What is it about West Ham and the Baggies? Fixtures between the two clubs always seem to generate eye-catching, exciting football. The Christmas fixture at Upton Park again delivered another memorable game – but for possibly all the wrong reasons.
Keith Downing again stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that had earned a point at Spurs. This time, Nicolas Anelka was recalled for the first time in two months to partner Saido Berahino up front. Finally we’d get to see Albion’s exciting prospect in his natural position.
Captain Chris Brunt, Billy Jones, Gareth McAuley and Youssouf Mulumbu were also given starts.
Albion started brightly and the three man midfield looked comfortable and controlled the game early on. The ball was worked nicely to Morrison down Albion’s right, who fired over a great cross to the far post. Brunt could only fire into the side-netting – when he really should’ve scored.
From the resulting goal kick, West Ham took the lead. Olsson allowed Carlton Cole a free header. Lugano failed to tackle Joe Cole and McAuley allowed Nolan to play in the winger, who fired past Ben Foster. A terrible goal to concede with all three central defenders failing to make a meaningful tackle.
The goal gave the Hammers confidence and it looked like a second goal would come. Ridgewell blocked from Nolan before Demel swivelled and hit the outside of the post.
Albion weathered the storm and equalised in the 40th minute. Brunt played in Anelka who kept calm to dink the ball over Jasskelainen for his first Albion goal. It was a cool finish from the experienced striker – who then grabbed the headlines for all of the wrong reasons with his ‘quenelle’ gesture.
The Baggies were again moving the ball well in midfield with Morrison in particular the pick of the trio. It was the forward who sprinted on to a long ball and forced Joe Cole into conceding a corner. Brunt whipped it over, Olsson headed goalbound, Anelka forced the ball home. Another ‘quenelle’ followed.
After the break
Albion came out and controlled the game again. West Ham looked devoid of ideas and the home fans were becoming frustrated. But Albion offered little going forward with Berahino becoming more isolated and Anelka more subdued with every passing minute. Maybe he was aware of the controversy he’d created back home in France?
Foster did well to palm away Maiga’s effort after the forward had dinked inside for West Ham’s first effort after the break. But the ‘keeper was at fault minutes later when he allowed the striker’s curling effort to slip under his body for the Hammers to equalise. The goal would spark a crazy few minutes.
West Ham took the lead a minute later. Albion failed to clear the ball. Maiga out-jumped Ridgewell at the far post allowing Kevin Nolan to fire home at close range. All of Albion’s good work had gone to waste in the space of 60 seconds.
But, just as Albion had against Hull and Tottenham, the Baggies hit back. Brunt found Berahino on the edge of the area. The youngster did well to jink his way into the box and fire home courtesy of a left-foot shot which fired into the net off the post.
It was Albion who were again in the ascendency. Brunt was felled on the edge of the area. Berahino stepped up and curled his effort onto the top of the post. An inch to the left and Albion would’ve won.
It’s a shame that an entertaining game will be remembered for Nicolas Anelka’s celebration following his two goals. Anelka could now face a five-game ban as the FA investigates the meaning behind the gesture.
Away from the controversy, it was refreshing to again see Albion have some sort of attacking threat. Anelka drifted in and out of the game, but finished cooly for the first before being in the right place for the second. Apart from the goals, he did very little else. Too often he dropped too deep in midfield leaving Berahino isolated – especially after the break. More frustratingly, he was strolling around with minute left in the centre circle as Albion pushed for a winner. But he wasn’t the only frustrating man in an Albion shirt.
I’ve been a big fan of Brunt and fought his corner when others have criticised him. But I thought he was awful on Saturday morning. Too often he slowed down the play when Berahino called for the ball. His positioning was questionable in a narrow three man midfield and too often was caught up field allowing West Ham to counter.
Overall, Albion were again improved. Having two forward posed West Ham problems and Albion were able to play their way through midfield instead of lumping aimless balls up front to Shane Long.
Downing must continue to be positive against Newcastle in Albion’s first game of 2014. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous year and plenty of points for the Baggies.
Happy New Year. COME ON YOU BAGGIES!
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