West Brom seek hope in Tony Pulis's midas touch
By then, Sam Allardyce had already lost any belief, any hope and Morgan Amalfitano, expulsed for a foolish slap on Chris Brunt. His substitutions had been uninspiring, received with boos and grumbles of discontent by the travelling West Ham supporters who had made the trip down from London to the Midlands. Carlton Cole had replaced Diafra Sakho, West Ham’s solitary player who emerged with his dignity intact, and Alex Song departed, James O’Brien introduced.
Leading 3-0 before a crowd indulging their side’s new-found attacking fluency, Brown Ideye’s brace and complimentary acrobatics and James Morrison’s swerving strike in the first-half, Tony Pulis urged his side to attack, to evade complacency. He made it clear. He wanted more.
Stéphane Sessègnon picked up the ball mid-way through West Ham’s half, slipping in the approaching Ideye, his back turned to the goal. By the time the ball had fallen to the nimble, creative feet of James Morrison, Saido Berahino had already embarked on his run, turning beyond Mark Noble and the disinclined James Tomkins. The finish was sumptuous, a powerful strike into the far corner, leaving Adrián impotent. It proved the finishing touch to an outstanding victory, one which secures West Brom’s place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Where to start? With the bustling, harrying menace that was Ideye? The neat midfield industry of Morrison and Brunt? The louche touch of Craig Gardner? The plucky Claudio Yacob? The defensive organisation and solidity of Gareth McAuley, Joloen Lescott and Craig Dawson? Maybe how Berahino - lively, energetic and a constant threat to West Ham’s woefully disjointed resistance – delivered a timely riposte to his detractors to help the Baggies into the last eight of the FA Cup?
Just kidding. Those are all worthy topics to discuss but there is really only one place to start and when Martin Atkinson blew his final whistle and The Hawthorns, devoid of a substantial amount of home support, exploded with joy, the sight of the West Brom technical area, queueing to mob Pulis spoke volumes. Once again, a mere months on from his heroics at Crystal Palace, in which he heaved the club from the lower echelons of the Premier League as the sincere threat of relegation loomed large to a respectable 11th place, the nascent signs that Pulis may be able to replicate his remarkable feats in the Midlands are certainly promising.
It was the manner in which West Brom dispatched Allardyce’s hopeless Hammers, resoundingly their most comprehensive and sanguine victory of the season to date. It was the joyful mix of plucky solidity and drive and, at times, the attractive brand of attacking football hardly associated with Pulis. The 57 year-old was quick to point out afterwards that he will ensure his side are not looking ahead to Wembley just yet, with a quarter-final to contest beforehand, but it would rank among the Welshman’s most lofty achievements in the game.
For the most part, the reign of Pulis’s predecessor, Alan Irvine, was languid and uninspiring, considered an underwhelming appointment in the first place by the Baggies support. A record of 5 wins and 11 losses in Irvine’s 22 games in charge, a tenure which lasted a mere seven months, was sufficient to convince chairman Jeremy Peace to embark on his fourth head coach in little more than a year.
After the trial and tribulations of Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel and the aforementioned Irvine, Pulis appears to be Peace’s best bet of the stability that the club has so dearly lacked in recent times. The Welshman has lost just once in eight matches since assuming the reins at The Hawthorns in January, having reinvigorated the previously disappointing Ideye into his side’s principal source of goals, aided considerably by the supporting cast of Berahino, Sessègnon, Morrison and the industrious Brunt.
Indisputably, the rejuvenation of Ideye ranks as one of Pulis’s most praised achievements since taking charge in January. The Baggies’ record signing following a summer switch from Dynamo Kiev, the Nigeria international was on the verge of completing a £3.75 million deadline day move to Qatari club Al-Gharafa, only for the move to stall as West Ham striker Carlton Cole’s proposed move to the Midlands fell through, meaning Ideye would have to stay put. It spoke volumes, then, that former chief scout Stuart White, who departed on ‘mutual consent’ as Ideye failed to prove his worth earlier in the season, a player Irvine admitted to have never heard of before his signature, tweeted “ahem” as the first goal went in.
The Nigerian will be a vital component in Pulis’s project at The Hawthorns as Pulis shows signs of applying his midas touch.