As we prepare to head into a tough run of fixtures against sides near the top of the table, this surprisingly comfortable 1-0 victory at Norwich could prove to be crucial as we look to continue to move clear of the relegation zone and into mid-table.
Unsurprisingly, Tony Pulis named an unchanged side from the victory against Sunderland last week. This meant that Stephane Sessegnon deservedly started on the right wing after an impressive display against his former club, with Saido Berahino once again partnering Salomon Rondon up front.
Although the performance against Sunderland had not been brilliant, there is no doubt that this is our most balanced side while James Morrison is out injured, especially with Berahino showing himself to be more than capable of dropping deep and playing just behind Rondon as the game progressed.
Having suffered such a heavy defeat at Newcastle last week, it was no surprise that Norwich started the game brightly, with Nathan Redmond and Matt Jarvis targeting our full-backs early on.
The pace of Jarvis in particular was causing Craig Dawson plenty of problems, with Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans having to be alert to clear several crosses during the opening stages.
On the rare occasions Norwich did breach our defence, they saw Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani denied by Boaz Myhill, with the former also putting a left-wing cross over the bar from close range.
There were concerns among some Albion supporters at this stage that we were going to see a similar result to our last away game at Crystal Palace, where we set up to draw 0-0 before eventually conceding twice in the second half to lose comfortably.
Fortunately, after weathering the early storm, we began to see more of the ball and test a Norwich defence that had conceded more goals than any other in the Premier League heading into the game.
Chris Brunt saw two long-range efforts saved by John Ruddy in the hosts’ goal, with the impressive James McClean also becoming more involved down the left as the half progressed.
We then missed two excellent opportunities to head into half-time with the lead, as Dawson somehow sent a header from just a few yards out over the bar, before Rondon did the same with a powerful header from a superb Brunt cross.
Rondon almost immediately made amends for his missed opportunity just before the break, as he gave Albion the lead within a minute of the restart with a powerful close-range header from an excellent McClean cross from the left.
Taking the lead appeared to give the whole team confidence, as we played some of our best football of the season. Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob used the ball well in midfield, while Sessegnon and McClean always looked capable of causing the Norwich defence problems when they got on the ball out wide.
The energy of the attack-minded players to press the Norwich back four whenever they got the ball forced the hosts into a number of aimless long balls forward, which our defence dealt with comfortably.
We were then unfortunate to not double our lead, as Brunt cut inside from the left and saw a fine right-foot effort from the edge of the area well saved by Ruddy.
Norwich saw more of the ball during the last 20 minutes and forced a number of corners, but were unable to test Myhill as we held on relatively comfortably to record back-to-back league wins for the first time since last September and pick up our sixth clean sheet from ten league games this season.
After a difficult first half an hour or so, this was arguably one of our best performances of the season. Although we didn’t control the entire game as we did during our 1-0 win at Aston Villa, we used the ball well and saw the game out comfortably against a Norwich side with plenty of dangerous attacking players.
The style of football we play under Pulis has caused plenty of debate amongst Albion supporters in recent weeks, but even his harshest critics will surely acknowledge that this result and the performance to go with it was impressive.
There were still occasions early on where we seemed to want to play the long ball rather than attempt a more entertaining style of football, but some of the football we played during the second half in particular was very impressive and gives plenty of cause for optimism moving forward.
The key now is to build on another impressive defensive display and one of our better attacking performances so far this season as we head into a tough run of games, starting on Saturday when Leicester City visit the Hawthorns.