It could be argued that for the rest of the Championship, sat back and watching this game tonight, the nature of West Brom’s win to end Preston’s unbeaten home league record this season will mean there is already some sense of inevitability about the Baggies’ march back to the Premier League.
Having squandered a number of opportunities throughout the course of the first half, Slaven Bilic’s side then spent much of the second half struggling to make a breakthrough, while watching Preston go agonisingly close to their own, only for Charlie Austin to step forward with a contentious last-minute penalty to make it five wins in a row for the Baggies, sending them back to the top of the Championship.
It seems therefore, as though the Baggoes are just continuing to find ways to pick those all important clusters of three points this season, with this latest set, leaving Preston’s own hopes of promotion facing real questions for the first time this season, following a run of three straight defeats.
Injuries to the likes of Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer and Darnell Fisher had forced North End manager Alex Neil to field what looked like a somewhat second-string defence, meaning they will have been relieved to come up against a West Brom attack, that, to begin with at least, looked uncharacteristically goal-shy.
After an opening 20 minutes where, a couple of promising runs into the North End area from Grady Diangana aside, neither team was able to fashion any clear cut chances, the opportunities did start to come the way of the Baggies.
Hal Robson-Kanu failed to get his effort on target after a cross into the area from Matt Phillips came at him at an awkward height, before the latter of the two curled an effort from the edge of the area just wide, while also seeing his free-kick narrowly turned wide by an unmarked Kyle Bartley at the back post.
For their part, North End would go close on a couple of occasions, Daniel Johnson seeing an effort charged down on the edge of the area by two West Brom men, while Sean Maguire forced Baggies ‘keeper Sam Johnstone to parry away with an effort from the byline.
It was however, Declan Rudd in the goal at the other end that had to be the more alert of the two numbers ones, tipping over a Nathan Ferguson effort after a brilliant run from just inside his own half from the young right-back, before parrying a low effort from Phillips behind as the half drew to a close, more and more surprisingly, without a West Brom goal.
Much like the first half, it would be a slow start to the second half, with plenty of pressure not backed up by any significant chances for either side in the first quarter of an hour, and when the chances started to come, this time they would be going Preston’s way.
After some lovely footwork by Maguire deep in West Brom territory, the Irishman teed up North End top scorer Daniel Johnson, whose bouncing effort was brilliantly tipped by the post by Johnstone, although the danger was not over yet for Slaven Bilic’s side.
With the Baggies defence struggling to clear the resulting corner, the ball was worked back to set-piece taker Alan Browne, but with the North End skipper for the night set to smash home, Ferguson once again showed why he is attracting such admiring glances from elsewhere, coming up with a last-ditch clearance to deny the hosts the lead, with Jayden Stockley then heading the subsequent second corner over the bar from inside the six-yard box as Preston continued to threaten.
It would be Browne who would once again play a pivotal role as Preston again went close moments later, with the stand-in right-back’s inviting cross to the back post narrowly evading the head of Brad Potts, who may have been able to tap in had he reached that delivery.
For a time after that, the chances would dry up for both sides, before, in the final minute of normal time, this promotion race would take what will surely go down at the end of the season as another dramatic twist, as Kyle Edwards, whose introduction for the influential Phillips had seemed unexpected at time, broke into the Preston area, before being going down under seemingly miminmal contact from a sliding Rudd, giving referee Oliver Langford a decision to make, which he duly did by pointing to the spot.
Up stepped another Baggies substitute, Charlie Austin, to cooly send the hapless Preston ‘keeper the wrong way, and send West Brom, back to the top of the Championship table in dramatic circumstances.