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By Steve Blowers
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Premier League: West Bromwich Albion 0 West Ham United 0
West Ham battled their way to a gritty goalless draw on a murky Midlands afternoon at The Hawthorns.
Both sides had their chances to bag victory as Winston Reid skied over from close range in the first half and James Morrison then rattled the bar after the break but in the end it was the defences who came out on top.
Following last Sunday’s loss to Liverpool, Sam Allardyce made just one enforced switch as Gary O’Neil came in for Mohamed Diame, whose hamstring tear has made him the latest player to battle for a berth on the congested Upton Park treatment tables.
Indeed, after intimating that he would have to name four players without Premier League experience on the bench, the injury-hit Hammers boss only managed to select a trio of youngsters as he listed just six substitutes on his team-sheet in an embarrassing demonstration of the current decimation of his squad.
Certainly, with his skeletal side kicking off 12th-place, Big Sam cannot wait for the January transfer window to open in a fortnight’s time if he is to build upon all the progress made in the first half of the campaign.
Meanwhile, with tireless Carlton Cole asked to go solo up front at The Hawthorns, West Ham were reliant on the wide men to support their lone striker and Matt Taylor had the first chance of the match but he headed over at the far post, before Boaz Myhill then swooped low to gather the right-winger’s low centre as Matt Jarvis raced in for the kill.
Two hugely controversial penalties had proved the undoing of Albion at Arsenal last Saturday and following their 0-2 defeat at The Emirates, former assistant Boleyn Ground boss Steve Clarke made two changes as Goran Popov and Billy Jones replaced Liam Ridgewell and Steven Reid.
With Albion kicking off in sixth-place, the Baggies’ newly-crowned Manager-of-the-Month saw Peter Odemwingie test Jussi Jaaskelainen with a crisp low 20-yarder, before Morrison and Shane Long drilled low shots wide from similar range.
On the half-hour mark, Joey O’Brien collected his third yellow card of the campaign for upending Zoltan Gera before Morrison sent a powerful 25-yarder into the Hammers keeper’s ribcage.
It was West Ham who should have taken the lead shortly afterwards, though, when Mark Noble’s deep corner was nodded back across goal by the hugely impressive James Collins but the off-balance Reid only succeeded in hooking the ball over the top from close-range.
Ten minutes before the break, Cole robbed Youssouf Mulumbu on the edge of the Albion area before letting fly with a swerving shot that Myhill did well to beat away to keep it all-square at the interval.
The first-half had been a slow-burn at best but there was far more fire about the second period, as Albion quickly forced four corners that saw Cole head clear from under his own crossbar after Reid and Morrison challenged for a dropping ball and, shortly afterwards, the Baggies midfielder prodded just inches wide.
At the other end, Jarvis cut back to O’Neil who, curled a neat 18-yarder over the far angle, while Kevin Nolan lashed another angled effort behind.
With the game finally exploding into life, Noble’s corner fell to Reid but this time the Kiwi defender sent his jack-knife header behind.
Albion were equally threatening and, on the hour mark, Long’s zig-zagging 25-yarder cannoned off Jaaskelainen, who fortunately recovered to claim Collins’ recovering defensive header from under the crossbar.
Reid then slid in to deny Long after Odemwingie sent an awkward low cross into the six-yard box and, as the game flowed from end-to-end, O’Brien scooped over at the far post, when Noble picked out the Irishman with an angled free-kick.
With a quarter-hour remaining, Morrison rose highest in the box to send Chris Brunt’s corner crashing onto the crossbar before both managers made substitutions as Romelu Lukaku replaced Zoltan Gera, while Modibo Maiga and then James Tomkins came on for Jarvis and Guy Demel.
Markus Rosenberg also stepped from the bench as Long stood down but by now the afternoon was destined to end goalless and the busiest man in the closing moments was referee Phil Dowd, who took cautioned Nolan, Mulumbu, Tomkins and Jonas Olsson in a niggly finale.
Albion: Myhill, Jones, Popov, McAuley, Olsson, Gera (Lukaku 75), Brunt, Mulumbu, Morrison, Odemwingie, Long (Rosenberg 83). Unused subs: Daniels, Tamas, Dorrans, Dawson, Fortune.
Hammers: Jaaskelainen, Demel (Tomkins 81) O’Brien, Reid, Collins, Noble, O’Neil, Nolan, Taylor, Jarvis (Maiga 76), Cole. Unused subs: Spiegel, Moncur, Lletget, Spence.
Booked: O’Brien (30), Jones (75), Nolan (84), Mulumbu (84), Tomkins (86), Olsson (90+4).
Referee: Phil Dowd