A Fan's View: Albion 3 - 3 West Ham United
By Site Editor
Updated Sunday, 13th February 2011
Sussexbaggie gives his view on Albion's draw
The most disappointing aspect of the result yesterday was that there was an air of inevitability about it. We were 3-0 up at half-time and should have been able to safely say that we had three points in the bag, but an abysmal defensive display in the second half saw us lose out on two vital points in the relegation battle.
The afternoon started off very positively, with caretaker manager Michael ‘Appy’ Appleton opting for an attacking 4-4-2 formation. The departure of Roberto Di Matteo saw Nicky Shorey included in the starting line-up in place of Marek Cech, and also saw a partnership of Peter Odemwingie and Marc-Antoine Fortune up front to try and increase our attacking threat.
Chris Brunt and Jerome Thomas continued on the right and left wing respectively, with Youssouf Mulumbu and Graham Dorrans renewing their partnership in central midfield from last season in the Championship.
The only slightly disappointing element of the side was seeing Paul Scharner continuing in defence alongside Jonas Olsson, despite his error-strewn performances in recent weeks
The game kicked off with Albion on the front foot, with every player out to impress new Head Coach Roy Hodgson, who was watching from the stands. We had the first chance early on when Fortune sent a low shot from 20 yards straight at Rob Green.
After three minutes, the noise levels in The Hawthorns increased as we took the lead. The goal was scored by Graham Dorrans, who unleashed a superb strike from 25 yards, leaving Green with absolutely no chance.
We should have doubled our lead a couple of minutes later, when Chris Brunt saw his goal-bound effort blocked by Fortune after Green could only parry Peter Odemwingie’s dangerous low cross back into the danger area.
However, our near constant pressure paid off with a second goal after eight minutes. Jerome Thomas was the scorer, as he calmly finished from 15 yards after receiving the ball from Fortune.
Our attacking display in the opening exchanges was reminiscent of our many superb attacking performances in the Championship last season, when it would become clear in the first 20 minutes that we would have far too much for the opposition going forward.
Unfortunately, the momentum of the game changed after 14 minutes when Mulumbu was forced off with a thigh injury. This should not be too much of an issue bearing in mind we were already 2-0 up, but Appy showed his naivety and inexperience by replacing him with an attacking midfielder in James Morrison, rather than bringing on a centre-back and moving Paul Scharner into midfield.
Initially, we continued to enjoy the majority of the possession and we extended our lead further just after the half-hour mark after Dorrans’ free-kick was deflected into his own goal by Winston Reid. It says a lot about Albion, however, that even though we were 3-0 up against a side as limited as West Ham, I still refused to think that the game was safe.
This was proved in the closing stages of the first half, as the third goal seemed to lead to complacency creeping into some of our players and also saw West Ham improve.
Boaz Myhill was forced into a fine save to turn a powerful effort from an unmarked Demba Ba in the penalty area onto the post, before Gary O’Neil hit the crossbar with a powerful 25-yard effort in the last meaningful action of the first half.
The second half started with West Ham in the ascendancy, as I had predicted at half-time. It took them just five minutes of the half to pull a goal back, with the woeful Scharner misjudging the flight of a cross from Mark Noble, allowing Ba to bring the ball clear and finish comfortably past Myhill.
This goal changed the mood around the ground, with the West Ham fans beginning to sense a comeback and the chance of picking up a point at the very least.
After 58 minutes, the visitors pulled back another goal thanks to the worst defending I have ever seen from a Premier League side. Nicky Shorey, who is one of the smallest on the pitch, was left to mark two of the tallest in Freddie Piquionne and Carlton Cole on his own, leading to Piquionne heading the ball back across goal for the unmarked Cole to head home.
The Albion players visibly let their heads drop after this and should have conceded a third goal just two minutes later when Piquionne sent a towering header against the bar.
After 61 minutes, Appy made his second baffling decision of the day by replacing the impressive Thomas with Giles Barnes. This effectively meant that we had no left winger for the last 29 minutes, as Barnes seemed to be playing in the hole behind Odemwingie and Fortune. Barnes, who seemed to be unfit, showed no desire to win any challenges and should not be included again unless Hodgson can get the best out of him.
Albion were still creating the odd chance, though, and Odemwingie was unlucky to see his 18-yard effort well saved by Green after an intricate passing move involving Dorrans and Barnes.
However, we had Nicky Shorey to thank just minutes later as he was in the right place at the right time to block Ba’s effort on the line.
We were second-best all over the park as the game entered the final ten minutes and we finally succumbed to the constant West Ham pressure by conceding an equaliser after 83 minutes. For the second time in quick succession, we fell asleep from a short corner, allowing Mark Noble to send a cross towards the back post for Ba to expertly volley home.
At this point, most people in the ground probably sensed a West Ham winner and if they had really gone for it in the last few minutes, they would probably have found a way past our defence.
Despite this, we had the best chance in the closing stages when Odemwingie sent a tame shot straight at Green after he did well to create the opening.
Roy Hodgson will probably be wondering what he has signed himself up for! He will undoubtedly have been impressed by our attacking display in the first half, but will have been very concerned with the ease with which we allowed West Ham back into the game.
Our problem at the moment is our defence, as we have now shown that we have to score at least four goals to guarantee three points. With the games we have coming up, I genuinely cannot see us being able to score four goals in any of them so unless Hodgson sorts the defending out, we will be relegated.
Appy has come in for a lot of criticism for some of his decisions yesterday, most of which is justified. I almost feel sorry for him, as he was totally out of his depth tactically and seemed to have no idea what to change when we were put under pressure in the second half. There are probably Sunday League sides who can claim to be more organised than we were in the second half yesterday, which again suggests that Appy found it difficult to change things tactically when we just needed to close out the game.
However, the players also need to be held accountable for throwing away two vital points. Far too many of them seemed to just accept that the best we were going to be able to do was pick up a point yesterday, which is simply unacceptable.
I could write pages and pages about the players who under-performed disgracefully, but it is far easier to say that the only players who can come off that pitch knowing that they had done their best were Boaz Myhill, Graham Dorrans and Jerome Thomas.
If we are to stay up this season, Hodgson is going to have to perform one of the greatest feats of his illustrious managerial career. There is no doubt we have the attacking players to trouble most sides, but our defending must improve, something which Hodgson will have realised very early on yesterday.
The Wolves game next week has now become a ‘must-win’. This is not just because it is a local derby, but because it is effectively our game in hand over most of our relegation rivals and if we can win it when some of them are in FA Cup action, it will hopefully give us the platform to push on.