Going into the game Albion knew that a victory would take them into 12th in the league and five points clear of the relegation zone after a weekend of favourable results. Everton has always been a difficult place to go, yet the Toffees are going through a sticky patch of their own – having picked up a solitary point in their last five games.
Tony Pulis was looking to become the first Albion boss to win his first two games in charge since Ozzie Ardiles back in the early 1990s. The king of the baseball caps decided to recall Victor Anichebe to his old stomping group with Craig Gardner also called upon. Brown Ideye and Stephane Sessegnon the men to miss out.
It was clear pretty much from the first whistle what Albion’s intention would be. Sit in, protect the back four and try and hit Everton on the break. In fact, Albion didn’t touch for the ball for the first two minutes. Everton were comfortable in possession but didn’t really threaten Albion early on. The hosts were restricted to long range efforts from Mirallas and Baines, both of which were routinely saved by Foster.
Albion seemed happy to soak up the pressure with the Baggies quickly to regain their shape when out of possession. Morrison, Gardner and especially Yacob were superb in breaking up the play and closing down space. The manner in which Albion regained their shape in midfield reminded me of Roy Hodgson’s side – albeit without the attacking threat of Long or Odemwingie up front.
With the half coming to a close, Everton were awarded a penalty. Lescott tried to control the ball in the box but it somehow hit his arm and the referee awarded a spot kick. Albion had little argument. What came next would determine the outcome of the game. Regular penalty taker Leighton Baines took his position on the edge of the area waiting for the ball. But Kevin Mirallas had other ideas and stepped forward. The Everton players protested by Mirallas stood firm. He smashed his spot kick off the base of the post and away for a goal kick. What a let off.
After the break
It was pretty much a case of the same after the break. Everton tried to play through Albion were Claudio Yacob tackling anything that moved. The Baggies were again happy to ‘dig in’ and soak up the continuous pressure. As the game wore on, it was a case of when not if Everton would score. The Baggies were unable to string any sort of passes together with Brunt in particular guilty of misplacing even the most basic of passes. Anichebe had no chance up front on his own.
Pulis threw on Dorrans and Sessegnon to freshen things up. Sess did give Albion a different dynamic going forward. But again the Baggies were unable to create a meaningful chance in front of Everton’s goal.
The Baggies best chance came when Dorrans and Wisdom worked well together down the right. The full back got to the byline and pulled the ball back across the area. Substitute Ideye Brown stepped over the ball but his dummy fooled Sessegnon who could only fire wide.
If before the game you’d have offered me a point at Everton I’d have taken it. However, Albion were so negative – or, if you look at it from another angle, disciplined – that we failed to have a single effort on target. I know it’s going to be a scrap until the end of the season, but we have to be a bit more ambitious going forward. Somehow, Pulis has to find the balance between the offensive and defensive side of our game.
Rightly or wrongly, Pulis has been labelled with an anti-football tag. But it was encouraging after the game when he spoke our need to improve ball retention – especially at the breakdown of possession. Time and time again last night, we desperately cleared the ball away from goal instead of trying to find a forward.
But on the plus side, Albion remain unbeaten under Pulis. It’s also three games without conceding a goal. At the start of the season, there were that many defensive mistakes under ‘you-know-who’ that we were starting the game a goal down before we’d even started. At least under Pulis we’ve got a solid platform to build on.
Bring on the Blues.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES!
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