Friday 17 August 2018

Moore stakes claim for full-time reins

Newcastle 0 West Brom 1

West Brom caretaker manager Darren Moore. Photo: Reuters
West Brom caretaker manager Darren Moore. Photo: Reuters

Louise Taylor

As job auditions go it was pretty convincing. Darren Moore may have taken charge at West Brom far too late to prevent a relegation merely awaiting mathematical confirmation but the caretaker has breathed new life into a team who had lost their way under first Tony Pulis and then Alan Pardew.

Admittedly, a Newcastle United side suddenly propelled into a flattering mid-table position and lacking a cause to fight for were hardly the most awkward opponents but Moore's game-plan effectively nullified Rafa Benítez's brightest talents. Well before the end it was easy to appreciate how his four games in charge have resulted in the collection of a highly creditable eight points.

James McClean limbered up for kick-off with a not so subtle dig at Pardew. "No disrespect to Alan but, when we go out on the pitch now, we know what we're doing," said the Ireland winger.

Sharpness behind a microphone is one thing but could McClean offer a similar cutting edge with the ball at his feet? It certainly appeared so as he concluded a rapid counterattack by veering in from the left and, capitalising on poor defending, directing an angled shot wide of an upright.

The impression that West Brom looked anything but a side all but condemned to the Championship was emphasised when Jake Livermore's fine through pass and Matt Phillips' well-timed run combined to spring Newcastle's offside trap before Phillips - a frequent menace on the right wing - cut inside and thumped a powerful right-foot shot beyond Martin Dubravka.

Kenedy might swiftly have equalised following a slick one-two with Ayoze Pérez but, instead, the Chelsea loanee winger's left-foot shot hit the base of a post with Ben Foster beaten.

Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie in action with West Bromwich Albion's Grzegorz Krychowiak. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie in action with West Bromwich Albion's Grzegorz Krychowiak. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Overall, though, Benítez's players struggled to raise their collective game on an unseasonably chilly afternoon punctuated by frequent rain showers. Freed of the pressures involved in fighting for survival, they seemed enervated rather than liberated.

It did not help that Jonjo Shelvey was struggling to settle into his customary playmaking groove. Granted, a few of his hallmark long passes did come off but generally Shelvey looked like a man trying too hard. Maybe the news that Gareth Southgate was considering offering him a late World Cup call-up has inhibited rather than inspired a midfielder last capped by England three years ago. Arguably the biggest beneficiary could be Livermore, who had a good game in central midfield for West Brom.

In mitigation Shelvey did create the opening from which Mo Diamé's goalbound left-foot volley was deflected fractionally over the bar as Newcastle ended the first half on an improving note. Indeed, they would have equalised had Foster not produced a fabulous save to divert Dwight Gayle's close-range header to safety.

Perhaps significantly Benítez had restored Gayle to the lone striker role and demoted Islam Slimani, on loan from Leicester, to the bench.

West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips celebrates scoring. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips celebrates scoring. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Newcastle's manager has opened talks with the club's hierarchy about extending his contract beyond its current June 2019 expiry date but is demanding considerable assurances about the depth of the transfer budget before agreeing anything.

The fortunes of the Spaniard's still under-resourced team began looking up when Dubravka arrived on loan from Sparta Prague in January and the goalkeeper once again showed his worth by diving smartly to keep out a dangerous Jay Rodriguez shot.

Benítez attempted to change the narrative with a tactical switch involving Paul Dummett's withdrawal, Jacob Murphy's right-wing introduction, Kenedy's relocation to left-back and Matt Ritchie's redeployment on the same flank.

Shortly afterwards Slimani replaced Gayle. He added nuisance value but nothing to unduly worry a West Brom side who ensured that their hosts would be deservedly booed off. Moore surely deserves the chance to be offered the chance to show his worth as a Championship manager at the Hawthorns.

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