Albion lift pressure on Pulis while West Ham face up to crisis
West Bromwich Albion 4 West Ham 2
Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30
Slaven Bilic believes his West Ham side are victims of their own success, struggling to match inflated expectations; Jonny Evans, the West Brom defender, says that their opponents have simply sussed them out.
Whichever is correct - and it may be both - West Ham, after Leicester the unforeseen success story of 2015-16, are becoming the first crisis club of the season.
After only eight defeats in 38 matches last season, West Ham have lost four out of their first five in this one.
Europe, the prize for finishing seventh last season, is a lost cause already. Supporters are restless. They did not fight among themselves this time but were booing at the end.
"West Ham play a very expansive game," Northern Ireland defender Evans said. "Last season it worked for them because they caught a lot of teams by surprise.
"We studied them this week and we saw that they leave a lot of players high up for the counter-attack and we knew we could hurt them."
Nothing proved that theory more emphatically than Albion's fourth goal, when West Ham left themselves so exposed it was comical.
An attack broke down with a misplaced pass, at which point almost the entire West Ham team, with the exception of goalkeeper Adrián, were in the opposition third.
Darren Fletcher hit a through ball and Salomón Rondón was away, the Hammers defence turning on their heels to give chase like Keystone Cops, their embarrassment compounded when Nacer Chadli gave them a sizeable head start and still got himself alongside Rondón to finish the job.
Albion fans could scarcely believe it. After six goals and one win in 13 Premier League games, many had fancied that one more show of heartfelt dissent would persuade new owner Guochuan Lai to push the unpopular Tony Pulis through the door.
The Albion manager met his television obligations but did not face further inquisition over how he sees his future. Evans insists the players are with him. "Tony Pulis has a way of playing football and we all buy into that," he said. "Our performance today shows we are fighting for him."
West Ham mounted enough of a comeback to duplicate the scoreline from last week's capitulation against Watford, but it was scant consolation for Bilic. "At the moment we are victims of our success," he said. "It is good to build confidence, but if we think for a second we are going to do good this year because of last year, forget it."