West Ham United 2 - West Bromwich Albion 2
Slaven Bilic will no doubt have landed himself in hot water after blaming referee Michael Oliver for giving every significant decision in Albion's favour, and got himself sent to the stands right at the after picking up one of the TV microphones and throwing it to the floor when they equalised. Worse for the Croatian, replays show that the referee actually got most things right.
Albion kept the same lineup that got the win over Stoke despite Claudio Yacob and Jonny Evans being available again, both starting on the bench at the expense of Sam Field and Jonathan Leko. For the third game in a row, they took the lead in the sixth minute after James Morrison's sublime through ball found Nacer Chadli on the left of the box and he nutmegged Cheikhou Kouyate before calmly finishing inside the far post, Bilic arguing that a foul should have been given against Chris Brunt in the buildup. Salomon Rondon could have doubled the lead but only hit the bar with a long range shot and West Ham had a goal ruled out after Miguel Antonio was judged to have pushed Foster from an offside position.
The Hammers equalised just after the hour when Foster saved a great effort by Manuel Lanzini, but the rebound gave Sofiane Feghouli the chance to put it away. Lanzini looked to have won the game with four minutes to play with another superb drive, but Albion never gave up and deep into added time Yacob's forward ball grazed Antonio's legs for an Albion throw that led to a corner from which Evans headed home, although the goal was credited to Gareth McAuley after touching his head on its way. Possibly.
The point made little difference to the table, with Albion still in eighth place and still four away from seventh.
A point on the road is always a good result.
I thought Pulis did the right thing by keeping the starting 11 because those players deserved it. And we started well enough with Chaldi taking his goal very well despite poor defending and goalkeeping and Mozza making the right pass at the right time.
We continued to look OK although I thought we got quite deep quite early. And by the midway point of the first half we were under enormous pressure - just about making it to half time ahead. It was from around the halfway point of the first half that the game settled into a familiar pattern - West Ham dominated us (or we allowed them too by sitting very deep) but they were very poor defensively and when we did get forward we looked a threat. And, perhaps slightly controversially or ungratefully, I thought this ended up being a missed opportunity.
I thought we went 3 at the back too early - Pulis was too keen to have his cake (or 3 good centre halves) and eat it. I thought if anythign this swung the momentum more their way andif you let decent players (top half players) shoot from distance they will hurt you eventually. If Chadli was falling out of the game and we wanted Evans at the back to improve our playing it out a bit more, I'd have put Nyom to left back, Dawson to right and given Brunty 10 or 15 on either wing because he was playing well and keeping the ball well.
I thought we looked a bit lost after the first change, especially as Phillips was moved up front and was having his first off game in 10 for us. HRK came on to replace him and did very well - agains showing up poor West Ham defenders by spinning them easily and winning loads of first balls.
It was at this point that despite us conceding possession we looked likely to score on the counter - Nyom galloping up the pitch in his unorthodox way and Brunt too providing quality the other side. At this point I thought it was madness to take of Morrison with 10 minutes plus stoppages to go. He was our best passer on the day, his decision making on the break is better than anyone's other than perhaps Chadli and within 5 minutes of him being removed we'd had 2 really good counter opportunities he'd have relished and then gone a goal down from being far too deep again.
Naturally I was cursing Pulis by this point - the only midfielder not holding his own out there was Fletcher and if we really wanted Yacob on, he was the man to make way surely? However, as he has done so many times, Pulis, king of the margins, had me eating my words and going ballistic when Evans thumped a header off GMac to equalise at the death.
So a great point, but with nothing to lose I think we might have nicked it with a bit more ambition and positivity.
Finally, I quite like Bilic and I thought we'd got away with a few until all of the decsions were proved correct later on TV. What nobody seems to have mentioned is how Obiang stayed on the pitch after clattering Rondon from behind when on a yellow as we were breaking - he injured himself in the process but it was a second yellow without dispute and I think there were 25 minutes to go at that point.
Another great point ground out by the 'new Albion'. Credit to Pulis for building a squad full of 'grit' and 'character', to borrow the epithets used ever more frequently to describe the Baggies by the media. Even his most ardent critics (and I have been one on occasion) must surely acknowledge his achievement in turning a team of modest resources into one respected by all EPL opponents (but not lower division opponents in the cups apparently).
We rode our luck yesterday, but the manner in which Evans thundered home the tying goal from Brunts superb corner epitomized the aforementioned 'character'. I have watched the replay several times and don't see how you can give that goal to Gmac. Much has been made of the refereeing, but the only iffy call for me was the 'offside' goal. I've said it before, but I will get back on my soap box, how long will it be before football emulates rugby and institutes video replay for game changing events? I'm talking about offside or 'illegal' goals, penalties and sendings off. The argument that it slows the game doesn't wash when you consider the time wasted dealing with irate players and managers currently. Goal line review is accepted by all and has removed any debate. Rant over. I thought Foster kept us in the game yesterday and Nyom continues to amaze. During one gut-busting surge forward he was so fast he even avoided Winston Reids vain attempt to foul him. Would you call it 'grit' or character'?
