West Bromwich Albion 0 - Everton 0
I thought the starting lineup looked promising with the pace of Phillips and the steel and aerial power of Dawson back in the team. It looked like a 4-5-1 to me with Brunt on the left but drifting centrally and Jrod dropping deep behind Rondon in probably his strongest role.
We started really well and in the first 20 should probably have gone a goal or two up with several players not getting on to the end of crosses they should have or making a hash of it when they did.
It was probably as dominant a we’ve been in an opening 20 for a couple of years but we couldn’t score again.
For the rest of the half it was a bit more even although we were still the team threatening most and I can’t recall Foster making a save. We finished the half strongly but again failed to capitalise on a couple of set plays and 2 moments where we won the ball really high and then fluffed simple passes to play people in - first Livermore for Rondon and then Rondon for JRod. Still it was very promising and we actually looked like a decent footballing side.
Second half was more of the same - we started brightly and Rondon was played in well by Brunt, did everything right to roll his defender but then slipped and horribly wasted the chance when clean through. Unfortunately for us shortly after Rondon looked like he took a knock and had to come off - he'd been very frustrating all game and should have scored a goal or two but he was causing problems with his channel running and forcing Everton back with his pace. Sort of typical of our luck right now that we got Phillips back and playing well and just over 45 minutes later the best of our limited bunch of strikers went off. Had he stayed on the pitch I felt like we might just make the pressure tell eventually.
When HRK came on we lost our way a bit as Everton were able to push higher and squeeze us - we were still totally on top of the game but couldn't break through to create chances in open play so it was mostly a sustained period of us winning set plays but not being able to convert them, or getting crosses into the box that were swatted away in typical Allardyce fashion. I thought the further subs made sense - Livermore was having a pretty wretched and laboured game although I thought when he came on Greg was probably worse. He hid from the ball, look terrified when he got it and gave a low energy and fairly careless cameo. I'd rather start Field over Livermore or Greg on current form. McClean got a few minutes in what seemed to be a substitution that was mostly trying to ensure Phillips didn't get injured as he tired - and he did put in a couple of decent crosses from the right.
Our best chance was probably a free kick in a great position for Brunt that Phillips hit high and wide in his last action of the game. Why didn't Brunt hit it?In terms of controlling and dominating a match, our use of the ball, taking the game to the opposition and playing on the front foot this is the best we have played in ages and ages. The elephant in the room though is that we need wins not draws and we are seriously running out of what we'd view as winnable games. If we could wipe the whole season away and start again now with this approach I'm sure we'd be comfortable even without new signings but we're playing catch-up and our next game is very very tough. Pardew has to find a forward from somewhere who is quick and can score goals - and he needs the whole club to back him in doing so.
It's often said that the first step to curing a problem is to admit that you have one, and so when, in the previous game, Pardew's deployment of Brunt in the middle finally seemed to be an acknowledgement of the fact that, in Barry and Livermore, he has one the slowest and least creative central midfields in the division, if not, given that division's title, in the league, we also caught a glimpse of how hard it is to really acknowledge that you have a problem, in that he tried to play Livermore as a wide midfield player, presumably so as to keep both his "model pros" out on the field.
Whilst, in the game before the previous one - when a second from bottom Albion didn't look all that troubled by, albeit though still losing to, a second from top Man Utd - right winger Burke has looked as fresh and ineffective a "one for the future" player as Leko, the "one for the future player" that we already had but then paid money out for a replacement for (is that some kind of "one for the future-proofing"?), if Burke can't get a start out wide ahead of Livermore against Stoke, then when is he ever going to get one?
It was perhaps no surprise then, that, with right winger Phillips available again, Pardew should shuffle things around so as to have both Barry and Livermore back at the heart, albeit a heart that often appears to have stopped, of things, with McClean, possibly man of the match against Stoke, being rewarded with the place on the bench so that Brunt - whose ability to pass the ball forwards, exactly into the space where the tireless Rondon had demanded it be played, had lead to our token goal in the Potteries - similarly got moved out closer to the bench, in being deployed on the flanks.
