After a thrilling end to the season, West Brom Albion will be preparing for Premier League football next season under Slaven Bilic after gaining automatic promotion on the final day.
It went to the wire and was nerve biting throughout, but the Baggies’ boss has taken Albion back to football’s elite level in his first season with the club.
There were key moments throughout the season which were pivotal to Albion’s success this campaign, which saw them remain in the top two since October.
You think of Charlie Austin’s last gasp penalties in wins over Preston and Sheffield Wednesday as-well-as the brace he grabbed to get Albion all three points at Birmingham City when they were trailing, and of course, Sam Johnstone’s massive one-on-one save at Blackburn to grab the Baggies a crucial point.
After the heartache of the playoff defeat to Aston Villa, the Baggies have done brilliantly to bounce back and compete for promotion and everyone around the club deserves so much credit, particularly in the recruitment of the likes of Matheus Pereira, Grady Diangana, Semi Ajayi and Romaine Sawyers.
After a successful campaign, we’ve taken a look at the Albion players to rate their individual seasons.
Sam Johnstone - 8
Started every league game for the Baggies in the two years he’s been here since joining from Man Utd which is testament to his dedication for the club. He kept 14 clean sheets over the course of the season which is an improvement on the last. His key moments were his penalty save at Derby which earned Albion a point as well as the stunning one-on-one save at Blackburn which proved very significant in the race for promotion.
Darnell Furlong - 7
Furlong was brought in from QPR and occupied the right-back spot for the majority of the season. He added so much energy and attacking intent to the right-hand side. He netted twice this season, both at The Hawthorns in a win over Huddersfield and a draw to Brentford. His most notable assist came at Blues when his dinked in cross was nodded home by Charlie Austin. Didn’t feature too much after the restart of the season, losing his spot to Dara O’Shea which must have been disappointing for him. Overal though, a brilliant, shrewd signing by the club, particularly to replace the out going of loanee Mason Holgate from last season.
Semi Ajayi - 9
Ajayi was brought in from the relegated Rotherham for a low figure of 1.5 million pounds. Was an instant hit at The Hawthorns and played nearly all of the season at centre back despite his recent role of a defensive midfielder with The Millers. Showed a great turn of pace and his composure when pressured by different backlines over the campaign was terrific. Netted five times over the course of the season to show his versatility, finding the back of the net against Swansea, Luton, Fulham, Huddersfield and Leeds. Was so dominant in air too and formed great partnerships alongside Kyle Bartley and Ahmed Hegazi. Was certainly the bargain of the season and one of the main reasons the defence stayed so solid with him at the helm.
Kyle Bartley - 8
Bartley was equally brilliant alongside Ajayi and formed a great partnership with him for the majority of the season. Scored 2 goals during the campaign at home to Millwall and away at Reading to grab them three points at the Madejski Stadium. One notable thing was the level of consistency with Bartley this year compared to last year with him being so much more reliable, which showed that the style Bilic wanted to play suited him more as a defender as he wasn’t comfortable playing out from the back constantly, which was what former Albion boss Darren Moore tried to implement last season. Will ever be grateful for his goal line clearance at Blackburn, which helped Albion get an important point in the end.
Kieran Gibbs - 6
A real mixed season for Gibbs, who only made 14 league appearances this season as he was blighted with numerous hamstring injuries that kept him out for large parts of the season. Scored only one goal this season against Bristol City but was influential when coming back into the team for the post lockdown period. Sadly, cannot give him more than a six with injures getting in the way of his quality.
Dara O'Shea - 8
What a season for the young man. Made his first appearance of the season against Brentford at The Hawthorns and impressed massively. Broke into the team just before the pandemic began and managed to remain in place to knock Darnell Furlong out of the picture. Netted three times against Millwall, Derby and Huddersfield and showed such class composure for such a youthful prospect. This is a boost for Albion’s academy bringing in the likes of O’Shea and Nathan Ferguson to the first team, despite the latter’s controversial move to Crystal Palace.
Conor Townsend - 7
Known as the second choice full back, Townsend was heavily involved more during the course of the season, deputising mostly for Kieran Gibbs, who sustained a few injuries. His attacking play was one of the reasons why he was so successful, supporting the wingers in attack, which helped Albion maintain their free flowing football. Scored one goal this campaign in the FA Cup win over West Ham, and his most telling assist coming with a superb cross into Pereira, who headed home in the 2-2 draw at home to Barnsley.
Ahmed Hegazi - 7
Hegazi for the most part of the season was tussling it out with Kyle Bartley for the starting place alongside Ajayi and the pair of them rotated quite a bit during periods of the season. The Egyptian scored one goal in the campaign against Hull City at The Hawthorns, but his sending off in that game halted his progress of getting back into the team and he didn’t feature for the last couple games of the season. Overall though, Hegazi was on hand when Bartley wasn’t available, and stepped in with some solid performances.
Jake Livermore - 8
The club captain started 43 of the 46 Championship games. Netted three times during the season against Blackburn, Hull City and Preston. Was essential in providing body in midfield, which was crucial for when Albion needed to see games out. A big difference with Livermore this season is his much more excellent attacking play, where you would find him sometimes on the wing and nearly always available for a shot on the edge of the box. It managed to compliment nicely with Sawyers’s deep positioning, which allowed the Captain to get forward more to support his teammates in attack, which showed his versatility.
Romaine Sawyers - 7.5
Started 42 games this season, netting once against Cardiff City after his move from Brentford. Occupied as a holding midfielder, protecting the back four and keeping the midfield ticking over with his crisp passing. For most games he did his job and kept the team moving forward in attack with him mopping up the play. Has had one too many poor games though during the season and sometimes his casual play can get him caught out in dangerous positions, with a couple inside his own penalty area. He will need to improve that when he gets his chance in the Premier League and needs to move the ball faster. Still impressive in midfield forming an excellent partnership with Livermore and that could continue in the top flight.
