West Brom have lift-off at last. Conor Gallagher’s long-range goal gave Slaven Bilic’s men their first Premier League win since promotion from the Championship and hauled them out of the relegation zone, albeit having played more matches than Burnley and Fulham. Sheffield United, meanwhile, remain anchored to the bottom, with no wins and one solitary point after 10 matches.
Chris Wilder’s men tried everything to break their duck here but were undermined by low confidence and weak finishing. Again.
The floodlights shone on full beam but the Hawthorns seldom seemed so spooky, cloaked in mist, denuded of fans, animated by players who knew that failure to win could have uniquely baleful consequences. And before kick-off the visitors’ team sheet may have sent a chill up the spines of anyone with the Blades in their heart. Because Wilder, who enjoyed such stability with his selections last season, was forced to make yet more changes to his lineup, the most risky one being to draft Kean Bryan, rather than Jack Robinson, into central defence after Ethan Ampadu and Enda Stevens were incapacitated by injuries.
It was the 24-year-old’s first league appearance for United since joining on a free from Oldham in 2018. Having spent the second part of last season on loan at Bolton, he was tasked here with filling the void that has been apparent in the United side since Jack O’Connell’s injury in September and which none of Robinson, Ampadu and Stevens had been able to plug completely in recent weeks. This was an unexpected twist in the life of Bryan and added another element of intrigue to a duel laden with tension.
Although West Brom began two points above the visitors and with a relatively settled team, the hosts looked the more jittery early on as United started with impressive gusto. That said, Ollie Burke should have opened the scoring in the first minute but failed to connect properly with a shot after being sent clean through by a flick-on from Oli McBurnie. Then John Fleck dragged a shot wide from the edge of the area after United cut through again. As United spent the first five minutes reaching for their opponents’ jugular, George Baldock and Oliver Norwood both had dangerous shots blocked.
West Brom did not threaten until Karlan Grant beat Bryan to a pass over the top and forced a save from Aaron Ramsdale. From the resultant corner West Brom made the breakthrough, Gallagher firing low into the net through a thicket of bodies from 20 yards.
Bryan played the overlapping centre-back role well three minutes later, hurtling down the left and curling over a cross that Burke nodded towards goal. Sam Johnstone tipped it over the bar.
West Brom took control of midfield as the first half progressed. Matheus Pereira wielded more influence. He tested United with a series of shots, caused moments of mayhem with some runs down the left, and delivered corners that regularly troubled the visitors. United became bitty, their early conviction drained.
West Brom were more sure of themselves. They nearly doubled their lead early in the second half but Ramsdale did well to divert a powerful header by Kyle Bartley over the bar. Soon Wilder tried Plan B, introducing Rhian Brewster and John Lundstram for Norwood and Bryan as he shifted to a 4-3-3. They improved. Except at the sharp end. The manager said before the game that part of the story of this season for his team has been “missing big chances at crucial moments”. That sorry tale continued as Baldock shanked the ball over the bar from eight yards after smart service by Burke. In the 69th minute Baldock turned provider, crossing for Brewster, whose header was deflected over. United attacked in waves but could not find a cutting finish, with McBurnie leaving a shot too close to Johnstone after being teed up to equalise. Deep into stoppage time Lys Mousset missed the best chance, somehow lifting the bouncing ball over the bar from three yards.