Albion 0, Liverpool 1

If you need evidence of Albion's improvement, look no further than their results against Liverpool.

The aggregate was 9-1 last season. A 4-0 defeat at Anfield came on the final day, shortly after safety had been sealed, but a 5-1 hammering at the Amex was in the guts of the survival bid in December.

This season a better Liverpool, the version now seven points clear again of Manchester City at the summit, have needed a Mo Salah goal in both games to foil Chris Hughton's side.

And a bit of help on both occasions from the unfortunate Pascal Gross to secure those victories.

Jurgen Klopp (below left) observed that Liverpool produced their most mature performance of the season to put their title challenge firmly back on track after losing to nearest pursuers Manchester City and at Wolves with a much-changed team in the FA Cup.

The Argus: Albion are maturing too, as the progression in the scale of the defeats by Klopp's team demonstrate.

Hughton said: "Yes. It has to be (a sign of improvement). I think the fact we've come away from the game disappointed we didn't get a result - and of course a draw against these is very much a result.

"That has been determined by a penalty, which I have no problems with. That shows just how close we ran them."

Barring one moment, when Gross was left exposed inside his own box one-on-one with Salah, Hughton's game plan worked.

The recent move to a 4-3-3 became very much a 4-5-1 when Liverpool had the ball - which was most of the time - and Albion did not try to press too high up the pitch.

That would have left them vulnerable to the kind of counter thrust Spurs profited from in their also narrow victory at the Amex.

Nobody is better in that sphere of the game than Liverpool, so Hughton was entitled to be satisfied with the performance and the way his players carried out the instructions.

"Yes and for what ever anybody thinks we are playing the best team in the country at the moment," he said. "There is no other way to play against them.

"If you think you can take them on at their game, you might be successful one in 20 times.

"I thought we got it right. It was a great response and discipline from the team. I couldn't ask any more from them for what they were prepared to put in. It was one moment really that changed the game."

That is all that high-class teams require to get the job done. Liverpool will have many more fluid and impressive wins, but this hard-earned one was huge in the context of their title ambitions.

Hughton said: "The reason why they win so many games is because whatever the circumstances, whether it's a team that's open or a team that sits back - and I think we didn't, we broke and broke, you'll get teams that will play five at the back and certainly be far more defensive than us - they generally find a way to break them down."

There are not many opponents that will limit Liverpool and their revered front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to the extent that Albion managed.

David Button did not have to perform heroics to keep the score down, just a couple of fairly routine saves.

Klopp had even more attacking armoury than usual, with Xherdan Shaqiri for James Milner one of the two changes to the line-up beaten for the first time this season by City.

Shaqiri was a peripheral figure apart from a first half header just wide. It would have been an irony if Albion had been undone in the air by the smallest player on the pitch.

The Argus: In In August at Anfield Gross came off the bench and had a late header saved by Alisson when he really should have scored (above).

Gross does his best work in the opponent's final third, not his own. So when he found himself isolated in the left-back area against Salah, danger lurked.

The Egyptian twisted and turned, Gross grabbed his right shoulder and the damage was done. There were plenty of complaints from the crowd - and Hughton - about some of referee Kevin Friend's more innocuous decisions, none about the one that really mattered (below).

The Argus: Salah's decisive penalty raised his season's tally to 17, shoddy by the standards of last season's astonishing 44-goal haul. He has also now scored in each of the last three meetings with Albion.

They never really looked like stretching the sequence of scoring in the previous 13 league matches at the Amex, before or after Liverpool's breakthrough.

Gross tried to cushion a header to a colleague instead of taking responsibility himself at the far post. He also had a side-footed effort blocked by Fabinho, adjusting comfortably from midfield to the centre of the defence alongside the imperious Virgil van Dijk due to injuries.

Salah missed a sitter from seven yards from substitute Milner's cut-back but a more convincing margin would have flattered Liverpool.

If you were being really picky you would point to Albion scoring nine goals from open play - only Huddersfield have a lower total - rather than rejoicing at the way they have turned last season's bad habit of conceding from set pieces into their greatest strength.

Opportunities to improve on that open play statistic abound at the Amex against Watford, Burnley, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Southampton, Bournemouth and Newcastle, after the misfortune of visiting Manchester United when they have been rejuvenated by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.