Not a day has passed this week where I haven’t heard someone mention the mild weather. As the December heatwave continued, Mr Pulis and Herr Klopp continued their heated debate about last week’s undeserved draw.
A late goal from former Liverpool outcast Devick Origi unwrapped an early Christmas present for the Albion and robbed the Baggies of some much needed confidence. The line-up was much expected with last week’s impressive Anfield draw. With the continued man-of-the-match performances from the Cherries pacey winger Junior Stanislas; I was worried about Craig Dawson who still looks uncomfortable playing wing-back and isn’t graced with rapid pace.
The exclusion of last week’s match winner and former Manchester United trainee Joshua King from the Bournemouth side did give a glimmer of hope for a side that hadn’t won in three.
Statistics don’t lie. 26% first half possession summed up Albion’s attacking efforts. The team sat deep and soaked up pressure; a rampant Bournemouth team were limited to shots from outside the area.
Albion were limited to one shot inside the first twenty minutes; a looping half volley from James Morrison bounced past the former Southampton’s goalkeeper’s far post. This was Albion’s post threatening effort and across the opening ten minutes, Albion looked up for the fight. From then on in, Albion looked off the pace, unexciting and weak.
As the side sat deeper, they looked edgy and uncomfortable. Simplistic passes that would have seen Brunt and Dawson work their way out of tight sports against Benteke and Lallana at Anfield were being misdirected.
In a performance that was unlike their counter-attacking style against ex-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and soon-to-be ex-Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal, Eddie Howe has shown that he isn’t a one trick pony.
Bournemouth were patient and look comfortable both on and off the ball as Albion put up their most boring, listless experience of the season.
Positively, Jonny Evans’ inclusion over Claudio Yacob allowed Brunt and Dawson extra freedom when attacking the Bournemouth half as the side morphed into a 3-5-2 formation adding extra width. If Albion had pace, they’d threaten Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels. As expected, Dawson couldn’t keep up with the pace of Stanislas and was often beaten to through balls both going forward and backwards. As such, Albion merged back into their 4-5-1.
Bournemouth continued to dictate the pace of the play with Harry Arter controlling the centre of the park, often finding himself in ten yards of space to take one touch, turn and tackle without challenge. I continued to rave about Stanislas here. Although he started wide right, the caused issue for us by drifting in between the back four and the deep lying midfielders making the lives of former United team mates Fletcher and Evans.
The 37th minute represented the turning point. A tackle from Adam Smith on McClean from behind saw the Bournemouth defender take the ball and the player. Referee Mike Dean waved play on and this lit McClean’s proverbial match.
The hot-headed Irishman ran 30 yards where Adam Smith was being held up by Chris Brunt. McClean could have easily sat in Brunt and been the cover for Albion. Instead, McClean let his emotion get the better of him. Boos unnecessarily rang around the Hawthorns as McClean was shown a card that matched the colour of his angered face moments earlier.
I remained unmoved as McClean’s stupidity would undoubtedly cost the side. His tackle was uncontrolled, studs showing, shin height. Mike Dean had no option. Fans all around the ground continued to boo Adam Smith – who wins my ‘Name least like a footballer’ award.
The final five minutes of the first half witnessed Bournemouth’s most golden chances. Former Newcastle and Everton man Dan Gosling beat Brunt and Gardner down the left hand side and teased a clever ball across the area as the ten-men of Albion looked shaken by their Republic of Ireland teammate’s dismissal ten minutes previous. Our Northern Irish left-back then lost possession with an utterly meaningless 60-yard-punt in the general postcode of Salomon Rondon, who you’ll notice is yet to get a mention.
This clearance results in a Daniels and Stanislas linking up to beat the hapless Dawson at right back. This dink saw McCauley rooted to the edge of the six-yard-area and get beaten to the ball by Matt Ritchie. Bournemouth should have scored the opening goal as they began to pick up the pace and threaten. The powerful header was just wide.
Albion went in to boos, but not aimed at them, rather Mike Dean. If anything, the Albion fans should have booed their own players and their manager. This uninspiring, dispassionate, no intensity performance saw Albion fans turn onto a scapegoat. Albion were playing like the away side; at home.
Although Albion spent most of the first half deep in their own half and allowed Bournemouth to play in front of the box, they started brightly. The introduction of Stephane Sessegnon saw Gardner move into the middle in place of the ill Morrison. This shuffled Evans out to left back and his fellow Northern Irishman Brunt play in his much preferred left midfield position.
Brunt’s early free kick caused trouble for the newly-promoted team was headed by Fletcher but cleared by the Bournemouth back four. The ball was pushed wide again and Dawson flicked the ball down to Rondon which forced Artur Boruc to save the ball high above his head.
