I have written on a number of occasions regarding games involving West Ham and any team managed by Tony Pulis. My articles go back years to when he was the manager of Stoke City, and how I detested their time wasting tactics, their blocking off the ball (American Football style), and their long throw game. Now that he is manager of West Brom he has produced a team of giants who have had a successful season, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and who currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League.
If tittle tattle in the media is to be believed, then Slaven Bilic needs to get us up into eighth place in the final table in order to be offered a new contract by the board. Personally I don’t happen to believe this, and reckon that if we have a decent enough final dozen or so games, and finish comfortably in mid-table, he will be given the opportunity to continue. Whatever fans think of the owners of our club, they have not sacked managers in the past without good reason, and I would not expect them to start doing so now. Anybody in the London Stadium who witnessed the superb atmosphere once we started to play on Saturday, and the continuous support for “Super Slav” by the vast majority of fans, would not believe that he was fighting to retain his job.
Nevertheless his reactions (some might say over-reactions) to some of the decisions in the game might leave you to believe otherwise. Beating West Brom would have gone some way to increasing our chances of getting into the top eight. We started the game five points adrift of them. Losing the game would have put us eight behind, and winning the game just two. So in many ways it was a real mid-table six-pointer.
Was Feghouli fouled for West Brom’s opener on five minutes? From my seat it looked like it, but general consensus seems to be perhaps it was a foul, and perhaps it wasn’t. Sometimes challenges like that are given and sometimes not. What is more pertinent I believe is Noble’s poor decision to play a ball like that to Feghouli, Feghouli’s inability to withstand the challenge, Kouyate’s poor defending in being nutmegged by Chadli, and Randolph’s inability to save a shot straight at him. It was a catalogue of errors and bad decisions. On some days the referee might have blown for a foul and it wouldn’t have happened as it did. But it wasn’t the worst refereeing decision ever. On so many occasions in the past couple of years a multitude of poor decisions have gone against us, and very few have been in our favour, costing us many points, but this one was not so clear cut.
I thought much the same about our “equaliser” that was ruled out for offside, and / or a foul on Foster. At first glance Feghouli appeared onside (as indeed he was) and I believe that the linesman raised his flag in error. But when you get the chance to see it again you notice that Antonio was offside and interfering with play by pushing Foster. The referee seemed to take a long while to walk across to the linesman and I wonder if he was in contact with the fourth official or somebody in the stand watching a video replay? The offside rule is complex and often controversial, and you could question that even if Antonio gently pushed their keeper, he couldn’t have saved it anyway, so perhaps the goal should have stood. Again, it was not clear cut and could have gone in our favour but didn’t.
Antonio was also offside when Feghouli scored the legitimate equaliser, and perhaps this is something that he needs to consider regarding his game. Whilst commending his enthusiasm to get into goalscoring positions, he is sometimes slow to retreat back into an onside position. Feghouli was close to being offside, and I believe some linesmen would have raised their flag as it is virtually impossible for the human eye to move their eyes fast enough to take in all the necessary action. We really need video replays, but that is a topic for another day. In any event this decision quite rightly went our way.
Lanzini’s excellent shot five minutes from time should have been the winner, but of course this is West Ham. How many times have we conceded a late goal to not win, or lose a match? Once again there was controversy. Did Antonio touch the ball or not? Should it have been our throw in? The referee thought that he had and this led to the corner and the 94th minute equaliser. Were we unlucky? Perhaps. But we should perhaps have defended better not to concede a corner in the first place, and also it is criminal to concede a goal headed home directly from a corner. Collins was on the pitch to help counter the Baggies height advantage in the final few minutes, but somehow our defenders and Randolph managed to block each other in a crowded six yard box.
The disappointment was enormous. We had outplayed West Brom for much of the match but ended up with a 2-2 draw. We might also have even had a couple of penalties, one of which looked like a blatant trip on Snodgrass, but it wasn’t our day for decisions. But having said that, in my opinion most weren’t blatantly bad decisions. On another day some might have gone our way but not on Saturday. Slav’s reaction was perhaps a bit over the top, although he endears himself to supporters with his passion. It’s a pity that managers are not allowed to say if they believe officials have got it wrong. It’s also a pity that referees are not made to come out after games to explain their reasoning with regard to “controversial” moments in games.
West Brom spent virtually the whole game time-wasting after they had gone ahead. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen Pulis teams do this in the past. Referees should take action, but they rarely do. The irony of the situation was that no extra time was added for time wasting in the first half as injuries accounted for the full three minutes that were added on. The Baggies continued their time-wasting tactics throughout the second half until Lanzini scored, when all of a sudden they began to do everything in a hurry. More time was added on in the second half (5 minutes) and this was just enough for West Brom to benefit.
In so many ways it just wasn’t our day. But we can’t just blame the officials. We contributed to our own downfall. The performance was encouraging, however, and more games like this should enable us to finish in the top half of the table. Eighth may be just beyond our reach though.