West Brom moved one step closer to automatic promotion to the Premier League with a goalless draw against Fulham on Tuesday afternoon.
In a largely uneventful match, Fulham’s Anthony Knockaert came closest to opening the scoring, rattling the crossbar with a half-volley from long range. However, it was the team’s two defences that were on top for the majority.
Although the draw means Brentford can move to within just a point of West Brom with a win over Preston on Wednesday, it also means the Baggies still have control of their own destiny heading to the final two matches. Do their bit and they’re up. For Fulham, it’ll now take a Herculean effort to avoid the playoffs, sitting five points adrift of second place with two games to go.
As always, there were winners and losers from the match, so who were they?
Winner: Ahmed Hegazi
Okay, so this wasn’t the result West Brom wanted and as a consequence of their Tuesday stalemate, Brentford now have the chance to close the gap between the two sides when they host Preston on Wednesday. However, it could have been a whole lot worse for the Baggies if not for the efforts of centre-back Ahmed Hegazi.
The Egypt international put in a stellar defensive performance on Tuesday, often proving to be the last blockade between Fulham attacks and the back of the West Brom net.
Hegazi won three aerial duels and made a whopping seven clearances throughout the 90 minutes while, time and again, his brilliant positioning and reading of the game allowed him to cut out crosses just as they looked destined for an onrushing Fulham attacker.
Without some of Hegazi’s vital interventions, West Brom likely would have lost this match and been facing dropping out of the automatic promotion spots on Wednesday.
Loser: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Not only is there a serious promotion race hotting up, but we’re also witnessing a fascinating battle for the Championship Golden Boot as we head into the final few games.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Brentford’s Ollie Watkins were locked on 24 goals, four ahead of their nearest rival, Lewis Grabban.
Thanks largely, as mentioned, to the efforts of Hegazi, Mitrovic was mostly kept silent throughout the match at the Hawthorns and despite scoring in Fulham’s 2-0 win over Cardiff four days prior, the Serbian has now drawn a blank in five of his last six games.
Brentford play Preston on Wednesday and given that North End are one of the leakier sides chasing a playoff spot — having conceded 52 goals so far this season — you can bet Watkins will be licking his lips at the prospect of leapfrogging Mitrovic.
Winner: Leeds United
After 16 long years of hurt, Leeds United are now so, so close to promotion back to the Premier League.
With this draw, the Whites are now seven points clear of Fulham with two games to go and, thus, Marcelo Bielsa’s men have one less team to worry about.
Sure, there’s still every chance West Brom could overtake them at the top of the table, but if Brentford lose on Wednesday, it’ll leave Leeds needing just one point from their final two games to seal their place at the top table of English football once again.
Loser: Anthony Knockaert
Oh, how close Anthony Knockaert came to truly igniting Fulham’s automatic promotion hopes.
With 73 minutes on the clock, Fulham launched a long ball forward in the direction of Mitrovic and when the giant Serbian won his aerial duel and knocked the ball down, there was Knockaert to stylishly take the ball down and fire the ball toward goal.
With West Brom ‘keeper Sam Johnstone beaten, it looked for all the world like Fulham had the lead, with Knockaert’s teammates holding their breath in anticipation of celebrating a huge goal. Instead, the ball rattled back off the crossbar and with that, a 0-0 draw seemed all the more inevitable.
Fulham are now five points behind West Brom with just two games remaining, so it’s really difficult to see them avoiding the lottery of the playoffs now.
Loser: Ivan Cavaleiro
No injury is ideal but for a player with the pace of Ivan Cavaleiro, a hamstring injury is perhaps one of the worst you can pick up.
The ex-Wolves wideman unfortunately succumb to this here, pulling up lame shortly before half-time and being forced off the pitch to be replaced by Neeskens Kebano.
With a playoff campaign to come, Scott Parker will be desperate to have his most influential players available, so it’ll now be an anxious wait to see just how seriously damaged Cavaleiro is.
West Brom’s remaining fixtures:
- Huddersfield Town (A)
- QPR (H)
Fulham’s remaining fixtures:
- Sheffield Wednesday (H)
- Wigan Athletic (A)