During the week, Chris Brunt had claimed Albion must double their four wins if they were to avoid relegation – what better opportunity against struggling Fulham. After Pepe Mel’s Spanish ‘pre-season’ I expected the Baggies to come flying out of the traps against bottom of the table Fulham. Unfortunately, it was a game of two halves again for Mel’s men.
Mel made three chances to the side which drew with title-chasing Chelsea with Jonas Olsson, Billy Jones and Youssouf Mulumbu recalled. But it was Fulham who started the brighter in Felix Magath’s first game in charge. John Heitinga headed over inside the second minute from a free header.
Lewis Holtby then blazed over before Albion finally found their way out of their own half. Chris Brunt and Saido Berahino both fired over dangerous crosses which fizzed across the box.
The Hawthorns’ pitch made Albion’s passing game difficult at times. Too often first touches were heavy or at head height. Albion couldn’t find any sort of cohesion early on, but should’ve had a penalty in the 20th minute. Thievy ran into the box and was shoulder charged off the ball by Heitinga. Referee Mike Dean waved play on.
At the other end, Sidwell fired over when it seemed earlier to score. Fulham did take the lead in their next attack. A long ball was headed back over the head of Billy Jones. Ex-Albion man Keiran Richardson crossed for Ashkan Dejagah to drill past Ben Foster from the edge of the area.
The goal, which came against the run of play, made Albion even more disjointed. Mulumbu and Morrison were being bullied in the middle, Amalfitano looked completely disinterested and Thievy and Berahino anonymous.
Foster pulled off a smart save in the 41st minute when Hugo Rodallega was allowed to control, turn and fire a 25-yard half volley goalwards.
After the break
Mel brought on former Fulham man Zoltan Gera at half time as he was forced into a reshuffle due to an injury to Billy Jones. Victor Anichebe came on for the defender with Thievy making way for fans’ favourite Gera.
The change in tactic saw Albion move into a 4-3-3 formation. But it took Albion ten minutes into the second half to register an effort on target. Brunt ran on to a loose ball and fired a volley goalwards. Fulham ‘keeper Stekelenburg was lucky to palm the ball wide.
The keeper next thwarted Morrison as the midfielder fired goalwards from 20 yards. Albion were in the ascendency, but were struggling to create clear cut chances.
Berahino curled a shot wide after good hold up play from Anichebe. McAuley then headed a corner wide when it seemed easier to score. Time was running out for Albion.
With only minutes remaining, Anichebe took the ball into the area, his cross was fired goalwards by substitute Matej Vydra with the ball creeping inches over the line. Initially, it looked as if referee Dean was not going to give the goal, but seconds later his whistle blew to signal a goal.
Albion pushed for a winner with Brunt and Anichebe working well but the captain’s effort was saved by Stekelenburg at his near post. The Baggies were forced to settle for a disappointing point.
After the game, Mel was keen to insist Albion still had three months to pull themselves clear of the relegation zone. But where are we going to get the points from? If we struggle against bottom side Fulham, who else are we going to beat? Games are now running out for Albion to get the final 15 points we need to avoid relegation.
The problem is, we don’t look like winning. We don’t look like scoring and we look powerless to keep the opposition out. We were fortunate to claim a point against Fulham, who looked far more organised than we did. Mel took his players away for a week of double sessions in Spain. But we still seemed way too open at times. We were lucky not to be two down inside the first ten minutes.
We were better after the break, but questions have to be asked why we’re only able to start playing half-decent football when we’re behind – and for only 45 minutes. If we are to start winning games, we need to be more savvy up front. I’m not sure the combination of Berahnio and Thievy is the answer. Anichebe played well yesterday, but mentally he’s a 45-minute man. I don’t think he believes he can play at that level for 90 minutes.
Still, it’s only Manchester United next...
Come on you Baggies!
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