Conor Gallagher’s early strike gave West Bromwich Albion a hard-fought first league victory of the season in a 1-0 win against a struggling Sheffield United side at the Hawthorns.
Both teams were winless coming into this encounter, yet this was a captivating match belying their lowly positions in the table, although the result could easily have been a different one, had it not been for the Blades’ alarming profligacy in front of goal.
In what was the first-ever Premier League meeting between the two sides, there was a minute’s applause ahead of kick-off as a pre-match tribute for football icon Diego Maradona, who passed away on Wednesday evening.
The match itself got off to a rapid start with less than a minute passed, when Oliver Burke was put through on goal for Sheffield United from Oliver McBurnie’s headed flick-on, but the former West Brom striker failed to make contact with the ball.
Two more chances for the Blades swiftly followed when John Fleck pulled a low shot wide from the edge of the box, before a powerful burst into the box and cut-back from Burke led to a great chance for George Baldock, but the right full-back’s close-range shot was blocked by Branislav Ivanovic.
The weather was ominously gloomy at the Hawthorns, with the dark evening sky and heavy rainfall arguably mirroring both teams’ miserable starts to the season.
Rather befittingly, Chris Wilder’s demeanour was visibly downcast, and the Blades boss was to be left glowering even more when West Brom went ahead against the run of play after thirteen minutes.
After Baggies forward Karlan Grant forced opposing keeper Aaron Ramsdale into making a good one-on-one save, Conor Gallagher put the home side in front from the resulting corner, hitting a low first-time strike from the edge of the box beyond Ramsdale’s reach, following a weak clearance from Sander Berge.
Gallagher’s goal meant Sheffield United remained the only team in the Premier League yet to keep a clean sheet this season, but the Blades responded well immediately when Oli Burke, who proved a constant menace against his former side prompted keeper Sam Johnstone into a tremendous reflex save from the Scotsman’s glancing header, after an excellent cross from Premier League debutant Kean Bryan.
Before the first half drew to a close, Ramsdale produced another superb one-on-one save from Grant, when a flick-on from a West Brom corner provided the forward with a chance six yards from goal, after which Baldock cleared the subsequent loose ball.
The home side started the second half in the ascendancy, with corners once again supplying their main goal threat, and skipper Kyle Bartley went close to doubling Albion’s lead when his firm header drew another fantastic save from Ramsdale, down to his right.
Matheus Pereira, West Brom’s creator-in-chief almost scored with a shrewdly dinked free-kick, if not for a vital McBurnie intervention in the wall, glancing the ball over the bar with his head.
The Blades did eventually regain control of the match, and magnificent play along their right-flank created a glorious opportunity for Baldock to finally level the game after he was teed up by Burke, but the right-back ballooned his shot over the bar.
Towards the latter stages, United continued to mount pressure on the Baggies’ backline, as Sam Johnstone twice denied McBurnie with two smart saves within two minutes.
West Brom did actually have a late chance to make certain of all three points, when substitute Hal Robson-Kanu’s sudden turn and shot had Ramsdale at full stretch low to his right to make another excellent save, crucially keeping his side in the game.
As seven minutes of stoppage time were added on, the Blades still held out hope of snatching a well-earned point in the Black Country, and club-record signing Rhian Brewster had a low long-range drive parried away by Johnstone in the 94th minute, who seemed imperious in the West Brom goal.
Yet, the England keeper would have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Lys Mousset, making his return from injury from the bench missed a gilt-edged opportunity to clinch an equaliser, somehow hooking the ball over the bar from three yards.
In what could already be termed perhaps as a quintessential relegation six-pointer, Slaven Bilic’s West Brom were the ones who clinched their first league win of the season, moving up to 17th with six points.
Meanwhile, a first league win of the season remains elusive for Chris Wilder’s men, who remain 20th with just a solitary point, despite their best efforts on the day.