West Bromwich Albion 3 - Watford 1
Albion fans everywhere were hoping for a good return from a run of four relatively easy games before the going got tough again when they faced Chelsea and Manchester United. With ten points from twelve, they've got just what they wanted and seeing them climb to sixth in the table was just the icing on the cake. Again, they started unchanged while Watford had key players Valon Behrami and Miguel Britos missing through suspension.
Albion opened the scoring from a Chris Brunt corner which was headed home by Jonny Evans before Brunt put away a free kick to double the lead, albeit helped by a deflection that gave Heurelho Gomes no chance. But any hopes of a repeat of the Burnley scoreline were dashed when Watford pulled one back through Christian Kabasele on the hour mark. Albion responded by replacing James Morrison and Brunt with Nacer Chadli and James McClean, and within minutes the latter had got involved in a challenge with Roberto Pereyra right in front of the dugouts and pretty much every player and coach apart from Ben Foster got involved, referee Graham Scott eventually sending off the Watford man and cautioning team mate Troy Deeney as well as McClean.
The disruption led to six minutes being added, and in the first of them Matt Phillips put the game beyond reach with a beautiful curling shot from the right. Another welcome win for Albion despite being second best in all the stats that don't really matter.
Albion and Watford were both been charged by the FA for failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly manner and/or refrained from provocative behaviour. They were given until December 8th to respond, and after admitting the charge, were fined 45,000 each.
A very hard won victory in a game that was far closer than the scoreline suggests. There aren't many teams who look bigger and stronger than us all over the pitch - Watford did for the first 20 minutes or so and we struggled to deal with their power.
We scored with our first two attempts of note and both from set plays - at really good times to score too.
I thought only after the first goal we were the better side for the first half - a purple patch followed where Morrison, Rondon, Brunt, Phillips and Nyom were involved in a number of great moves that could've returned another goal or two.
Second half we started well and created a couple of chances that Rondon and Morrison maybe should have done better with. But then we really started to lose control - Yacob and GMac picked up knocks and struggled to move freely, Morrison and Brunt began to look leggy and it was one-way traffic.
Pulis possibly left it a bit late to get McClean on to give us the energy to see the game out and after Watford got a first his hand was forced, Chadli first and then McClean shortly after.
It looked like the changes gave us just about enough to see it out and get over the line, and then Howlin' Mad managed to provoke a red card whilst only a yellow from himself.
Phillips capped another very impressive performance with an outstanding goal and we were on our way to 6th.
Just rewards for our change in approach since the return of Morrison - even when we are under pressure and struggling we still get forward in numbers on the break and press high when we can. A world away from some of the tripe we have seen and long may it continue.
Once again, the trains trying to get home were terrible and dangerous towards Stourbridge. 2 coach services already full to standing of Xmas shoppers and kids then being squeezed by angry and impatient Albion fans. It's a real mess and I could only be a matter of time before something terrible happens. It wouldn't surprise me if this isn't contributing to our lower gates. Are the Club or London Midland going to do anything about it? Do they even know what's going on?
I was at the game yesterday and thought I would add a few things to Brendan's already pretty accurate summary. It was my first visit of the season.
I was sat in the West stand in Row O and had a good view of both technical areas. As has been said Watford completely out muscled us in the first 20 minutes and were bossing the game. During that period the referee gave too many decisions to Watford and gave Rondon no protection in particular. There was a lot of play acting from some Watford players.
That physicality led ultimately in my view to the red card later in the game as Mad Dog McLean tried to exact his own version of retribution and was (arguably) fortunate not to get a red card himself. By the way I love him as a player and his work rate is unquestionable.
The other thing to mention is the antics of Walter Mazzari the WFC Manager. He spent most of the latter part of the game in the ear of the 4th official and making gestures as to what Albion players had done to his players. Worse than the 'Special One' probably.
Otherwise I thought we did well to impose ourselves on an entertaining game, although the set piece goals (second one very well worked) helped. Man of the Match for me, Phillips. Mozza' had a good first half but was tiring when substituted. Rondon I thought had a poor game by his standards. Nyom put in a good shift too against his old team.
If we were to add one or two quality additions in January (one forward at least) I would be thinking we could aim for top ten in the table.
A certain degree of inevitability?
An unchanged starting XI once again saw Phillips on the left, Brunt on the right and Chadli on the bench for a game that promised much, not least because the Albion had scored more goals, from set pieces, than any other side in the division, whilst Watford had conceded more goals, from headers and crosses, than any other side in the division, however, it clearly didn't promise enough for BeIN Sports' schedulers to show it as one of the four games shown live in my region, nor, I guess, was there enough promise for those normally in the front seats of the East Stand and the Brummie, which looked remarkably empty for this top-half of the table clash.
