Fulham claimed their first Premier League victory of the season, and climbed above their opponents in the table, with a performance that shone only in bursts but was enough to deserve the three points.
A header on the end of a flowing move from Bobby Decordova-Reid, followed by a peach of a long-range effort from Ola Aina took Scott Parker’s men out of the relegation zone.
Outside a 20-minute purple patch the hosts may not have created much but they were well-organised, on their toes and showed glimpses of potential in a largely youthful side. For West Brom, it was the other side of the coin, sputtering talent combining with a lack of edge and increasingly, as the match wore on, the apparent shortage of a plan.
It was a fascinating contest, even if much of the match was essentially stodgy. Two newly-promoted sides, both looking to augment their resources from last season without ditching their greatest strengths. Two teams mixing a blend of forceful experience with youthful exuberance.
The visitors might have taken the lead in just the second minute had Grady Diangana done better with a Matheus Pereira cross. Less than 60 seconds later and a delivery from the other side deceived Alphonse Areola in the air and bounced back out off the inside of his left-hand post.
From then, the game sunk slightly back into mutual frustration, defence on top of attack, creative strategies not obviously forthcoming. That all changed in the 26th minute when Fulham opened the scoring with a sweeping move.
It began with a lofted one-two in the Fulham midfield, the ball played to André Frank Zambo Anguissa who spread play out left to Antonee Robinson. The left back, signed from Wigan this summer, lifted his cross to the obvious target, Aleksandar Mitrovic, at the back post. The Serb duly won his header, playing back across goal to Decordova-Reid who got the requisite power in his jump to nod the ball past Sam Johnstone.
It was a great goal and showed off some of the attributes that have been largely concealed in this Fulham side so far this season. Their second goal, arriving just four minutes later, was all about individual ability and that of Fulham’s other full-back, Aina. Another summer transfer – none of Fulham’s back five were on their books last season – the former Chelsea man and current Torino loanee had shown a willingness to get forward throughout.
This time, when the ball bobbled past his marker 30 yards from goal, Aina was off. He found Decordova-Reid, who quickly shuffled the ball to Mitrovic. Once again the No 9 did his job well, holding off his man and teeing up Aina to drive a perfect left-foot shot inside the far post.
West Brom had a chance to hit back with eight minutes remaining of the half, after Anguissa gave up the ball under pressure from Conor Gallagher. Karlan Grant, who scored his first goal for the club at Brighton last week, was the beneficiary of the turnover and had time and space to pick his spot up against Areola. The £15m signing got it all wrong, however, and his lofted shot flew well wide.
Fulham then crafted another good chance on the stroke of half-time when Tom Cairney was too quick for Conor Townsend. Spinning past the full-back before dashing down the touchline, he cut the ball back for Anguissa who had plenty of time to pick his spot but drilled a 20-yard effort into Johnstone’s midriff.
It turned out to be the biggest opening for a while as the second half settled back into its opening patterns. With every 10 minutes that passed Slaven Bilic would adjust something, dropping Pereira for Callum Robinson, later switching to a 4-4-2 with Robinson alongside Grant, and Matt Phillips coming on wide right. None of the tweaks changed the dynamic, however, with Anguissa, Cairney and centre-half Tosin Adarabioyo generally in control.
A lofted effort from Cairney nearly embarrassed West Brom further with five minutes remaining. Clearing a stranded Johnstone, Townsend was forced to scoop the ball off the line before Semi Ajayi blocked the follow-up shot from Decordova-Reid with his hand. VAR agreed with referee Simon Hooper that there was nothing sufficiently deceptive or unnatural about the defender’s appendage and a penalty was denied.