West Bromwich Albion 4 - West Ham United 2
Albion had scored just three goals in four games so far this season, but that took a massive boost thanks to a second successive 4-2 defeat for West Ham. Albion tell us that there are very few good full-backs out there, and the performance of Arthur Masuaku,the Iron's £6.2 million signing from Olympiakos, would seem to back them up. Having given away a free kick for handball, he then bizarrely repeated the offence when the free kick was taken, giving away a penalty that Nacer Chadli gratefully converted.
Albion doubled the lead when Chadli fed Salomon Rondon to fire home through the legs of James Collins and, despite having had 25% of possession in the first half they finished it 3-0 up when Chadli's forward ball was turned in by James McClean just before the break.
The second half began as the first had ended, Darren Fletcher's ball out of defence finding Rondon, who ran over half the length of the pitch before squaring the ball for Chadli to put away. But the visitors worried their hosts when Dmitri Payet crossed for Michail Antonio to head in and was then fouled by Brendan Galloway to give away a penalty that Manuel Lanzini converted.
In reality, a much closer game that the scoreline suggested; had West Ham defended a little better, Ben Foster not pulled off at least one great save and Payet's free kick been just an inch to the right, the result could have been very different. The result lifted Albion to eighth in the table but the four games being played on Sunday could alter that.
Well that was a great relief, but let us not kid ourselvrs, we wont get gifts like that every week. The score line flattered us and nothing really has changed! 29% possession at home is not what I pay to watch.
A bizarre football match.
I was quite pleased with the team and formation and we started brightly enough. An early gift on a penalty saw us take the lead before any real pattern to the game was established.
After the goal I think it's fair to say that West Ham totally dominated the game. I think our longest spell of possession for the next 30 minutes was when Foster had the ball. West Ham didn't create much although we had to defend really well and rely upon Foster to be excellent when necessary.
A decent looking break appeared to have broken down when Phillips lost the ball only for us to get another bit of look when the clearance ricocheted to Chadli who showed great awareness to play in Rondon who finished fantastically from what was a half chance at best. So another sort of gift followed by great play.
The third before half time was straightforward terrible defending from a corner - I have never seen the centre of the box left so open in a second phase and both Chadli and MacClean were free to combine for a soft, soft goal.
I think at that stage it was 4 shots on target, 3 goals and maybe 25% of possession?
After the break we scored a 4th early thanks to more schoolboy defending from West Ham. Again, despite their poor defending we still relied on Fletcher to pick the right pass, for Rondon to sprint with the ball for the length of pitch without being caught and to perfectly weight his pass sideways, like Guardiola's Barca, Munich and now City sides seem to always do, for the onrushing supporting Chadli.
Great goal. Great team play. Easy? Not really, we never really felt in control and again apart from that goal and the odd break it was totally West Ham. On another day if Payet's free kick was 1 centimetre in another direction or they had a fit striker of any quality (etc. etc.) we may have thrown it away.
As it was we just about got over the line.
Positives were Rondon, who worked hard and looked a different player with quality support behind him, Chadli who brought quality, ruthless efficiency and a surprising workrate and physicality, and good old Howlin' Mad James MacClean who appeared to benefit form having a left footer behind him and from being asked to focus on simple and direct wing play instead of having to think about anything.
Classic Pulis to nick a result when the pressure is on. I doubt we'll get many gifts like this again this season.
The Chinese new era officially started with a match that will surely have had the new owner, watching from afar, wondering what to make of it all, though rest assured Mr Lai, there are unlikely to be too many matches similar to this one.
Albion, with McClean coming in on the left of the midfield to allow Chadli to moved into the middle of the four ahead of Yacob at the expense of Field, kicked off and might have been ahead within 15 seconds as Phillips, benefitting from two WHU defenders getting in each other's way, was able to get into space behind the backliine and fire a cross directly across the six-yard line that was just too far ahead of an oncoming Rondon, though had Phillips pulled it back towards the penatly spot, he'd have set things up on a plate for an umarked Chadli, who had made a run into that space.
The bright start was followed by a five minute spell of WHU passing it around in front of the 10 Albion players inside our half, with Rondon just about staying in the West Ham half so as to keep their centre-backs occupied, at the end of which spell Phillps appeared to have lost the ball to a defender who fell over in front of him, though in doing so, the ball rolled against the latter's arm to give Albion a free kick in the area between the box and sideline: cue the obligatory "Albion are so good from set-pieces" from the commentary team.
The "curse of the commentator" then struck as Phillips struck it way too hard, the ball seemingly going nowhere other than beyond the far post where Chaldi had clearly given up on it only to see the same defender who had just handled for the free kick outside the box to somehow contrive to bring his arm into contact with the ball for a free kick inside the box - this kind of free-kick, Mr Lai, is called a penalty. Chadli got to dispatch it.