An extra bonus for Albion fans would have been the fact, according to the BeIN Sports' commentators, that the last time that the Albion had had more possession than their opponents in a game had been in their meeting with today's opponents, back in April, although with that being a game which we lost so abjectly, perhaps it was inevitable that since then fans have not been all that concerned about us failing to put a stop to the trend.
Around the 15-minute mark, the inevitable duly happened, with Albion scoring or, depending on your viewpoint, Watford conceding, from a header from a set-piece, after Evans was able to take a brief break from defending, so as to score from a corner.
Evans would be back defending, as one of eight in our box, in the 20th minute, when a Watford attacker would still be able to find enough space to not only get a shot off, but also to shoot into the space occupied by one of his team-mates, who thus blocked the shot for us, as if we really ever need much help to do that.
The inevitables though, as inevitables often do, kept on coming, with Brunt, some twenty-eight yards out, driving a free-kick into a crowd of players on the edge of the box, within which the ball took enough of a deflection to see it swerve just outside of Gomes's reach and just inside the post, at around the half-hour mark. If you allow for his time off with injury, then this deflection from eighteen yards was his first goal in eighteen months, although, given the deflection, that "can hit them from all angles" tag might need to be amended a more billiards-esque "can make good use of all the angles".
Two fifths of the possession; two set-pieces; two shots on target; two goals: no wonder the crowd started chanting our manager's name, and indeed, as if to ram home the message, a fine run from Nyom, a couple minutes after the second goal, that saw the ex-Watford right back fire in a cross from the left byline, would only see it sail through empty space on the far side of the box and out for a throw.
Albion's third set-piece of the half, conceded after a backheel from Morrison effectively signalled the end to Watford's best spell of pressure and started a "hit on them on the break" move, would still see the Hornets lose the aerial battle, but Dawson was unable to find the target.
Albion started the second half quite brightly, even out-chancing (is that a word?) Watford two-to-one over the first ten minutes, getting in a couple of blocks in the six yard box to snuff out the away side's chance, whilst Rondon should have done better, albeit under challenge, from a similar distance, when on the end of Brunt's right-foot cross, whilst shortly after that, his provider couldn't turn a left-footed cross, from Phillips, goalwards.
The was a rare bit of action around the hour mark, when Nyom, having already conceded a foul by wrestling Amrabat to the ground, appear to swing a leg towards Zuniga, who then tugged the left-back's shorts. A minute later, McAuley's attempt to head a dangerous cross over the bar saw Foster having to arc backwards to pull off another fine save as the ball looped over him and nearly crept in under the bar, though Watford scored from the resulting corner, by way of a free-header that looked way off-target but got turned back inside the six-yard-box for an ummarked player to tap-in, although Foster even got a hand to that.
After seventy-five minutes or so Pulis blinked first, in the race to see which of the two sides with the oldest average age starting XIs put out this season (both over 30 we were told) would get younger first, by making the two like-for-like swaps of Chadli for Morrison, and McClean for Brunt, whilst Mazzari swapped his right-back for the one-time Albion target targetman, Ighalo.
Five minutes later, after Fletcher had made a complete Horlicks of dealing with a cross into the box - a cross that had resulted from Chadli baling out of a challenge in midfield, forcing McClean to race in and try to smash the ball away, only for it to cannon out to the wing - there was another scramble in our box, and once we'd cleared that and advanced down the left, McClean would do exactly the same. This time though, he'd spark a melee, after the player he'd smashed the ball into took much more exception to it than his team-mate had a couple of minutes earlier.
As the push-and-shove between the well-paid professionals developed, all the players bar one keeper were, and not for the first time in this game, inside the same half but, for once they weren't all inside the Albion half. The upshot of all this was that the Watford player who'd taken exception was given a straight red, whilst McClean, who received a yellow, will either have been confused as to why he'd got one, or else would have been feeling lucky to not have got one, for doing exactly the same thing as he'd done, a couple of minutes earlier and not earned one.
Now it would be stretching it a bit to say that McClean's coming on had thus turned the game, not least because even being a man down, Watford still continued to push us back, however McClean's entrance had also seen Phillips switched to the right and, as the six minutes of the time allowed for stoppages started - six minutes made up of four substitutions added to the two or three minutes of GMac going down for some treatment to his left ankle, plus the four minutes of handbags - Phillips cut in from the right and curled a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that not only gave Albion a third shot on target in the game, but also gave them a third goal, and so three shots on target were all they needed to take all three points.
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