Another set piece from Albion’s number 11 drifted right across the area and forced the Polish goalkeeper to punch low. This was Albion best and most threatening part in the game saw fans electrified into life like a striped Frankenstein.
Albion then reverted to first half type. A static Albion saw Adam Smith drift in from the right hand side untracked and drive a scuffed left footed shot past Boaz Myhill into the bottom right. Albion sat back and couldn’t clear the ball resulting in the return of possession to the Cherries. Bournemouth 1-0 Albion.
This pressure ramped up the push for a Bournemouth second. A short free-kick from around 25 yards saw a drilled shot bobble past the same post that was narrowly missed by James Morrison in the first half.
Albion were now under the cosh. Stanislas breezed past Dawson on the inside making the stand-in right back look as if he was playing in treacle. This resulted in a low shot from the former West Ham winger and forced Myhill into a save at his near post.
A piece of patient passing play resulted in a serious lack of communication from Sessegnon and Rondon that saw the ball balloon into the breezy December sky. Albion fans were desperate for a goal.
At this stage, I’d like to make a plug for Craig Gardner. People will know that I’ve previously slated him and been his biggest critic. However, his performances in the last two games have been the best I’ve seen from him. His delivery from set pieces has caused real issues for defences.
Gardner crossed from a corner and Gareth McCauley met the ball and headed it against the far post. A Bournemouth scramble to clear the ball saw Mike Dean raise his arm in the air away from the goal back towards the Albion goal. Goal line technology pays off and Albion take a much undeserved lead. The intensity had ramped up in the last five as Lambert was introduced proving that a two-man attack is not outdated and works.
A second whipped ball from the much maligned Gardner saw Craig Dawson miss a sitter from the centre of the area back towards Boruc’s near post. Albion fans signalled to the sky and Dawson summed up the entire afternoon.
Season upon season, Albion always concede undeserved penalties. Dan Gosling can now join a list currently populated by London rivals Ramieres and Cazorla. A tangle with Fletcher four yards from the edge of the area saw Gosling fall or fly into the penalty area. This lead the Wirral born referee point to the spot which was dispatched in the roof of the net, with a little help from the bar.
Albion’s afternoon got worse. as trying to level the game Rondon was clipped in the corner. Like all Albion South American’s previous, Rondon lost his head and kicked out at penalty winner Gosling before pushing his head against his. Like the rest of the Bournemouth team all afternoon, Gosling went down like a bundle of dirty washing down a chute and Rondon joined McClean in the dressing room bath.
Did I mention Berahino played a minute and a half? Oh, never mind.
For once, I am genuinely struggling for words. I will always come out of a match and chase those often evasive positives. This time, I saw very little from an Albion who’d begun to fill me with confidence at Anfield last week. Firstly, I’d like to apologise to any of 23,000 that had to suffer 90 minutes of an Albion side who played with a lack of passion, a lack of intensity and a boring brand of substandard football. Illness is not an excuse. The eleven, which became nine, played with lack of leadership, lack of energy and lack of desire.
This brings me onto our manager. His inability to adapt will continue to cost Albion if he refuses to show leadership, tactical nouse and willingness to attack. Albion spent 90 minutes playing as if they were 2-0 in the lead at Old Trafford or the Etihad and playing a one dimensional game.
This game plan is seeing the Welshman field the same eleven and field square pegs like Craig Dawson. I’m hoping the links to Arsenal’s Debuchy will see Dawson dropped from the right-back position. It’s simplistic logic; square pegs will never work into round holes; no matter how hard you push!
His continued lone striker approach sees Rondon run and run and run and gain absolutely nothing. His power and pace is going to waste as he runs himself into the ground for 90 minutes. I think the fruits of his labour this week was his red card; the culmination of weeks of frustration culminating in that misguided kick-out.
I’m not calling for Tony’s head; I’m not that deep in the mire. However, it has been pointed out to me, last week’s point at Anfield saw us three games unbeaten. This defeat has seen us four games without a win. With Watford, Chelsea and Bournemouth winning, Newcastle, Villa and Swansea all getting a point, Albion are being dragged more down.
A long list of four letter words sum up our performance this weekend and a long list of words sum up what we need. Pace, incisive, partnerships, leadership, intensity, desire, creativity and a different tactical approach. If you set up to play counter attacking football, you need players with pace who look like they want to attack. At the moment, those players are hopelessly marooned on the bench. We look like we have one goalkeeper, 9 defenders and a stranded Venezuelan.
With no Rondon and McClean out for three matches, maybe it’ll force Pulis to finally throw someone new into the frame. I knew I’d find that positive.
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