Aston Villa beat West Brom 3-0 as Big Sam gets off to losing start
Sam Allardyce’s first match in charge of West Brom ends in a convincing defeat
New West Brom manager Sam Allardyce during his team’s defeat to Aston Villa. Photograph: EPA
West Brom 0 Aston Villa 3
Thirty-five minutes into his return to management, Sam Allardyce must have started wondering about the wisdom of abandoning a life of leisure.
The 66-year-old said he accepted West Bromwich Albion’s appeal for help on Wednesday partly because he had grown bored of an existence in which the toughest decision he had to make concerned his lunch menu. But he cannot have relished the pickle in which his new team found themselves here when their captain, Jake Livermore, was sent off before half-time with his team trailing 1-0 to an early goal by Anwar El Ghazi.
It was soon to get more unpalatable, as Bertrand Traoré added another for Aston Villa before El Ghazi claimed his second goal of the game with a late penalty.
In the time between Allardyce’s dismissal from his last job, at Everton in May 2018, and his first match in charge of West Brom, there has been one major development in football: VAR. Allardyce had said at his unveiling that he dreaded being caught up in controversies involving the new technology, and that fear was realised here when Livermore had a yellow card upgraded to a red after the referee, Martin Atkinson, consulted the pitchside monitor.
But, for reasons unclear, similar action was not taken when Villa’s Kortney Hause was merely booked for lunging into Grady Diangana. Debates about the consistency of VAR rulings may be a relatively recent addition to football discourse but they are already very tiresome.
Allardyce has plenty of other worries. He had hoped for a bit of consistency of performance himself when he began his reign by selecting the same team that started against Manchester City on Tuesday and earned an honourable draw in what turned out to be Slaven Bilic’s last match. But the solidity that Albion showed at the Etihad Stadium was nowhere to be seen when they fell behind after just five minutes at the Hawthorns.
Traoré created the breakthrough with a dainty cross from the right-hand corner of the home box, before El Ghazi finished with improvised excellence at the back post, angling his leg like a chicken wing before guiding the ball into the net with a feathered volley.
While Allardyce, who likes to build on the basis of a strong defence, must have silently cursed his team’s brittleness, Dean Smith could take satisfaction from the latest demonstration of his squad’s depth, with the breakthrough goal created by two players who probably would not have started if Ross Barkley and Trezeguet had been fit.
At least Albion mostly restricted Villa to long-range shots for the remainder of the first half, apart from when Ollie Watkins headed just over the bar from eight yards after a flowing move by the visitors and a fine cross from the right by Matty Cash. But the hosts, admittedly deprived of their most creative player, the suspended Matheus Pereira, seldom looked capable of threatening at the other end.
The only time Emiliano Martínez was disturbed was when he misjudged his attempt to intercept a pass over the top in the second minute and ended up handling the ball outside the box. He escaped a booking.
Any hope the home side had of puncturing Villa’s territorial dominance faded when Livermore was sent off. It was an understandable decision, since the midfielder slid into a challenge with a raised leg that caught Grealish before hooking the ball. What was puzzling was why Darren England, the VAR official, did not advise the referee to review Hause’s offence moments later. Diangana might even have been able to point to incriminating evidence on his shin, as Grealish had done.
All West Brom got was a free-kick about 30 yards out. Darnell Furlong used it to fire off his team’s first shot of the match, a tame effort that Martínez saved easily.
Villa could have played most of the second half in their slippers. With Grealish prompting brilliantly from a central role behind Watkins, the visitors looked to be having fun, vexed only by their failure to increase their lead. They created plenty of chances.
McGinn headed wide from a cross by Grealish in the 52nd minute. Watkins narrowly failed to connect with a cross by Matt Targett two minutes later. Sam Johnstone made two strong saves to stop El Ghazi from scoring again. Watkins had a goal ruled out after another sweet cross by Cash, VAR reprieving the Baggies this time.
With 12 minute to go Allardyce changed tactics, introducing two substitutes and switching to a back three. West Brom improved and began to push Villa back a little. But not for long. Villa struck on the counterattack six minutes from time when Grealish released Traoré, who curled a nonchalant finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
There was still time to for things to get worse for West Brom, as El Ghazi converted a penalty after the umpteenth foul on Grealish. This was only the second time in his long managerial career that Allardyce has lost his first match in charge of a new club. He has a heck of a job on his hand trying to figure out how to get his first win with West Brom. - Guardian