West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Birmingham City: Baggies go top despite being held by Blues in derby

West Brom captain Jake Livermore holds his head as the ball goes narrowly wide

West Bromwich Albion returned to action after 105 days of inactivity to get the point they needed to go back above Leeds United and top the Championship table.

But only managing to draw against local rivals Birmingham City in their first game back after the coronavirus pandemic may yet prove costly.

Despite having 21 attempts, Albion registered just one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes.

In fact, on-loan Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan twice went close to causing an even bigger upset for Blues late on, as he each time forced home keeper Sam Johnstone into saves.

But the Baggies’ failure to win at home for the 11th time in 19 home league games this season remains a real concern for boss Slaven Bilic.

The point against a badly weakened Blues side was enough to lift them back above morning leaders Leeds – but only on goal difference.

And Marcelo Bielsa’s side have a chance to return to the top themselves on Sunday lunchtime when they visit Cardiff City.

Albion now stand seven points clear of third-placed Fulham, who lost at home to Brentford, while Pep Clotet’s battle-hardened Blues, who have only lost seven of their 20 away games this term, move seven points clear of trouble at the bottom.

Having lost several out-of-contact players during the enforced three-and-a-half month break, Blues were further weakened by the loss of three injured players – Kristian Pedersen, Marc Roberts and Ivan Sunjic.

But they fought hard for their 12th Championship draw of the campaign to take into next Saturday’s home date with relegation-threatened Hull City. Albion are back in action a night earlier with a now crucial test at fourth-placed Brentford.

No fans, no fun in bore draw

Members of the ground staff disinfected the posts during the derby at The Hawthorns

When Blues entertained Albion at St Andrew’s just before Christmas, Bilic’s side twice came from behind to rouse the fans to win a five-goal thriller.

By contrast, in front of stark empty stands this time, just five miles up the road, as Championship football resumed following the coronavirus pandemic, the return fixture proved a total anti-climax, exemplifying just how important fans are to the game of football.

The first half was a pretty dreary affair, enlivened only by a far-post header which the game’s one shining light, Matheus Pereira, powered just wide.

It did not liven up that much after the break.

Teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham curled just over for Blues, before Pereira was then involved each time as Albion threatened twice more at the other end.

After his left-foot free-kick span nastily behind the Blues wall, forcing keeper Lee Camp to come off his line to make a brave save, Pereira then drilled a shot just wide.

But, aside from a bit more Baggies pressure in stoppage time, Blues could even have won it, only for Hogan to head straight at Johnstone before going even closer with a well-struck volley.

‘Missed opportunity’ for Albion – reaction

West Bromwich Albion head coach Slaven Bilic told BBC WM:

“I’m not happy. I’m disappointed with the result but the table looks better now. And there were a lot of positive things considering it was our first match back.

“Of course it was a missed opportunity. We deserved to win and but you have to be good enough in the final product.

“The number of shots and crosses we had were extremely high. But it comes down to sharpness. You need matches to get sharp. Everything else was there.”

On the lack of atmosphere:

“We knew what it was going to be like that so I don’t want to talk about that. It is forbidden to use those sort of excuses. It will be the same against Brentford.”

Birmingham City head coach Pep Clotet:

“As it’s the first game we’ve played after three months the last thing I wanted was an open game. But tactically the team was superb and we even had a couple of chances.

“In an open game, we would have given them too much advantage. West Brom had a lot of domination but both teams were as good as each other when it came to the final third.

“In the circumstances, we played the right game. Our mentality doesn’t change. I hope this is enough. I’m sure it’s going to be very crucial and we now have a game under our belt.”