West Bromwich Albion 2 - Sunderland 0
After two poor displays it was important to bounce back today and in the end it was a fairly comfortable win. The only disappointment was that, with our foot on their throat, we didn't put them away at the start of the second half. We sat back and a series of fouls around our box could have caused us problems, but a combination of solid defending and poor choices by Sunderland allowed us to ride out that period. We always looked dangerous on the break and might have added to our score.
Billy Jones fouled Rondon in the box in the first half and Fletcher was punched in the face in the box in the second, neither of which were punished. Phillips had a great game again and was the pick of our forwards. Rondon worked his arse off as usual. Chadli showed glimpses of his early season form and Mozza had a couple of probing runs. Two brilliantly taken goals by Fletcher and Brunt proved to be enough to see off the seemingly doomed Black Cats. Dawson looked more at home in central defence and will probably partner Evans there eventually. It was great to have the energetic Nyom back. He was really missed. It's hard to judge Livermore on twenty minutes. He did ok but might have done better with a half chance set up by Jimmy Mack. He looks like an upgrade on Gardner anyway, but we will see. I can't see him replacing either Fletcher or Yacob at the moment.
Overall a good win against a desperate team.
I thought this was a performance that epitomised the team this year - against the teams around and below us we have been solid, organised and have tended to get the better of them.
No surprises from Sunderland - they were terrible as they were earlier in the season when we somehow contrived to draw with them.
The only slight surprise for us was Dawson moving to the centre rather than Olsson getting a go. It is no doubt time for this transition, changing of the guard, and I thought Dawson did a quietly effective job.
First half we had a good tempo to us and we worked hard to get bodies into the box and up the pitch - we are much better for this even if we don't always have the quality. The two goals were fully deserved and we probably didn't make the most of other opportunities and situations.
Second half was a bit disappointing - we sat back a lot more and the subs were a little negative. I will make my usual moan here about not getting Leko on for 20 minutes because once again I thought the way the game went was pefect for him - even as a replacement for Morrison (remember Liverpool last season?) because I'm desperate for him to get minutes and we have no cup games left this season. It seems that at either end of the spectrum, whether 3 goals down against one of the best in the league like last week, or 2 goals up against one of the worst, he's not going to get minutes which is a real shame. If we bring in extra signings will he even make the bench?
Be interesting to see if we can get one or two more signings in - I think however good Saido is, given the history and situation the club, and the new people in charge of this stuff, did brilliantly to get such a good deal for him.
The shape of things to come?
Swansea's win over Liverpool earlier in the day had left Sunderland all on their own at the bottom of the table and they had arrived at the Hawthorns with our old mate, Sick Vic, fit enough to make their bench, although with ten players unavailable due to injury or because they were taking part in the African Cup of Nations.
Our own ACN-linked player, Nyom, had been freed from his purgatory and so returned to the starting XI, although it was rather surprising to see him line up at right back, despite Dawson starting as well. The latter would finally get to make a (re)start at centre-back alongside McAuley, with Brunt at left-back. As if it wasn't enough of a shock to see Dawson at centre-back, Phillips would also start as a right winger although his opposite winger, flanking Mozza, would be Chadli, and not McClean, who was on the bench, alongside new signing Livermore, plus regular bench-warmers, HRK and Leko.
The first thirty minutes saw the two sides matching do each other in the giving the ball away, and the failing to make much use of the ball when they were gifted it, stakes, with Sunderland edging things, in that Albion had a shout for a pen when Billy Jones managed a slight of hand when impeding Rondon that hid the offence from the eyes of the officials, whilst within the first ten minutes, Brunt had smashed one high and wide, as had Defoe. Rondon also managed to head one straight at Phillips, which was a shame.
Suddenly though, it was all Albion. Phillips swung in a corner, that had resulted from the palming away of his own shot, to the edge of the box, and whilst Brunt probably didn't get the connection that he had on the training ground when working through this one, he got it into the box and the second ball fell to McAuley, who showed great awareness as he cushioned a header onto the chest of Fletcher, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard-box, but back to goal, however the skipper only needed one fine piece of control with his chest to set himself up to rifle the ball in under the bar.
Six minutes later, with Albion eschewing the sitting back that has often followed them going a goal to the good, Phillips partially nutmegged his way past O'Shea down the right and crossed and, after the keeper was only able to palm it to Chadli, via Rondon's foot, the former took a touch and fired goalwards from six yards but the ball ricocheted back towards the edge of the box where Brunt, having had that blasted over "sighter" in the first ten minutes, corrected his aim and lashed this first-time effort into the net from fifteen yards, with more than enough power to prevent Mannone's slight touch from diverting it to safety.
During the half-time break, BeIN Sports had Brunt come up with his five- a-side team and, for the record, it contained Foster, Johnny Evans, Mozza, Lukaku and an ex-ManU player in the middle although you may be surprised to hear that it wasn't Fletcher but Greening.
The 2nd half began with Sunderland pressing, or being allowed to press, depending on your viewpoint, and gaining a few free-kicks around the edge of our area, but nothing came of them and, indeed, the best they had managed by the seventieth minute had been a header by Billy Jones that reached, but didn't, in the slightest, trouble, Foster.
Ex-Albion player Anichebe had been brought on five minutes before that chance and shortly after it, new Albion recruit Livermore was brought on for Morrison, though another ex-Albion man, Keith Andrews, in commentary, was of the opinion that that was unlikely to be a regular swap, and further opined that the ex-England, and now surplus-to-requirements-at-Hull, player was more likely to end up as one of our two "sitters in" than be asked to be our creative spark through the middle.
With ten minutes to go, Chadli's time as a left-winger ended, as a real left-winger, McClean was given a run-out although his first cross set up Livermore, arriving near the penalty spot but, as if to give Andrews's earlier opinions extra credibility, the best you could say of Livermore's effort, sliced high and wide was that you'd expect Chadli or Morrison, to have done a lot better.
HRK would be asked, once again, to go on and give Rondon some six or seven minutes less game time than if he'd stayed on to the end although by then, Pulis could just have easily brought on Leko, Field, Olsson, or the reserve goalie, as the game was long since over, though having said that, the talk on the way home would surely have been more about the way the team may start to line-up in the near future than the game itself.
All text, pictures and graphics are copyright of BOING unless otherwise stated