There then followed nearly thirty minutes of nothing at all, bar three WHU corners that didn't generate an attempt on target, an air-shot by Phillips that didn't even generate an attempt, and a remark from the commentators that Albion were almost playing with a back six when Phillips and McClean were dropping in outside their full backs.
Once again, that commentary may have altered the direction of the game, first as Antonio, cutting in from our right, where Phillips quite possibly should have been, got off a shot from a tight angle that went straight at Foster and then, after Albion had moved the ball up the field, only for Phillips to lose possession in the right corner, we saw WHU's clearence somehow played into the corner of their own box where Chadli, overcomming the surprise of receieving it there, laid it off to Rondon who then shot through Collins's legs and into the goal, across the keeper, for two-nil.
Four minutes before the break, Payet had a couple of shots before Albion moved up the other end and Galloway, running through ahead of Chaldi, a tactic that would be used a few more times, forced a corner. Once again though, we didn't need to all that good from a set piece, as the WHU clearence only got as far as Chaldi on the edge of the box, and although he wasn't able to use McClean, who was standing all alone on the six-yard box, as a guide to getting a shot on target, he did get his off-target shot close enough to McClean to allow him to divert it into the net.
Let me summarise that half for you Mr Lai: your new club had just 28% of the possession, yet mustered four shots on target, three of which were goals and this, Mr Lai, we call Pulisball, although it's never been seen played as perfectly as this before, hence some of murmurings of discontent you may have heard about recently. You may also have heard, if you were getting the same TV feed as I do, that a few seasons back, against this same opposition your club gave up a three-goal lead but you should not have been worried, as that was before we'd started playing the aforementioned Pulisball.
Around the 50 minute mark, Antonio once again got through the ranks massed to protect by now, 3-0 lead, close enough to get a shot off, which, although saved and scrambled away, was cleary enough of a false hope for WHU to go overboard on a couple minute later when, following the corner resulting from a bit of a scramble in our box, the ball fell to Fletcher who played it out towards Rondon, halfway inside our half, however, unlike the first half, when the Hammers had been keeping an eye on our furthest forward player, Rondon now found himself with three quarters of the pitch devoid of any players bar the WHU goalie away in the distance and he simply galloped away, to within 15 yards of the goal, where he passed it sideways to Chadli, who made up enough ground to get level, and had done so at a pace that also saw him ahead of any trailing defenders as well - four-nil, and, as I'm sure you are aware Mr Lai, there's only been one game in the EPL era where a side has come back from being four-nil down to win.
Ally that to the fact that your club had upped its possession by a single percentage point by the time of the fourth goal and it must have been time for a celebratory Tsing Tao or two, no?
Well, actually, no. At 4-0, Pulisball mandates that you retreat even further back, which gave Payet an opportunity to crash a free-kick against the inside of the post with Foster beaten, on the hour, and gave us the opportunity from the resulting corner, to get all eleven of our players inside our box to defend it, As I said earlier, we've never seen Pulisball expressed this purely before, although leaving Rondon even halfway upfield had already worked once, so why bother. Of course, as things turned out, even with eleven players defending the corner, WHU still managed to score from it, though it's hard to see what else we could have done from a defensive standpoint.
Four minutes later and our four goal lead was halved after Payet was somewhow able to find a way into our box with the ball at his feet, where he was either brought down by a slight touch by Galloway, or by a heavy clatter by McClean, or perhaps both, as the referee pointed to the spot without indicating the exact offence.
Shortly after Albion had two substitutes stripped of and ready to come on, although in a move described by the commentary team as the better approach to using substitutions to waste a bit of time, only Nyom, our new right back came on to replace our new left back, thereby denying Morrison, who replaced Chadli, six extra minutes of game time on his comeback appearence.
Phillips would have a chance to calm Albion's nerves by restoring a three-goal cushion but took too long and failed to get a shot off, before Antonio waltzed past McClean in the left-back area (seemingly little chance of a Brunt-like future for this left-winger then!?) and pulled it back for Collins, whose snapshot was heading for the back of the net and setting up a dramatic last ten minutes, before Foster smothered it, and effectively smothered The Iron's fire for the final time.
There was still enough time in need of wasting to see Robson-Kanu come on as a substitute for Rondon with four mintes to go, and so complete the deployment of all five of our summer signings, and even enough time for him to just fail to get on the end of a Phillps cross too, although with Albion still 6-5 ahead in terms of shots on target from their final 29% possession it was never going to be too costly a miss.
And so, after an almost perfect exmple of Pulisball, how better could fate have scripted things, other than with Pulis's 1000-th game as a manager, a game which gives him a chance to out-Stoke Stoke, at Stoke.
It's almost as if it should be the perfect ending.
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