Two other changes saw Dawson reprising his right back role, on his return from injury, whilst Rodriguez came in, for HRK, as more of a second striker off of Rondon, than a "number ten" who might try and provide a link between anything Barry and Livermore might come up with, and a lone striker.
Even with, or perhaps because of, the hole in the middle of the field, Albion were very much on the front foot for the first twenty minutes, courtesy of good play and delivery from down the flanks: the first, five minutes in, when a cross from Rodriguez, out on the left, that went all the way through to Rondon, with the latter unable to get anything on it; then, when a Phillips's cross from the right saw Brunt diving but just failing to make contact, and finally, just shy of the twenty minute mark as Phillips drove in a cross from the left that saw Dawson's header from two yards out just go over the bar.
Whilst the game went off the boil after that, Albion would have a three-man break-out towards the end of the half, not that they were ever really been put under the cosh by an Allardyce Everton who failed to get a shot on target in that half, but the ball carrier, Rondon, then fell between two stools, in not taking the ball on far enough to get off a shot for himself, whilst trying to play in Rodriguez from too far away, and so at too fast a pace, to allow the latter to latch onto the ball.
Certainly an encouraging half, although some worries for the second, in that the same could have been said about the performance in the first half of the ManU game, and we know how that ended up.
Five minutes after the restart and the worry level went up a notch as Rondon, having spun off his marker in the inside left channel so as to then run onto a ball that had been played into him on the edge of the box, slipped as he attempted a left-foot shot and fell down clutching his right thigh, presumably feeling the strain that saw him subbed a few minutes later, HRK joining Rodriguez up top.
Seventy minutes in and Krychowiak was asked to replace Livermore, presumably in the hope that the PSG loanee might be capable of a forward pass that found a team-mate, although Albion's following spell of pressure was more down to Everton's inability to clear the ball completely from a series of corners, taken on either side by Brunt and Phillips, and not the Pole, although even then, not all of their dead-balls cleared the first defender.
With time running down, McClean, who had seen his MoM performance against Stoke rewarded with a making way for Phillips, got to return the compliment, as Phillips, far and away our most effective offensive player on the day, got withdrawn, presumably so as to then receive the applause and compliments of the crowd for his efforts, though many in that crowd will have gone away, as so often, grateful to Foster, who performed a double stop to deny Everton a late, and to my mind undeserved, winner.
Overall then, there were signs that, as a number of us have always believed, there is a good enough side within the squad to see us pull as far away from trouble, under Pardew, as todays's opponents now have under their new manager, and indeed, in his post match comments, Pardew suggested that he still needed to "find that little whatever it is", and for me that'd be to give up on the idea that Barry and Livermore - even as experienced, and as model as professionals, a manager as experienced as he is at this level, could wish for - are ever, when played together, going to produce "that little whatever it is" right where it's so obviously needed, and that's right through the middle of the park.
Perhaps also, it's just a sad trick of fate that, just as we appear to be changing into a side that looks to play with at least one eye more often on the opposition goal than on our own, Rondon and Chadli should have both suffered thigh strains, right after their gaze fell upon the opposition's goal whilst in the opposition's box - just another case of "Semper Te Fallant"?
Well, you certainly couldn't complain about lack of effort - but to what ultimate effect? Regrettably, it means another 2 points dropped and another step closer to playing Burton Albion next season.
With the totally ineffective Rondon out for a few games it means that Pardew will have to have a welcome re-think about our striking capabilities. Would that Liver Salts could be persuaded to drop out for a while as well! How on earth does he keep his place? Hardly scientific, but just look at his average ratings on this website - has anyone scored worse this season?
On the way back from the match I heard a caller to Radio WM bemoaning the fact that we are handicapped by always starting with only nine players on the pitch, Livermore and Rondon being a total waste of a shirt. How right he was...
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