Showed a relentless work rate for the time he was on before being replaced by Austin.
Kyle Edwards - 5 (subbed on 60')
Edwards came on and didn’t make the impact he would have liked. Got himself out of trouble to draw a foul once with some impressive skill but when he needed to get a cross in the box, he didn’t provide.
Grady Diangana - 6 (subbed on 60')
Diangana came on and showed his flair in his cameo role. Dug out a couple of threatening crosses late on as the Baggies pushed for a winner but nothing prevailed.
Charlie Austin - 5 (subbed on 70')
Austin tried to link up with Diangana but nothing really came off. When partnered with Zohore, he made little movement to help his teammates which was disappointing.
Filip Krovinovic - 5 (subbed on 85')
Krovinovic had a few touches on the ball and had a free kick deflected for a corner, but he didn’t really have time to make an impact.
Kenneth Zohore - 4 (subbed on 85')
Zohore missed a glorious chance right at the end, mistiming his header to send it wide of the goal. Simply had to bury that, which will be very frustrating for Baggies boss Slaven Bilic.