We're forever busting bubbles
My regular reader may recall that, in the report on the return fixture, I'd pointed out to our, then just into the job, new Chairman, that he should not look to take that game, his first as Chairman, as a sign of things to come, although, were he the kind to pen his thoughts via the BOING list, he'd surely be pointing out that there were a good number of similarities to be discerned between the way we played after taking the slimmest of leads, and even after having surrendered that lead, here, and the way we played when "protecting" the much larger leads we had built up in that game, back in September.
And the end result, of course, was pretty much the same, with WHU coming off, no doubt feeling as though they'd lost, even though the end result was not the same, despite the sameness of our much of our approach.
In some ways, we have moved on from September, most noticeably in that our "regular starters" no longer go straight back into the starting line-up, no matter how well those "deputising" for them had played in the previous game, for here, we saw Yacob and Evans merely making the bench, although, with another nod to the way we have gone about making improvements to the squad, their return would spell the end of a place on the bench for the "promising youngsters" we might have been in need of looking to bring through, with Leko and Field discarded from the matchday seventeen.
As it was, the one change to the starting line up was a lack of change, in that Chaldi and Phillips started on the same sides as they had in the previous match, presumably because WHU would have been expecting them to swap sides, and this plan clearly worked, with Chadli nutmegging both the right-full back and the keeper as he scored the opener right on the six minute mark at which opponents might be expecting to have to counter an attempt on goal from Morrison.
Any suggestions, and there would be some, that there was a foul in the build up to the goal, could be countered by the fact that if any WHU players felt there was a foul, then they still played to the whistle, or lack of a whistle, and left Chadli with a fair bit to do to get the ref to blow the whistle to indicate the goal, a decision which clearly infuriated the WHU staff and fans, for whom a foul had clearly been committed.
Five minutes later, with Albion now clearly deciding not to follow the script from the previous game where they didn't retreat after taking the early lead, a free-kick afforded to Snodgrass would demand a fine save from Foster which, despite a crowd of players in front of him, he got a hand on, which is more than could be said for the WHU goalie trying to get something on Rondon's shot on fifteen minutes, after Phillips had set him up from a long ball forwards, which looped onto the bar, a minute before WHU were denied an equaliser by an offside flag in the melee after Foster's punched clearance, from yet another Snodgrass free-kick, hadn't really cleared the danger. That melee had seen Dawson end up lying on the ground, and thus playing everyone onside, though, as with the Albion goal, play had continued without a whistle indicating any foul, however the linesman's flag, whether an incorrect flag for a foul, or for an offside, somehow preserved Albion's lead, although the WHU staff ended up a man down, as their number two encroached beyond the technical area, by about a half pitch length or so, to confront the linesman.
As with that September game, after a flurry of activity, not a lot then happened for quite a while, indeed the first thing of note was the swapping of our "left-winger" and goalscorer, Chadli, for a centre-back, Evans, which appeared to be our manager's response to WHU threatening to actually make use of all the possession we were constantly allowing them, as a result of our not being able to keep it, although ten minutes after the "shut up shop" change, Lanzini would ignore the "closed for business" signs being held up by eight Albion defenders and cut in from the right, past Fletcher, to rifle a shot through the rest of them that Foster could only tip onto the bar and back into play behind those eight, where a WHU player had a simple tap-in to bring the sides level.
Less than ten minutes later, so still with some twenty go, the ref would have words with Foster whilst clearly pointing to his watch, although it didn't seem to distract our usual MoM into thinking about alternative strategies of "game management", as he pulled off another fine save, at full stretch, around the seventy-five minute mark.
Four minutes later and Morrison was replaced by Yacob, so to give us three centre-backs and three defensive midfield players, and indeed it was only the fact that we'd already sacrificed any offensive width, Phillips for HRK, that then prevented Pulis from bringing on a fourth centre-back in Olsson to really close out the game, although what he could have done about Lanzini's go-ahead goal on 85 minutes, other than be one of the eight defenders, again, watching in the hope that Lanzini wouldn't get a shot off is unclear. As it was, this time Lanzini cut in from the left, and so past Yacob, to left fly from 25-yards, only this time Foster didn't even get a sight of it, let alone a fingertip to it.
Cue those West Ham bubbles, once again.
As the game entered stoppage time, Albion were in the strange position of having two strikers, Rondon and HRK, on the field but with no obvious creativity with which to get the ball to them, however Bilic then made his big mistake. Rather than continue to press the Albion, he withdrew an attacking midfielder for a central defender and tried to see out the game. Come to think of it now, it was just like watching West Brom, but of course West Ham are not West Brom, and with Bilic still fuming about the ten yards Dawson had stolen at a throw-in that had led to a corner, a lovely delivery from Brunt would see Fletcher preventing the Hammer's keeper from diverting it from its path towards Evans at the back post and, even though he had to power his header past any possibility of a deflection by McAuley, the ball crossed the line around the middle of the goal and the bubbles had well and truly been burst, as would have been the eardrums of the operator of the pitchside microphone that Bilic then took his frustration out on.
Despite Evans getting the plaudits for salvaging the point, it was, perhaps, fitting that Foster, whose saves had kept us in the game, had gone up for the corner, and so got to celebrate the salvage, right in front of the Albion fans.
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