West Bromwich Albion 1 - Everton 2
A few thoughts.
I thought we started well, on the front foot and at a high tempo and deservedly took the lead. Rondon was bullying their back line and should have scored with the chance before the corner which he created brilliantly.
McAuley's goal was classic Pulis - about 4 blockers helped him get in on the back post and I half expected a foul against us to be given because there was so much of it going on.
I thought for the next 20 minutes or so we were OK but we gradually surrendered control of the match. I would dispute that Lukaku's introduction changed the game, although note how Koeman wasn't scared to make changes early when it wasn't working. Lukaku was stood on the line waiting to come on for about 10 minutes while Everton kept possession and forced corners - they were already well on top by this point.
That said, I agree with Pulis's criticism of Gardner - it was an terribly stupid pass to make in first half injury time to give the ball away infield as he did, but then he is right footed and a left footed player could've carried the ball down the wing or side-footed it into the corner for Rondon to chase.
2nd half we didn't start too greatly but after a bit of 'cultured' hoofing Fletcher was presented with a great chance to put us a goal up but couldn't take it.
From then on I think it's fair to say we were dominated. Their 2nd goal came from us having a rare spell of possession at the back - so desperate for a breather and to keep it, and with literally no options available from midfield or out wide Olsson gifted possession to them and we recovered to concede a corner from which we were royally Pulis'd ourselves.
Although we were being overrun and struggling, Pulis went for personnel swaps and like-for-like tactics. McClean at least offered us a bit of balance on the left and to his credit tried to just get his head down and cross the ball. Leko looked way off it - nothing really worked for him, but then we didn't really have any means of getting supply out to him and Everton also doubled up on him quickly.
Lambert offered another target for us to hoof at - but as Pulis also said 'nothing dropped for us' which I take to mean that in games when we are losing we forget trying to engineer openings through good play and resort to percentage football - much like the rest of the game then. Everton brought on enormous quality with tactical purpose - it was chalk and cheese.
Could he have done more? If we'd have gone in 1-0 at half time it might have been different. From 60 minutes I'd have gone 5 in midfield with Morrison replacing Saido and McClean or Leko for Gardner.
I really don't see what Lambert offers. I don't buy that McManaman isn't worth having on the bench - he's a great outlet out wide in a 5 man midfield with 20 to go. Poco, who might never be a world beater but has shown he can do a job at this level, should be on the bench for as long as we pay his wages and as long as our squad is so threadbare. These are Pulis decisions that make a difficult job even harder.
Finally, I was genuinely surprised at the number of empty seats for a season opener against a big club and with low category ticket status. Maybe more people have had enough of our style of play than we think? A personal gripe of my own is how continuously appaling the train services are post match towards Stourbridge. Everyone now leaves 5 minutes early - Halfords lane is flooded by this time.
Despite the club answering the rumoured calls for "Carling to become the beer of the Baggies" and the new chairman offering to buy everyone a bottle of the stuff, the opening home game of the season still wasn't enough of a draw for Albion fans, and so the teams ran out, to the tune of the Liquidator (I assume it's been explained to the new chairman that it's not a financial foreboding?) into a Hawthorns looking somewhat short of a full pint by way of capacity.
Pulis chose to start with the same eleven that had kept Palace to a nil-nil for seventy minutes, yet was rewarded, at around the nine minute mark, by a goal from a set piece, after Rondon, not for the first time that afternoon, made the most of a difficult ball played into him, taking this one in air, on the chest, and then rolling his marker, before getting off a shot, only to see that go straight at the keeper but cannon out for a corner.
With BBK doing a good job of impeding the keeper as the ball was swung across the edge of the six-yard-box, McAuley got the jump on his marker at the back post and we were 1-0 up
Albion were then, as they so often are, pretty happy to watch Everton keep the ball but merely pass it around in front of their back eight, though, when the away side did give in to frustration and look to see if one of their smallish forwards might upset the composure of our four centre-backs, we usually got a foot in or beat them in the air and were able to come away with the ball, albeit without really causing their defence any more concern than they'd caused ours, before retreating back into the starting positions as Everton tried to make the possession they were afforded again count for something.
Indeed, with stoppage time at the end of the first-half being played, Albion's players still looked more than comfortable as Everton, starting just inside their own half, made another twelve or thirteen consecutive passes, however the final one in this series, which had been getting quicker and sharper as the move built up, saw Mirallas given enough space inside the box to fire past whichever defender was struggling to close him down and across Foster into the net. Despite that one black mark then being the main topic of conversation over the half-time Black Labels, presumably the fact that we at least still had the point that we'd started the game with would make it taste a bit better,
Around the hour mark, we were on the receiving end of what many may claim was an unlucky bounce in our own box - though of course, when you are prepared to play so deep, you're always trusting to luck - when a corner that had somehow gone over our four centre-backs to reach an Everton player at the back post, was then driven into the ground rather than directly towards then goal, however the ball now looped all the way back across the goal, and over our four centre-backs once again, to where Barry, hardly the tallest player in the pitch, but coming in behind them, was able to head home from just outside the post.
The response to going behind after 60 minutes was almost the same as the one we'd seen when still drawing after seventy at Palace, in that McClean came on for Gardner, although, presumably as a result of us being behind, we also got the like-for-like swapping of Leko for Phillips as part of a double substitution.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, when that substitution hadn't worked the same magic as at Palace, Pulis threw on Lambert as a second striker but, bar a half-chance that the big-man couldn't quite latch on to when at close to full stretch, the two wide men feeding the two big centre-forwards game plan didn't really threaten Evertom much, and indeed Lukaku should probably have made it three right at the death.
In looking for postives, Foster gets a mention for a fine save and, in a similar way to Rondon's shot that went straight at the keeper early on in the first half, Fletcher had a similar effort, narrowish angle but still one-on-one, early in the second, that he couldn't get past Stekelenburg either, though sadly for us, if the captain's shot resulted in a corner, which I don't recall, we failed to make anything of that set piece.
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