Roberto De Zerbi promised that Albion fans would see the best of his side on Saturday and how right he was as Palace were put to the sword at fortress Amex.
The Italian would have watched with some pride as his players produce the perfect response to the midweek loss to Luton and enjoy the biggest win over their old rivals since a 5-0 drubbing in 1956.
Lewis Dunk set the tone with a close-range header after three minutes before two goals in two minutes by a couple of teenagers – Jack Hinshelwood and Facundo Buonanotte – made it 3-0 at the break.
Jean-Phillipe Mateta pulled one back but Albion saved the best until last when brilliant link-up play by Danny Welbeck set up Joao for his 19th goal of the season and Albion were back up to seventh in the Premier League table.
The start Albion craved came with just 2 mins 25 secs on the clock and was straight off the training ground. Four players in a row peeled off when Pascal Gross swung in a corner from the left with Igor heading to the near post and leaving Dunk almost unmarked as he nodded the ball past Dean Henderson from a couple of yards out for his third goal of the season and first since October 8. Credit too to Tariq Lamptey whose storming run down the wing won the corner.
Joao thought he was in when Palace gave up possession and Joachim Anderson handled the ball as he fell. But referee Simon Hooper waved play on and then booked De Zerbi for his protests to the fourth official.
Marc Guehi followed him into the notebook for grabbing Evan Ferguson’s shirt as Albion controlled the first quarter. Another good chance after 23 minutes came when Joao picked out Buonanotte’s late run in the box but the Argentinian’s header was straight at Dean Henderson.
Palace suffered a blow when skipper Mark Guehi limped off but their afternoon was to get even worse as Albion struck twice in two minutes. Joao and Gross had shots blocked and when the ball was funnelled out to Lamptey his deep cross from the left found Hinshelwood, whose header back across goal was perfectly placed inside the far post.
Palace restarted and Gross won the ball back. In a flash he and Joao combined and the Brazilian’s touch opened up space 12 yards out for Buonanotte to curl a left-foot shot into the top corner for his third goal of the season. The Amex erupted and a delirious De Zerbi hared down the touchline before being embraced by Albion fans.
Palace were stunned but it needed a smart save by Verbruggen to stop them getting a goal back after a rare mistake by his fellow Dutchman Jan Paul van Hecke let in Jeffrey Schlupp, whose shot was kept out by Verbruggen’s strong left hand.
Palace brought on Michael Olise at the break but he went off nine minutes into the second time. Albion had resumed in control with Gross and Gilmour both seeing shots charged down.
Evan Ferguson put in a terrific shift and got a deserved standing ovation when Welbeck replaced him midway through the second half.
Albion hadn’t found the intensity levels of the first half but it was still a mild surprise when Palace pulled one back on 71 minutes. Daniel Munoz had time to line up a deep cross from the right and Mateta directed a fine header inside Verbruggen’s left-hand post.
But Albion restored their three-goal winning margin with a wonderful fourth in the 85th minute. Joao collected van Hecke’s pass and didn’t have to break stride as he burst into the box as he took Welbeck’s wonderful flick in his stride before steering the ball into the far corner with the outside of his right foot. De Zerbi-ball at its best.
Albion: Verbruggen (GK), Lamptey (Estupinan 79), van Hecke, Dunk, Igor (Lallana 88); Gross, Gilmour; Hinshelwood, Joao (Fati 88), Buonanotte (Baleba 79), Ferguson (Welbeck 68).
Subs not used: Steele, Webster, Moder, Baker-Boaitey.
Referee: Simon Hooper