Nobody hires Sam Allardyce if they want fantasy football. They bring him in because of his ability to organise a defence and haul a struggling team away from the brink. Yet the numbers are starting to look grim for one of English football’s most renowned escapologists and unless West Brom eradicate their flaws at the back, this could prove to be one rescue mission beyond even his capabilities.
It felt desperate as West Brom slipped to another defeat. As Darnell Furlong cracked a late chance of an equaliser wide, Allardyce let out an anguished howl of desperation on the touchline. He knows his proud record of never being relegated from the Premier League is under serious threat. West Brom, who remain five points below Burnley in 17th place, have conceded 17 goals in six league games since he was appointed and there was little sign of them sorting out defensive flaws against West Ham, who twice exposed them with straightforward deliveries into the area.
The frustration for Allardyce was immense. His survival guide stated that a point was the minimum requirement after the joy of beating Wolves and West Brom were in position to claim a draw once Matheus Pereira had cancelled out Jarrod Bowen’s goal. Yet West Ham, who are unbeaten in six games in all competitions, had the final say thanks to Michail Antonio.
It was easy to see why West Brom have already let in 43 goals when they almost conceded from an early corner, only for Craig Dawson to head wide. The Allardyce effect is yet to rub off on them, even though they worked hard, and they there was nothing revolutionary about their approach in attack, summed up by West Brom’s centre-backs trotting forward to test West Ham’s sturdiness under the high ball whenever the visitors happened to win a free-kick in the general vicinity of the halfway line.
Time and again, the ball was launched high into the east London sky, but West Ham were ready for their former manager’s unapologetically route one ruse. They were rarely placed under sustained pressure from West Brom, who missed the creativity of Robert Snodgrass in the wide areas. Snodgrass played well in West Brom’s win over Wolves but his absence against his old side was a blow for Allardyce, who revealed it was down to a gentleman’s agreement between the clubs when the Scot completed a permanent move to the Hawthorns this month. The Premier League plans to investigate.
As it was, there was no sign of any bite from West Brom in the final third and the danger of adopting such a cautious approach was that their plan hinged on unwavering concentration levels at the back. It was asking a lot from a mediocre defence and, for all that they restricted West Ham to few opportunities during the opening period, it only required the slightest loss of focus for West Brom to fall behind on the stroke of half-time.
Allardyce looked like someone had told him passes above head height had been outlawed after Bowen, improvising brilliantly, produced a brilliant chested finish to give West Ham the lead in the second of two added minutes. West Ham had offered little beyond hopeful efforts from Vladimir Coufal and Manuel Lanzini. The service to Michail Antonio was poor and there were too many aimless crosses.
West Ham did keep probing though and when the lively Saïd Benrhama twisted this way and that on the left, checking back on to his right to swing a deep cross to the far post, West Brom dozed off. Coufal arrived unnoticed from right-back to clip Benrahma’s delivery into the six-yard box and Bowen used his chest to divert the ball past Sam Johnstone.
At that stage it looked grim for West Brom given West Ham had kept four consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, but a more considered approach brought a swift reward after the break. A neat passing sequence gave Pereira room to run at the defence and when Dawson backed off the Brazilian accepted the invitiation to shoot from 20 yards, whipping a crisp drive beyond Lukasz Fabianski.
The goal survived a VAR review for offside against Connor Gallagher, who was judged not to have run across Fabianski’s line of vision, and West Brom perked up. Kamil Grosicki threatened with some tricky dribbles on the left.
West Ham, who are still hunting for a striker this month, raised their game. Lanzini almost restored the lead, only for Dara O’Shea to deny him with an incredible goalline clearance, and Rice curled wide from 20 yards.
West Brom’s resilience was under the spotlight again. West Ham were pushing and they broke through when Aaron Cresswell’s cross was headed back by Andriy Yarmolenko, making an impact off the bench, for Antonio to smash home an emphatic volley on the turn.