The Sam Allardyce survival guide stated a draw was the minimum requirement for West Brom after the joy of beating Wolves. Yet the reality of his side’s dismal defending scotched that ambition. The leakiest back four in the Premier League could not handle West Ham’s crossing game and there was something slightly doomed about the anguished cry from Allardyce when Darnell Furlong spurned a late chance to equalise: a growing realisation, perhaps, that his record of never being relegated from the top flight is under serious threat.
The numbers suggest this might prove one rescue mission beyond even Allardyce’s ability to save a struggling side. West Brom, who lie five points below Burnley in 17th place, have conceded 17 goals in six league games since replacing Slaven Bilic with the 66-year-old. They have shipped 43 goals overall and there was no sign of their defensive flaws fading against West Ham, who profited because they were sharp and smart in the opposition box.
Both of West Ham’s goals came when they won the first and second ball from crosses. The frustration for Allardyce was immense, especially as West Brom were primed to claim a precious draw after Matheus Pereira cancelled out Jarred Bowen’s chested effort. Parity lasted until Michail Antonio settled the contest with his second winner in as many games.
Allardyce was a disappointed man and was soon being asked about Robert Snodgrass’s strange omission from the squad. The Scottish midfielder’s absence was attributed by Allardyce to a gentleman’s agreement with West Ham following his move to the Hawthorns earlier this month. The Premier League is investigating whether the deal is in breach of regulation 17, stating: ‘no club shall enter into a contract which enables another party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies or the performance of its teams in league matches’. Allardyce laughed. “Before I can answer anything that might put me, West Ham or anybody else in a bit of trouble I’ll see what the Premier League say,” he said.
David Moyes was not in a mood to discuss the issue. West Ham’s manager preferred to focus on his side extending their unbeaten run to six games in all competitions and rising two points below fourth-placed Liverpool, who host Burnley tomorrow. “If we can keep this standard up we’ll be pleased,” Moyes said. “I want to be ambitious and get us as far up the league as we possibly can. I want us to try and compete at the top.”
West Ham are on the up thanks to Moyes, who said that he is still in the market for a new striker. They defended well, dealing with Allardyce’s rudimentary tactics in the first half, batting away West Brom’s tedious tactics of launching the ball into the air whenever they happened to win a free-kick in the general vicinity of the halfway line.
West Brom missed Snodgrass, who impressed against Wolves, and their cautious gameplan unravelled at the end of the opening period. It was asking a lot from a mediocre defence to stay focused throughout and the visitors eventually cracked when Saïd Benrahma twisted and turned on the left before launching a cross to the far post. Vladimir Coufal arrived unnoticed to tee up Bowen, who chested past Sam Johnstone.
Allardyce bemoaned an inability to muster “five seconds of defending properly”, although he was pleased with his side’s response after the break. A more refined approach brought a reward when Craig Dawson backed away from Peieira, inviting the Brazilian to fire past Lukasz Fabianski from 20 yards. The goal survived a VAR review for offside against Conor Gallagher, who was judged not to have run across Fabianski’s line of vision.
Yet West Ham raised their level. Dara O’Shea cleared off the line from Manuel Lanzini, and Declan Rice shot wide. The pressure grew and West Ham broke through again when Aaron Cresswell’s cross was nodded down by Andriy Yarmolenko for Antonio to volley home on the turn.
Although West Brom fought until the end, their misery was complete when Gallagher was booked for diving in stoppage-time. Allardyce knows that time is running out.