West Bromwich Albion 2 - Bournemouth 1
This game could have been a banana skin. With safety pretty well assured and the team coming off a long layoff, there was always a chance we would come out slow. And that's how it looked after four minutes, when a clumsy challenge by Nyom presented Bournemouth with the ideal start. In Nyom's defence he was being deployed on his 'wrong' side at left back.
It didn't take us long to get back into it though through Dawson, via a deflection, after some slick midfield passing. A corner for West Brom is almost worth half a goal these days and after their goalie had made a right Boruc of Brunts cross, our top striker, Gmac, was presented with a gift almost as fortunate as his last 'goal' at West Ham.
We had chances to increase the lead, before the hitherto unworked Foster had to bring off two brilliant saves in injury time to guarantee the points. Chadli, who I had criticized a few games ago for his work rate, ran hard today and kept possession well. Rondon actually seemed to gain strength as the game went on and once again put in a real shift, his poor control letting him down on occasion. Jmac did well when he came on, but should have scored when played in by Rondon. It was hard to pick a weak link today. Another hard working three points. 40 points with 12 games to go? Unbelievable.
Entertaining game. Decent performance. Huge effort by every player. Some lovely football at times. Happy days!
I thought the absence of Phillips saved Pulis from having to make a terribly difficult decision - how to get Evans back into a team playing so well. And although I was worried we'd miss Phillips, after a bit of a slow start the combination of Chadli being back to his best and Brunt's pure quality on the ball and at set plays meant we didn't really.
Despite going behind to a soft but probably justified pen we rallied well and were back ahead within around 20 minutes.
I thought we played some really good stuff - Morrison, Rondon, Chadli, Brunt and Fletcher picked the right times to press and run hard, combined well and Nyom & Dawson pushed up well to support.
Bournemouth were easy on the eye and dangerous but vulnerable at the back and in the first half we probably should have scored a couple more.
In the 2nd period we looked on top and should have had a 3rd before Dawson's KO. After that, if I was being hyper critical, I'd say we probably sat back more than I'd have liked and our balance went a bit.
I thought McClean looked lost on the right - he's an old fashioned head down run and cross winger with a fantastic work ethic so I'd have put him on the left and switched Chadli who is good enough to play anywhere.
Also, I thought taking Mozza off with 20 to go was again a bit negative - McClean's struggles meant we couldn't get up the pitch as much and therefore Mozza wasn't really getting on the ball but he was still running hard and his decision making when the game stretches in the last 10 is often welcome.
Livermore instead pushed up and although he ran as hard as he could he was equally taken out of the game a bit - and Yacob's introduction sat us deeper still. I was worried this was another West Ham situation but we held out and McClean, popping up on the left, should really have put the game beyond doubt when played in by Rondon.
These are minor points. To get to 40 with so many games to spare is massive success. Everyone should take credit for it.
This is also Pulis's best performance of his career at this stage. Fantastic. Who knows why but I'll speculate a combination of things; the court case coincides with our upturn in form and clearly it put him in a position where we had to stay in work, the return of Brunt and Morrison from injury to better levels than they were achieving before those injuries coincides with that too, a relatively good run of fortune regards injuries and a couple of transfer windows that have been hugely successful in terms of efficiency.
I think whatever parameters that were placed on transfers - no over 30s, players who will go into or push very hard the first team have been very good for Pulis and brought out the best of him.
Onward to the next game - let's get to 50 points. These players deserve it.
Have read Brendan's stuff for a long time and basically agree.
He's wrong about the court case. Various insurances and the backing of Peter Coates have seen Pulis safe. The residual impact on the Pulis family is nothing close to the £6.2 million quoted - more a sixth of that. Still it's a deleterious amount, but probably hedged against the next couple of years is actually ok for him.
For us, the quality in terms of potential leaders of Fletcher, Foster, Brunt, Morrison, McAuley and Olsson under the guidance of John Williams is wonderful. In addition a business in Sandwell worth in excess of £200 million - as said earlier on this thread - unbelievable.
