West Brom remain at the top of the Championship after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Hull City yesterday.
For once, the talented attacking players at Slaven Bilic’s disposal didn’t make the difference, with the Tigers actually coping reasonably well with the likes of Matheus Pereira, Grady Diangana and Matt Phillips.
Instead, it was a vicious strike from Jake Livermore that sealed Albion the points and ensured they stay above the rest in the second-tier.
Whilst the defensive midfielder deserves credit for his strong performances this season, there’s another unsung hero emerging at The Hawthorns – centre-back Kyle Bartley.
The former Swansea man failed to establish himself as a regular last season and many felt it was a matter of time before Ahmed Hegazi took his spot in the XI once he returned to full fitness. After all, the Egyptian has proven himself in the Premier League and was superb in the previous campaign.
However, he has been fit for some time now but Bartley’s performances alongside summer signing Semi Ajayi mean he simply can’t be dropped right now.
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He is a commanding figure at the back, with his physicality and strength ensuring that he is always capable of dealing with a big opposition striker.
Yet, he has improved many other aspects of his game under Bilic and is now more assured in possession and cutting out any lapses in concentration.
Of course, there are still some, and Albion’s lack of clean sheets on the whole show the defensive unit needs to make improvements, but Bartley held them together at times yesterday.
Hull boast a very strong attacking threat but they were limited to very few clear opportunities and the way Bartley marshalled the defence was impressive.
Not only does he do his own job without any fuss but he is regularly seen barking out orders to Ajayi and the full-backs, who are usually younger, more inexperienced players and that leadership can be invaluable to the manager moving forward.
The fact Hegazi is waiting to step in is also a positive because the 28-year-old knows his standards can’t afford to slip and that’s a great position for Bilic to be in.
It’s been a massive team effort from West Brom to get in this position after 16 games and whilst it’s not a surprise to see them leading the way, the fact Bartley is such an important figure in this XI may be a shock but he deserves full credit for the way he is playing.
Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.