Chris Brunt - 7
What a brilliant ending to his Albion career for Brunty, helping seal his club back to the promised land! Wouldn’t have liked the amount of time he had on the pitch this season, but he was particularly important when coming on in the final few games of the season, particularly against Hull City as he kept the midfield calm and composed when getting over the line for three points. Had an emotional send off, featuring against QPR on the final day of the season and it being sealed with promotion. The perfect send off for the Baggies legend.
Filip Krovinovic - 7.5
The Croat was brought in on a season long loan from Benfica and found the back of the net three times this season against Millwall, Barnsley and Blackburn. Had periods of being in and out the team and made more appearances off the bench, but he was impressive in most games, balancing the play and keeping it ticking in the final third when the Baggies were searching goals. Was equally impressive when taking on two Premier League sides in the FA Cup against Newcastle and West Ham and might be better suited in the top flight, depending if he decides to return to the club on a permanent basis.
Matt Phillips - 6
A disappointing season in the end for the winger, who started the campaign relatively well before tailing off during the latter stages. Notched 7 goals for the season but coming back after the lockdown, his confidence was shattered and was withdrawn twice at half time when being started in those games. Will hopefully regain his confidence to show what he can do in the Premier League if he stays at the club.
Matheus Pereira - 9
Undoubtedly the player of the season. Brought in on loan from Sporting Lisbon and didn’t disappoint with the flair he brought to the football club with 8 goals and 16 assists over the course of the campaign. His ability to cut teams open with his exceptional vision was something that Albion had been calling for when they were last in the Premier League. Would sometimes try to force the play too much but there is no doubt that without the Brazilian, the Baggies wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting into the top two and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the top flight, with him sure to sign a permanent deal. His most eye catching goals came with his clipped free kick against Bristol City and his first time curling effort against Cardiff.
Kamil Grosicki - 6.5
Joined from Hull City in January for £800,000 to provide competition on the wings. Wasn’t featured a lot in the squad until his performance at Sheffield Wednesday post lockdown, which earned him a start for the first time, where he grabbed his opening goal for the club in a 4-2 win over Hull. Had a poor performance against Fulham which reduced him back to appearances off the bench for the final few games. In many games though, the Polish international looked dangerous with his raw pace on the left side causing defenders problems. Unfortunately, his final ball let him down a few times which he will be looking to improve on when he plays top flight football next season.
Rekeem Harper - 6.5
Only played 10 games during the season and featured throughout the cup run. Came into start a couple of games post lockdown during the hectic run in and provided a good source of energy in the middle of the park. Was unlucky to not add a goal or two to show for his efforts.
Grady Diangana - 8.5
What a season for the West Ham loanee! Up until his hamstring injury against Birmingham, Diangana was electric and was involved in so many goals with his creative flair. Took a long time for him to get back to full fitness, but got back for the critical final run in and continued to add goals and assists to his game, most notably with his impressive tight angle finish against Derby, before fantastically setting up Robinson for Albion’s second goal on the final day of the season against QPR. His future remains uncertain, with Albion keen to snap him up again for next season but what we can all guarantee is this youngster will go right to the top!
Hal Robson-Kanu - 7.5
The Welshman has probably had the season of his career and netted 10 times over the course of the season. Was effective during the first part of the campaign, establishing himself as the number one choice striker with his good movement and clinical finishing factors to his success, with his second goal in the 3-0 win over Bristol City a prime example of it. After lockdown though, he wasn’t too impressive and struggled to add any substance up front but Robson-Kanu’s impressive tally across this season has for sure helped Albion get back to the Premier League.
Charlie Austin - 7
Austin was a purchase from Southampton in the summer where his experience would be needed, having scored so many goals throughout his career. He had to wait a while though in the season to be a regular starter, with the form of Hal Robson-Kanu keeping him out, but he got his chances, particularly post lockdown, taking the chances with goals over Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday. He was the Baggies top scorer on 11 goals, but I’m pretty sure most Albion fans would have expected more with the goal tally that he has had over his established career, and for him to scrape into double figures was a little underwhelming. Regardless, he was a key figure head in the dressing room and scored some crucial goals, with his brace at Blues coming to mind, as-well as dispatching some match winning penalties away against Preston and at home to Sheffield Wednesday which in the end would be the difference for promotion.
Kenneth Zohore - 6
The Baggies spent a big chunk of their budget on Zohore from Cardiff. Never really hit the ground running and rarely got a run of games. Scored a couple of important penalties early in the season against Reading and Derby, but he lacked confidence to really put his stamp on the number nine shirt. Was unlucky to not score at Brentford post lockdown, but he never got a look in since then. Will be surprised if he is at the club next season.
Kyle Edwards - 6.5
The youngster had so much faith put into him by Bilic but unfortunately, Edwards’s could not get into the team on a regular basis. Scored a couple of goals during the season against Nottingham Forest and Swansea City but didn’t fully unleash his potential during the campaign. Hopefully, he will be able to show his quality and maybe a loan move away will be beneficial for him. Certainly has a bright future and the faith shown by the gaffer is encouraging.
Callum Robinson - 7
Robinson was brought in on loan from Sheffield United in January to bolster the attacking options at the club for the second half of the season. Netted three times in his spell against Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and QPR with the crucial goal against Rangers earning Albion a point to get them back in the top flight. Was primarily used out wide but wasn’t as effective as he would have liked. Was moved to the central striker role at the end of the season and added much more energy and pace compared to the other striking options during Albion’s stuttering end to the campaign. Certainly added more to the table in January which was needed and I think most Baggies fans wouldn’t mind seeing him back in the blue and white stripes next season in the Premier League.