Obviously this game was built up as Tony Pulis’ first in official charge of West Brom. Understandably so, but personally I’m not sure how much you can with a squad after watching one match and taking one training session.
This game would serve a great purpose for the Welshman, though, to see players he hadn’t before and consider partnerships for a huge game against Hull City 7 days later.
The Welsh connection continued with Boaz Myhill getting the nod in goal, in front of him Wisdom was rested for Baird to go RB and McAuley paired with Dawson in the centre of defence. Poco was given an opportunity at LB to show himself to his new boss.
Gateshead, I don’t know what changes they did or didn’t make but they brought a squad clearly up for the occasion and willing to attempt to create an upset.
This was a potential banana skin for the baggies, Gateshead aren’t doing poorly in the Conference and they came to The Hawthorns with nothing to lose, the money gained already will be fantastic for the Northern club.
Gateshead, as expected started with some energy and made life difficult for Albion, they defended with 11 behind the ball and moved across well denying any space in between the lines and they created some worry for the home fans with set plays.
As always with these games set plays can be the huge moments for Non League sides. It can be planned, it’s less random and it can take away any physical battle, it’s pure technique and they had a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas fly into the Birmingham Road End.
The greatest opportunity for them came from a corner, they moved well and created space around the penalty spot area, swung in the attacker got ahead of Dawson and stuck a foot at it, the ball flew at pace down the middle of the goal and to Boaz Myhill, fortunately, either side and it’s 1-0 to Gateshead.
A couple of poor WBA passes gave Gateshead counter attacking chances but their efforts from the edge of the area were not troubling Myhill. The greatest of which saw Rankin pull it back for John Oster, who was totally open, his effort was over the bar but really should have troubled Myhill, it was horrific from Albion.
Meanwhile the poor start from Albion sparked Tony Pulis down from his vantage point to the touchline to give instruction, he came down quite early in the half and eventually Albion started creating chances.
Anichebe and Berahino were linking up quite well at times around the box but all the shots weren’t troubling the away side. A couple of nice moves were let down by the final pass and a couple were just too slow allowing Gateshead to get across and organise.
But a goal finally arrived just before HT. Captain Chris Brunt put a ball in low from a free kick, it pin balled around, Dawson’s attempted a back heel on the line didn’t come to fruition but the ball fell to Berahino who did well to control a half-volley into the roof of the net, a very impressive piece of skill from the lad.
A second came about when some intricate play left Berahino to turn provider, he rolled in Anichebe who’d pinned his CB extremely well, he used the tightness of the defender to roll him and the weight of the pass saw Vic hit a shot on the turn past Barrett the ‘keeper.
If Gateshead weren’t flattened by the underserved 2-0 lead their Premier League opponents took into the break they were by the early goal Saido Berahino produced. He used time and space to his advantage and curled an effort into the corner, something reminiscent of Graham Dorrans many moons ago when he was given such an opportunity.
3-0 quickly became 4. Berahino gained his match-ball, the ball was given to Brunt and eventually out to Baird out wide, his cut back found an unmarked Berahino to slot home in the opposite corner.
Chris Brunt made it 5 for Albion against a disheartened Gateshead when sub Samaras, who may have passed it quite well but his sluggish movement was frustrating to see. Anyway he released the 11 and Brunt, who was central to everything positive for Albion, never hid from the ball and was impressive throughout. He rounded Barrett and then slid in under pressure to get the ball into the unguarded net.
There was a larger gap between the 5th and 6th, Gateshead looked knackered, they were obviously hurting and couldn’t create anything to send their supporters home with. Silvestre Varela arrived on the pitch and the Portuguese loanee showed Pulis what he can do when he found James Morrison at the back post to tap home.
2 minutes went up on the board and it was 7 heaven for Pulis as Berahino sent a shot into the far corner from just inside the area. Whatever you think of the lad all his goals today showed how lethal he can be, his finishes were in the corners, they were unstoppable, give him time and space and that’s what he can do.
For 35 minutes it was a struggle. Should Oster have taken his first half opportunity it could have been a difficult match but they reacted well and ultimately the score line may flatter but it’s job done and there’s been too many times recently when the job hasn’t been done.
The score line flattered Albion and I hope the majority of the first half isn’t brushed aside because of the final result - the performance simply wasn’t good enough with or without the ball for large periods.
Berahino and Anichebe is an interesting combination and one that showed signs of working. I’d expect Pulis to try that more often in matches given his previous clubs have worked similar systems. Do I read anything into Berahino not celebrating? No, it’s Gateshead, it’s the cup and neither did others. He celebrated against Newport because he was a new kid on the block, he isn’t any longer. Personally I see too many Albion fans now just waiting to stick a knife in the lad, ultimately he’s our only goal scorer and they keep you in divisions so be careful what you wish for.
Notable absentees were Seb. Blanco and the non use of Christian Gamboa, I suspect their days are numbered at The Hawthorns, whether you rate them or not we’ve seen nothing of these players really so on that basis you have to trust the qualified coaches better knowledge should Pulis and co. believe they’re not good enough. Jason Davidson is with Australia in the Asia Cup.
Final mention must go to Chris Brunt for me, a goal and a part in most the goals today. I understand there’s a lot of people wishing the back of him and that’s the opinion they’ve gathered but I thought he played an integral part albeit against lesser opposition I think he could be a key figure in Pulis’ side and help us survive in this division.
Huge game against Hull City next weekend and it’s imperative whatever happens that we stick by the team picked. I’ll be interested to see the side Pulis plays and how they play after a week of his methods because I have to say there were moments in and around the area that were very nice plays.