West Bromwich Albion moved back to within a point of Championship leaders Leeds and restored their five-point cushion over the play-off pack as they finally saw off Hull City in a stunning game of six goals.
Albion were twice pegged back by equalisers from relegation-threatened Hull, who were kept out of the bottom three only thanks to Middlesbrough’s home defeat by QPR.
But the quality of their football shone through after top scorer Charlie Austin had given them an early lead on his 31st birthday.
Although former Liverpool youngster Kevin Stewart levelled on 24 minutes, Albion defender Ahmed Hegazi headed his first goal since November 2018 to put the Baggies back in front before the break.
Mallik Wilks headed in Hull’s second equaliser three minutes after the restart but this time the Tigers stayed on level terms for less than 60 seconds.
Almost straight from the restart, Hull old boy Kamil Grosicki, on his full Baggies debut, cashed in on Matheus Pereira’s third assist of the day to score.
And the points were beautifully wrapped up on 76 minutes by Grady Diangana, just four minutes after coming on as a substitute.
The West Ham loan man cut in with a parallel run along the edge of the box from the right before finishing with a neat low left-foot Mohamed Salah-style shot to wrongfoot Hull keeper George Long and steer the ball just inside his left post.
Albion finished the game with 10 men after Hegazi was shown a second yellow card in stoppage time for a poor foul on Wilks.
Baggies have it to lose now
Albion’s fate now remains very much in their own hands if they are to go one better than last season when they narrowly lost to Aston Villa in the play-offs.
Three of Slaven Bilic’s Baggies’ last five games are at home, the next two of which are against play-off chasing Derby (8 July ) and Fulham (14 July).
And the Championship’s second top scorers – only Brentford (73) have netted more than their 71 in 41 games – still look like they have a lot more goals in them, with their threat coming from all over the park.
With both Hegazi and Grosicki getting on the scoresheet, Albion have now had 20 different scorers this season – one more than last year, but two short of the record at this level, 22 by Ian Holloway’s Blackpool in 2011-12.
They were one up inside four minutes when Austin chested down Pereira’s deflected cross and bravely hooked in from 10 yards past the fast approaching Long for his 10th league goal of the campaign, and a second in as many games.
But Hegazi’s powerful header from Pereira’s corner, Grosicki’s cool curled finish and Diangana’s pick of the bunch hinted at more to come.
Tigers far from shabby
Having been seemingly in freefall prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Hull looked doomed when they returned to action on 20 June and lost to one of their main rivals Charlton.
But a 3-3 draw at Birmingham and a late midweek win over Middlesbrough had raised hopes.
And, although they this time did not get an equal share of another six-goal game on their second visit to the West Midlands in eight days, Grant McCann’s men did not perform badly, playing their part in a really good game worthy of having a crowd to watch it.
They had the character to twice come back, first when home keeper Sam Johnstone, baulked by several bodies, could only get a palm to a corner, and Stewart muscled his way past Grosicki to blast a low right-foot shot which deflected in off Austin.
Then Wilks headed Hull level for a second time – his second goal in four days. But Albion’s instant response quickly shut the door, and it always looked a home victory from that moment on, until Diangana’s strike settled it.
Hull are next in action on Wednesday against managerless Bristol City at Ashton Gate.