|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
Tony Pulis’s presence boosts West Brom in gutsy draw at West Ham
West Ham United 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
Marvel at the Tony Pulis effect. Although the presence of the Premier League’s leading troubleshooter in the stands at Upton Park was not quite enough to lift his new side to an unlikely victory over West Ham United, this was an encouraging first step in the right direction for West Bromwich Albion, who took heart from a display that belied their status as relegation candidates. On this evidence, they can be hopeful of staying up with a degree of comfort.
It was a mark of how well Albion coped that the final whistle was greeted by a smattering of boos from the home fans, a harsh reaction when this result is placed into the context of what West Ham have achieved so far this season. There was a leggy feel to West Ham at the end of an energy-sapping run of games and there were complaints about them sending a few too many long balls in the direction of the ineffective Andy Carroll for the crowd’s liking.
But the draw kept them within touching distance of fourth-placed Southampton and, in that sense, Sam Allardyce’s side are victims of their own success. Considering the shambolic state they found themselves in at the start of 2014, life could be worse.
They could, for instance, be West Bromwich Albion. Something had to give after their 2-0 defeat at Stoke City on Sunday ended with their supporters in open mutiny and, putting it bluntly, no one was surprised when the news filtered through that Alan Irvine had been sacked on Monday night. There is no point sugarcoating the issue: Irvine was doomed from the start and the club had to act. The bloody-mindedness of Crystal Palace’s escape under Pulis last season has instantly restored optimism at Albion.
Pulis, whose first proper match in charge will be when non-league Gateshead visit The Hawthorns in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday, left it to Keith Downing and Rob Kelly to take caretaker charge, although his assistant, Dave Kemp, popped up in the dugout in the second half. Kelly said that Pulis offered his new players a few words of advice, before adding that much of the preparation was done by Irvine. It may well turn out to be Kelly and Downing’s final hurrah at the club, with Pulis likely to replace them with his own backroom staff.
Albion will be disappointed that summoning the inspiration that might have brought them a first win in four matches was beyond them but this may come to be seen as a valuable point in the final reckoning. They are a point above third-bottom Palace and they were resilient when they had to be in the second half to stretch West Ham’s winless run to three matches.
The fear for West Ham was that Pulis’s arrival would give Albion a new lease of life and the visitors played some pleasing football in the first half. Stéphane Sessègnon, whose tricky footwork and easy dribbling style would make him a genuine force if only he were more consistent, was a source of creative menace and his dash down the left three minutes before the interval created Saido Berahino’s equaliser.
Albion displayed strength of character to recover from falling behind in the 10th minute, West Ham taking the lead with a beautifully crafted goal. Stewart Downing sent a searching pass sailing over Joleon Lescott’s head and Morgan Amalfitano was able to bring the ball down and find Aaron Cresswell, whose fizzing cross was headed into the far corner by Diafra Sakho for his ninth goal in all competitions.
Yet Sakho later went off with a back injury and West Ham will suffer when he and Cheikhou Kouyaté head off to the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal next Monday. Allardyce also admitted that there is a chance that Alex Song could yet be called up by Cameroon after initially being left out last week.
It would be a blow for West Ham if Song goes. They have misplaced their spark in the past week and there are concerns that it is impossible to replicate the flowing football they were playing a couple of months ago when Carroll, who is not the most mobile of forwards, is in their attack.
Gradually Albion asserted themselves and Adrián had to make an outstanding save from Chris Baird’s surprisingly acrobatic volley, before West Ham were exposed when Sessègnon broke and rolled the ball inside to Berahino, who alerted any potential suitors this month to his qualities by coolly scoring for the first time in 12 matches.
West Ham could hardly plead ignorance given that it was Berahino’s third goal in four matches against them and the closest they came to a winner in the second half was when Cresswell’s free-kick hit the base of Ben Foster’s left post. Albion stood firm.
Man of the match Stéphane Sessègnon (West Bromwich Albion)