What a difference a week makes in football! This time last week, Tony Pulis was receiving criticism for a seemingly negative approach to games so far this season. On Saturday, however, he got his tactics absolutely spot-on as a first-half goal from Saido Berahino saw us pick up a derby day victory at Villa Park.
Pulis made three changes to the side that had drawn in such an uninspiring fashion against Southampton last week. James Morrison, James McClean and Saido Berahino replacing Craig Gardener, Callum McManaman and Rickie Lambert in the starting line-up.
These changes saw the Albion team look far more balanced before a ball had even been kicked, with Morrison operating in the attacking midfield role from which he always seems to produce his best performances, while Berahino and McClean were operating further forward than our wingers in recent weeks and providing lone striker Salomon Rondon with plenty of support.
In stark contrast to last week, Albion started the game on the front foot and could have been ahead inside the first two minutes as Rondon forced a smart save from Brad Guzan with a glancing header from a brilliant Chris Brunt cross.
We were the better side for much of the first half, and Villa were unable to trouble a defence superbly marshalled by the outstanding Jonny Evans. Although Evans has only played twice so far, he already looks like an impressive signing who should only get better as he develops more of an understanding with his new team-mates.
Previous games against Villa have seen Fabian Delph run the show in midfield and Christian Benteke cause us countless problems with his pace and power up front, but there were no such problems this time.
The closest they came to forcing Boaz Myhill into action saw Carles Gil have a shot bravely blocked by Claudio Yacob after Gabriel Agbonlahor had managed to out-pace Gareth McAuley for the first and only time in the game.
We continued to play the better football in midfield though, with captain Darren Fletcher seeing a long-range effort pushed wide by Guzan.
Albion finally found the goal our first-half efforts had deserved six minutes before the break. A Morrison shot was deflected past Guzan by Berahino, sending the 2,800 supporters in the away end into raptures.
Berahino’s inclusion in the squad so soon after he claimed to never want to play for the club again has divided opinion amongst supporters, but scoring in a local derby and celebrating by Boinging in front of the Holte End will have gone a long way to building some bridges.
Tim Sherwood showed his tactical naivety at half-time, bringing on target man Rudy Gestede for former Albion loan signing Scott Sinclair. The long balls and crosses Villa started to aim towards Gestede simple enough to deal with for a back four who never really looked like conceding.
There were few chances in the second half, but Albion continued to control the game in midfield and always carried a threat on the break, twice shooting straight at Guzan after good build-up play.
The only opportunity for Villa came at the start of injury-time, as Gestede finally escaped the attentions of Evans and McAuley but could only guide his header from a Leandro Bacuna cross into the Holte End.
The final whistle was greeted with euphoric celebrations from supporters and players alike. Even Pulis seemed to enjoy the victory, as he made his way to the away end to celebrate with the travelling fans
This was exactly what Albion needed, both to hopefully really kick-start this season and move on from the two defeats at in the space of five days at Villa Park back in March.
We built on the solid defensive displays we have produced already this season, but added some incisive passing and pace on the break to our performance which meant that we always looked capable of causing an admittedly poor Villa side plenty of problems.
The whole team played their part in the victory, but Evans, Fletcher and Morrison were arguably the stand-outs in an excellent team display that saw us pick up our fourth clean sheet and second away win of the season.
The important thing now is to try and replicate this performance on a regular basis, starting at Norwich City in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday.
Have your say on Albin's victory here at Baggies Banter.