West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Birmingham City: Baggies go top but miss chance to win
Jake Livermore looks crestfallen as he misses the chance to win the game for West Bromwich Albion. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

West Bromwich Albion went top of the Championship but missed a huge chance to beat local rivals Birmingham City at The Hawthorns.

A resolute Blues side defended well; Harlee Dean and Jake Clarke-Salter stood out in the centre whilst Maxime Colin dealt well with Callum Robinson and the returning Grady Diangana.

The Baggies' best chance came through Matt Phillips' close range volley, blocked by Dean, and despite dominating had very little to show from the performance.

This is Albion's third consecutive league game without a goal or win, though either side of a three-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The break allowed Ahmed Hegazi and Diangana the chance to overcome their injuries and get back into the matchday squad, but the latter only made the bench.

Defenders Mark Roberts and Christian Pedersen were unavailable for the visitors, though their absence had no impact at the back. Borussia Dortmund target Jude Bellingham made his 33rd appearance of the season, as their substitutes contained seven academy prospects.

The last two fixtures between these two were five-goal thrillers, this derby didn't quite have the same intensity. Matheus Pereira took on the first shot of the game in the 17th minute, firing across goal and wide from the left of the penalty area. Robinson's blocked shot a moment later was evidence of the hosts' authority, though the break had clearly taken the sharpness out of both sides.

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Bellingham weaved around two striped shirts before Scott Hogan had possession down the right, his square ball deflected wide for a corner. The Baggies managed to force a counter-attack but Romaine Sawyers' shot from the edge of the box was sliced well wide.

West Brom rounded out the half with a corner met to no avail by Robinson at the back post, as the whistle sounded on a first period dominated in possession by the hosts, as they reduced Birmingham to not a single shot, but had nothing to show for it.

Robinson's low cross ricocheted between two yellow shirts before it was cleared, as Albion continued to press forward after the interval. Dean then had to throw himself in front of Phillips' volley as the away side clung on.

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Bellingham found room to shoot from the edge of the box, the Blues' first of the contest, though his effort was high. Pereira fizzed in a troublesome but unsuccessful delivery to Livermore down the other end as the game grew into life.

Diangana came on at the hour mark having recovered from a hamstring injury, making his first appearance in six months since the reverse fixture between the two. Clarke-Salter was booked for a clumsy challenge on Hal Robson-Kanu shortly afterwards.

The subsequent free-kick, taken by Pereira, deflected off Birmingham's wall and into the path of the returning winger who attempted to scramble the ball over the line, but goalkeeper Lee Camp emerged from the melee victorious.

The game entered its final 20 minutes as Darnell Furlong's cross was nearly tapped home at the back post by Kyle Edwards, instead the substitute's sliding effort was hauled into the air and cleared. The 22-year-old then entered referee Darren Bond's notebook.

Kieran Gibbs embarked on a darting run to the by-line and found the ever-present Pereira with his square ball, but the hosts' talisman sliced wide on his left foot. Dan Crowley did the same with his right at the other end, as Sam Johnstone remained relatively unworked.

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Hogan headed Birmingham's best chance of the game into the welcoming arms of the Baggies' 'keeper, as Pereira left the field for Kenneth Zohore, Slaven Bilic's final throw of the dice as West Brom chased all three points.

A stoppage time free-kick provided Albion with their final chance to break the deadlock, Filip Krovinovic's curling effort deflected behind. A succession of corners eventually resulted in Diangana's shot from range which Camp easily gathered as Bond blew the whistle on a missed opportunity for the hosts.

What does this mean?

Two lacklustre league performances against Wigan Athletic and Swansea City meant that the break came at an important time for West Brom, who are challenging for a record fifth promotion to the Premier League.

However, despite the dominance, this showing displayed more of the same. Like the 0-0 draw with the Swans, Albion were on top in possession and chances but couldn't make anything count, even the re-introduction of Diangana to the squad couldn't help them find the net.

This result lifts pressure on Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United to get three points against Cardiff City on Sunday, but it does open up the automatic promotion hunt to a new contender, Brentford, who beat fellow play-off side Fulham earlier in the day.

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As for Birmingham, they continue to frustrate the big sides, having also taken points from Bristol City and Nottingham Forest in their last nine.

The stats that matter

As mentioned, the Baggies have now gone three games without scoring, worrying form for a side in the top two with three sides beginning to breathe down their neck. 

Despite this, the performance was certainly encouraging. 67% possession showed that they can give themselves the time to create and convert opportunities, but it's all about execution. 21 shots with no end product is disappointing.

Their defence do their work whilst the offence try to get the all-important goal, zero shots for the visitors in the first half proved just that and even a much improved second half performance from Birmingham provided no clear-cut chances that worried Johnstone.

What next?

West Brom travel on Friday night for one of the final matches at Griffin Park to take on play-off chasing Brentford. A win for the hosts is imperative and would cut the gap to five points, blowing the promotion race wide open. A victory for West Brom, on the other hand, would give them a giant leap towards the Premier League, with closest challengers Fulham next facing second-placed Leeds.

Birmingham host struggling Hull City, who are staring relegation in the face after a poor home defeat to survival rivals Charlton Athletic.

Man of the Match - Harlee Dean

The former Brentford defender put in a true captain's performance at The Hawthorns. His long throws caused a different type of threat for the Baggies defence and despite the continued assault from the hosts' pace at the front, he led by example to keep them at bay.

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WBA: Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Hegazi, Gibbs, Sawyers, Livermore (Krovinovic, 85), Phillips (Diangana, 60), Pereira (Zohore, 85), Robinson (Edwards, 60), Robson-Kanu (Austin, 71).

Subs not used: Bond, O'Shea, Bartley, Harper, Austin.

Yellow Cards: Edwards (76).

Birmingham: Camp, Colin, Clarke-Salter, Dean, Harding, Bellingham (Bela, 70), Kieftenbeld, G Gardner, Crowley (Boyd-Munce 90+1), Hogan, Jutkiewicz.

Subs not used: Trueman, Bajrami, Burke, Stirk, Concannon, Reid, Gordon.

Yellow Cards: Clarke-Salter (65).

Referee: Darren Bond.