West Bromwich Albion 3 - Hull City 1
Who would have thought the forced substitution of Jonny Evans, arguably our best player since his signing, would be the catalyst for transforming a funeral into a carnival? Pulis went three at the back and suddenly we started to offer some attacking intent. Some purists might argue that scoring from set-pieces somehow devalues the victory, but you can't deny that it is great tool to have in the box when the other stuff is not working.
Two great headed goals from two great Phillips corners and Hull were done. Mozza's third off his shin after the pass bounced off Rondon's shin just twisted the knife a little.
But once again it didn't look like we were interested at all in the first thirty minutes or so. Hull were by far the better team and we were lucky not to be further behind.
Credit the Pulis tactical change and the character of the team. Going behind doesn't seem to faze us like it used to. I thought Yacob, Phillips and Nyom were the pick of the bunch. I really hope Yacob is not the victim in the unlikely event that we get Schneiderlin.
Another great result which we ground out. Surprised to see Nyom dropped to the bench as his raids forward have been a big outlet for us, especially with our tired legs. HRK can also feel unlucky but the lineup looked ok.
We couldn't get going though. A combination maybe of Hull's formation and our shoddy play - Rondon was losing his battles or sloppy, Morrison couldn't do anything right, Chadli wasn't working anywhere near hard enough and wasn't giving us enough width and Fletcher's legs couldn't take him where he wanted to go quickly enough.
The goal we conceded was poor but not surprising and when Evans went down injured I feared the worst - but Pulis did something very un-Pulis which swung the game in our favour by going like-for-like with them, 3 at the back and opening the game up from very early on.
For the first 5 minutes or so we were all over the place, understandably as we rarely play this way and never with this personnel, and we might have gone another goal down.
But we became more competitive and started winning the ball higher up and crucially getting numbers forward into the box. Right before half time Brunt found Mozza who played Rondon in but he took too long when he should have scored and the chance was blocked.
2nd half we basically won the game through sheer effort, being marginally better than Hull at set plays and by taking our chances when they came. Hull had a couple chances that were really close but we battled away, kept going and as the game went on our quality came through just enough.
So a great start to the year and I have to hand it to Pulis - he rarely goes all-in so early but this was another example of him being slightly braver in the last 10 games or so and generally being rewarded for it.
Out with the new: in with the old
Clearly Robson-Kanu is going to need to come up with better goals than the one he scored against Southampton to ensure a run of games that no less an expert in such matters than Gary Birtles believes all strikers need, although the level of respect that Albion have shown sides at, or near, the bottom of this division in earlier matches should perhaps have suggested that Rondon's seventy minute "rest" at St Mary's would be all he would get, as Tony Pulis retrenched his plans for the year-opening visit of second from bottom Hull.
Nyom though, would get a break, perhaps with one-eye on the upcoming ACN, during which he might either play for his country or be banned from playing for his club, with Brunt continuing in the left-back spot, although the merry-go-round on the right would take another turn with Chadli being asked to do a job over there so as to allow Phillips to play on the left of the 4-5-1, whilst on the "unused subs" section of the bench, Leko would make way for Olsson, whilst Galloway must've once again done enough in training to keep his place there.
This New Year sees Hull designated as the UK's City of Culture and their football team certainly showed they were more than capable of playing some cultured football as they pushed Albion back, and gained three corners, in the first six minutes, although, as Albion fans know full well, it takes more than just cultured football to get the upper hand, despite how much you're encouraged to go ahead in the possession and set piece stakes.
And so it proved, on twenty minutes, after Fletcher's lob towards the run Phillips that was making into a crowd of Hull defenders was easily picked off and whilst Hull moved the ball crisply around for a while, it would first be a lob into the left back area that caught out Brunt and allowed the Hull player the time to then lob the ball towards the penalty spot, where it was met by Snodgrass, arriving all alone as Yacob realised, too late, that he'd been ball watching whilst Hull's main (only?) threat had stolen a march behind him.
Going one-nil down with seventy minutes to play is, of course, never going to faze the Albion, although the sight of Evans going down on 24 minutes surely did, and certainly the sight of him finally going off four minutes later, three defensive substitution options on the bench notwithstanding. I doubt there are many that would have seen the actually option though, with Nyom being brought on into a back three, giving us six in midfield: a 3-6-1 to counter Hull's 3-5-2.
That extra midfielder did soon bring benefits, with Rondon outjumping old-boy Curtis Davis on 34 minutes and giving us out first on-target effort, albeit a weak effort, and albeit coming from a cross from one of our now back three, Nyom, who seemed to forget that he was part of a back three and spent much of the game pushing up on the left side and effectively leaving two at the back.
Any fears as to the merits of swapping to a back two against Hull's two strikers were eased on 40 minutes, after Hull had broken upfield following Albion's second on-target attempt of the half, a header from Phillips, unmarked on the end of a lovely cross from Brunt, that brought out a diving save from Marshall. With Hull's final pass playing Diomande into the right centre of the box, McAuley, at the centre of the back two/three, pulled off a Gregan-esque block to save an partially exposed Foster from having to make a save, whilst three minutes later, it would be yet another Albion defender, this time an ex-Albion one, echoing those big-shorted back-three blocks, as Brunt and Morrison combined to play in Rondon, only to see his effort countered by Davis.
If that was the "good in parts" portion of Curtis's curate's egg, the bad would come just before the half ended when Phillips, now over on the right of the six, nutmegged him and drove into the area, but with all the time to pick out one of three team-mates in the box, he could only drive it straight to the keeper, and so the half would end with the meaningless stats showing the Albion having just two attempts on target, to Hull's five, albeit having had a season's high 45% of the possession.
Within three minutes of the restart, Albion would ram home the point that if you have had six corners, as the stats showed that Hull had had, then you really need to be doing something with them as, from only their third, they drew level, Dawson preventing a Hull defender from jumping at the cross centrally so as to gave Brunt, at the back stick, a chance to power an unmarked header into the roof of the net.
Another Albion corner, in the sixtieth minute finally, after warming up for around six minutes, saw the introduction of HRK coming on as a second striker, and so removing Chadli from the six in midfield, not that Albion's defenders usually need much help at set-pieces, and so it was here, although McAuley would need some help from the goal-line technology, so as to remove the need for the referee to have to make a decision as to a handball at the far-post stopping his goal-bound header from crossing the line: the technology showing that it had crossed the line by a fraction of a gnat's crochet.
Shortly after Diomande had gone close, at around 70 minutes, HRK would turn Curtis Davis inside out and cross towards Rondon who would try and take a touch on the edge of the six-yard-box, but it was a awful touch, however, the ball carried on past him, only to get the second of its slightest of deflections off McGuire which took it onto Morrison's shin and into the back for the net to give the Albion a 3-1 lead.
Three events of note in remainder of the game were: Phillips showing Hull how to defend a corner when standing on the post, as he blocked Dawson's 80th minute header both in front of the line, and without using his hands to do so; the rather odd chant of "You should have stayed at the Albion" ringing out as Curtis Davis was subbed, after all, how many home fans consider the ex-England player's time at the Shrine a success, certainly not the BOING list's Cliff Crancher, who had once said that he would run naked down Southend's prom should the former ever make the national side, and finally the end of the 3-5-2 experiment, McClean coming on for Rondon help to close the game out with three minutes, plus any time allowed for stoppages, of "game management" still required.
As a menagerial postscript to the game, Mike Phelan became yet another manager (I have long lost count) who lost his job after losing to the Throstles, as the Tigers slipped back to the bottom of the division following the Swans beating the Eagles. Next one of the menagerie up for us though: the Rams.
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