City’s seven-match unbeaten run came to an abrupt end at a rain-soaked Hawthorns as we were taught a harsh lesson by a rampant West Brom side.
Johnson debatably choose to bring back Jamie McCombe into a 3-5-2 formation with Cole Skuse once again asked to fill the void out on the right. Alvaro Saborio was the one man to make way with Danny Haynes partnering Nicky Maynard in attack.
The Robins started brightly in the slippery conditions and should have opened the scoring on 2 minutes.
Paul Hartley sent Maynard scampering away before squaring it to Skuse who saw his goalbound effort blocked on the line by Zuiverloon with Scott Carson out of the picture.
From the resulting break, Jerome Thomas strode down the left wing, weaving his way towards the box before firing into the bottom left-hand corner, beating Gerken down at his near post (3).
Considering the Baggies are yet to lose after taking the lead in the league this season, the writing was on the wall from the start.
Saying that, McCombe responded by working Carson with a glanced header from a McAllister free-kick before Albion banged in a second on 12 minutes.
Left-back Joe Mattock long pass was expertly brought down by Chris Brunt before skipping around Dean Gerken and slotting home to double the advantage.
City’s initial 3-5-2 was subsequently scuppered by an injury to Jamie McAllister, who made way for Gavin Williams as Johnson switched to a 4-4-2> Lewin Nyatanga and Evander Sno were asked to man the left. More sqaure pegs in round holes.
Maynard warmed Carson’s gloves with a long range effort ten minutes later before Graham Dorrans shot wide from Brunt’s pass when well placed.
City’s best effort of the first half came just before the break when Sno’s shot was blocked by Chilean international Gonzalo Jara.
We expected a Johnson ‘hand grenade’ at the break but clearly the players are immune to this after four years as the Baggies made it three immediately after the interval.
Zuiverloon’s right-hand delivery found Simon Cox in space, who’s lifted a cross-shot over Gerken and towards goal. Louis Carey tried in vain to clear it to safety only to slice it into his own net on 47.
Some 50 seconds later, the lively Cox got the goal his play deserved when he stabbed home sub Marek Cech’s left wing cross (48).
The former Swindon man should have made it five following another impressive Zuiverloon pass only for Gerken to come to the rescue, not for the first time this season.
Danny Haynes had a great chance for a consolation when racing clear of the Albion defence only to shank his shot wide on 65.
Carson tipped over Paul Hartley’s 25-yard free-kick before the game’s moment of brilliance came in the dying stages.
Paul Hartley took aim with a free-kick from fully 30-yards and thumped his swerving strike into the top right-hand corner on 82 to complete a repeat of the scoreline the last time the two teams met on Boxing Day 2007.
WEST BROM 4-4-2: Carson, Zuiverloon, Olsson, Meite, Mattock (Cech 29), Brunt, Dorrans (Mulumbu 57), Jara, Thomas, Cox (Koren 78), Moore.
CITY 3-5-2: Gerken, Nyatanga, Carey, McCombe, McAllister (Williams 16), Hartley, Sno (Johnson 78), Elliott (Clarkson 78), Skuse, Haynes, Maynard.
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
Dean Gerken 7
Made several good stops to keep the score ‘down’, if that’s possible after conceding four but was exposed by a pourus defence.
Cole Skuse 6
Asked to man two different positions but was solid if not unspectacular. Needs to be in central midfield.
Jamie McAllister 5
Forced off after 12 minutes and we were already 2-0 down.
Lewin Nyatanga 4
Started bad and got worse when he moved to left-back after McAllister’s injury. Not a robust as he usually is in the centre.
Jamie McCombe 5
Threat on occasions going forward but yet again was clearly exposed when we switched to a 4-4-2. Not good enough for this level, let alone the class of the opposition.
Louis Carey 5
Had a miserable day compounded by the woeful OG. Couldn’t marshall the backline as well as he can do.
Marvin Elliott 4
A shadow of the player he was when he first joined. Wasted a great free header at 0-2 and his passing is Joe Burnell quality at the momrnt. Doesn’t look as strong defensively either. Overrun in midfield and subbed late on.
Paul Hartley 6
Great goal and set us moving forward from midfield but couldn’t stop them running through us.
Evander Sno 6
Another one who struggled to get into the game when played out of position on the left wing after 12 minutes. When will we learn to build a team around him in the CENTRE?!
Nicky Maynard 5
Had precious little service all afternoon and was pretty well marshalled. Wasted a couple of opportunities and could have done more.
Danny Haynes 7
Just beat the overworked Gerken for today’s MOTM for his direct running and general nuisance to the Albion backline. Pacey and hardworking. Looked our most likely and fluffed a good one on one near the end.
Gavin Williams 5
Worked hard bu didn’t really have an impact on the game like he would’ve like to after being given the majority of the game to impress.
Lee Johnson 6
Looked tidy enough and a good break past the ball brought a good save from their keeper. Put a couple of decent challenges in as well.
Got caught offside a few times and did nothing else of note.
GARY JOHNSON – 6/10
Got the formation wrong. Got the selection wrong. Set us up to be far too open. Needs to learn his best side, best shape and when to going for the jugular and when not to.
We needed to be resolute and hard to beat out there today but were cut open with ease.
ROBERT Di MATTEO 8/10
Very impressed by the Italian. Had a team packed full of international’s to call upon but still had the tactical nous to kill us early on in both halves to win the game.
They are the best team I’ve seen so far this season by a mile and they will win the league, barring disaster.
Beaten By The Best
We were torn apart today by another very good Baggies team.
Johnson keeps chirping on about us being top-two material this year but the reality is we were really shown what the benchmark is in this league today. Conditions didn’t help us but we were lucky it wasn’t a cricket score.