A new era at West Brom began in entertaining style as a 4-2 home win against West Ham helped ease speculation about Tony Pulis’ future.
In the first game since Thursday’s announcement that a takeover by Chinese group Yunyi Guokai Sports Development Limited – led by Guochuan Lai – had been completed, defeat might have left Pulis, with speculation surrounding his future prior to kick-off, on the brink.
During last weekend’s defeat at Bournemouth Albion fans sang “Tony Pulis, your football is s**t” but no such criticism could be levelled on Saturday.
West Brom surged into a four-goal lead through Nacer Chadli, superb on his home debut, Salomon Rondon, James McClean and Chadli once more finding the target.
West Ham, who have now conceded 11 goals in their last three Premier League matches, replied with Michail Antonio’s header and a Manuel Lanzini penalty but never looked like completing the unlikely comeback.
West Brom were on the front foot from the first whistle. Within the opening minute Matt Phillips whipped a dangerous cross into the West Ham penalty area which just eluded Rondon before McClean worked Adrian with a low shot.
Albion were soon rewarded for their positive start but they received more than a helping hand – literally – from Arthur Masuaku.
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) September 17, 2016
The French defender was unfortunate to have a free-kick given against him on the left flank after the ball struck his arm following a tackle on Phillips. The referee’s assistant deemed it accidental but the man in charge – Mark Clattenburg – awarded the foul.
From Phillips’ resulting far-post cross, Masuaku did then deliberately handle the ball. Club-record signing Chadli coolly converted the penalty.
West Ham boss Slaven Bilic this week accused his team of being in a “comfort zone” and playing in “cruise control” so far this season, following just one league win and a Europa League exit to Astra Giurgiu, and you could see what he meant.
The Hammers enjoyed much of the ball following the goal but never really worried West Brom until Lanzini’s shot from the right side of the penalty area narrowly flew past the far post in the 34th minute.
Immediately afterwards, Dimitri Payet picked out Antonio with a lovely clipped pass but Ben Foster raced out to block his shot at point-blank range.
That was as good as it got for West Ham during the first half and West Brom extended their lead after 37 minutes when Chadli teed up Rondon and his shot through James Collins’ legs flew into the bottom corner of the net.
A third goal came before half-time and Chadli was involved again as his shot was turned in by the alert McClean from six yards out.
Bilic responded with two changes at the break, bringing on Sofiane Feghouli and Jonathan Calleri with captain Mark Noble and Simone Zaza, largely anonymous in the first half, making way.
But it got worse before it got better for the Hammers, with West Brom going further in front after 56 minutes.
Masuaku was at fault once more as his low cross was cut out by Darren Fletcher who set Rondon, at this point midway inside his own half, clean through on goal. Chadli made a lung-bursting run to support the Venezuelan, who unselfishly set him up for a tap-in inside the penalty area.
It looked like game over but West Ham responded with two goals in four minutes. First Antonio headed home a cross from Payet and then, in the 65th minute, Payet was brought down by Brendan Galloway and referee Clattenburg pointed to the penalty spot.
Foster dived the right way but Lanzini’s spot-kick was precise and well-placed in the bottom corner.
Collins came close to pulling another goal back with seven minutes remaining but his well-struck effort was brilliantly held by Foster diving to his left.