West Bromwich Albion have five more hurdles to overcome if they are to seal a return to the Premier League but Slaven Bilic will hope they do not make life as difficult as they did here in their quest to get over the line.
Some slapstick defending ensured six goals and chances aplenty in a preposterously open and ill-tempered game, with Ahmed Hegazi sent off late on. Hull City, fighting for their lives at the other end of the table, were not out of this frenetic occasion until the substitute Grady Diangana completed the scoring 15 minutes from time after goals by Charlie Austin, Hegazi and Kamil Grosicki.
Middlesbrough’s defeat at home to Queens Park Rangers meant Hull would remain above the relegation zone regardless of result and goals from Kevin Stewart and Mallik Wilks had hauled them level in a topsy-turvy match. But Diangana stepped off the bench to clinically open up a two-goal cushion and restore West Brom’s five-point buffer to third-placed Brentford, who were breathing down their necks after chalking up five successive victories.
Before kick-off a montage of motivational messages courtesy of supporters from Sacramento to Kings Heath, a suburb of Birmingham, played out on the big screens but it was the craft of a Brazilian by the name of Matheus Pereira who proved the catalyst for West Brom with a hat-trick of assists. For the first goal Austin benefited from a slice of good fortune, with Stewart dangling a leg at Pereira’s arrowed cross and inadvertently deflecting the ball into the path of the striker, who was grateful of the gift on his 31st birthday.
Bilic threw his hands up in the air in exasperation throughout, none more so than when Wilks headed in two-and-a-half minutes after the break to equalise for the second time after Hegazi powered home a Pereira corner. West Brom wasted a flurry of chances towards the end of the first half to put the game out of sight but Grosicki, who arrived from Hull in January, slotted in a third after a delicious through ball by Pereira, who was primed to get on the scoresheet himself but Jordy de Wijs, the Hull captain, to superbly deny the winger.
Only bottom club Luton have conceded more goals than Hull and it was abundantly clear why here, but West Brom were also frail defensively. Sam Johnstone, the West Brom goalkeeper, superbly denied Jon Toral with a fingertip save, while Wilks’s pace and trickery caused an unconvincing West Brom defence problems. “This cannot happen anymore,” fumed Kyle Bartley, the West Brom captain, as Hull poured forward with promise and the chances kept coming for the visitors until Diangana’s cool finish calmed the nerves