Dawson, McAuley and Foster save Albion from relegation.
With Phillips, right-wide-mid in the last game, out with a hamstring injury, there must have been some thought given to playing Leko, or even moving Chadli from left-mid to the right and starting McClean on the left, so as to lessen any changes from the previous, more than comfortable, win over Stoke, but then, when you have a right-back who can do a job at left-back, a centre-back who can do a job at right-back, and a left-winger turned left-back who can do a job wide-right, and you are playing a side who had conceded 15 goals in their last 5 games, then replacing your right-wide-mid with Evans, a centre-back, and moving your regulars around is always going to win out over making use of your squad.
When the right-back who can do a job at left-back failed to react to a dreadful first touch by the Bournemouth winger and, in trying to muscle the now goalside attacker off the ball, merely brought him down inside the box, Albion went a goal down within five minutes, however they would be level within another five when Dawson's long range effort took a deflection which saw it loop up and out of the reach of Boruc.
Whether Boruc being able to reach the ball would have had any effect on Dawson's speculative strike was brought into question ten minutes later when the Bournemouth keeper tried to punch a ball clear from the usual melee in the six-yard-box under a Brunt corner, but only managed to steer it backwards, at which point the ball rolled down the back of a defender and landed about two-feet out from the goal-line from where McAuley could hardly believe his luck.
Albion now not only had a lead to protect but had also reached that magical 40-point mark and, although most of the rest of the game would be the usual sitting back and seeing if the opposition were good enough, they could have been two goals to the good at half-time, had not the tireless Rondon who was first to react to some confusion between the last defender and Boruc, advancing out of his box and looking stranded, been simply barged off the ball.
Presumably referee Clattenburg, soon to be on his way to manage the referees in the Gulf, decided that he needed some practice in the delegating of duties and so asked the linesman for a decision which suggested that the linesman's understanding of the shoulder-charge rule doesn't contain the about the ball being within playing distance.
Despite Albion letting Bournemouth, the team with the 2nd-worst defence in the division, the majority of the possession, there were occasions when they threatened, not least, around the 50-minute mark when McAuley saw his header loop over Boruc and onto the bar, however despite Dawson winning the 2nd-ball, and getting potentially concussed for his efforts, both Evans and Chadli were offside, as the latter put the ball in the net. I say offside, although the linesman didn't appear to have flagged, however, in the stoppage for the treatment of a pole-axed Dawson, referee Clattenburg would once again, as good man-managers do, ask for a second opinion from the linesman and, at the second time of asking, an offside decision was reached.
With Pulis no doubt chomping at the bit for a chance to start playing with the pace and width he's renowned for, as well for as a chance to start giving the promising squad players that he's always telling the media about, more game time (but probably not any loan players who are wasting their time with us?) once having reached the 40 point mark, he, possibly for the last time this season, took the cautious route and replaced Morrison with a third defensive midfield player, Yacob on 75 minutes, giving Sam Field, our promising central midfielder, the chance to show what he could do when doing a job replacing Chadli, himself a central midfielder doing a job out wide on the left, for three minutes plus any stoppage time.
As it turned out Field would get to witness quite an eventful three minutes plus any stoppage time, with McClean firing straight at Boruc two minutes into it, before player of the season, Foster, would have to pull off two fine saves to prevent the sit back and hold on plan from unravelling right at the death - the first a tip over from a long range shot that, unlike Dawson's leveller, wasn't deflected on the way through, and then, from the resulting corner, to palm away, at the stretch, a header that was bound for the top corner.
But for Foster then, Albion would still be on 38 points and so having to treat sides like Bournemouth with extra caution but, with the final whistle, they were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief at moving 40 points, and now the manager can, once again, show us what else he's capable of when he's not having to worry about tarnishing his "never been relegated" reputation.
All text, pictures and graphics are copyright of BOING unless otherwise stated