Monday 18 December 2017

West Brom's new boss Alan Irvine on the crest of a wave

West Brom 4 Burnley 0

West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino scores his sides second goal of the game
West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino scores his sides second goal of the game
West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson holds off Burnley's Lukas Jutkiewicz
West Bromwich Albion fans show support for their team in the stands

Jon Culley

No managerial appointment this year has been greeted with such hostility as followed Albion chairman Jeremy Peace's announcement in June that he had chosen Alan Irvine instead of Tim Sherwood to succeed Pepe Mel as the new man in charge at The Hawthorns.

In a poll conducted by the local 'Express and Star' newspaper, to which 7,000 supporters responded, Irvine had a disapproval rating of 83pc.

How quickly things change. Three wins in a week - Tottenham away, Hull City at home in the League Cup and now the largest margin of victory by an Albion side in more than two and a half years - and Irvine was being invited by the home fans to give them a wave. He happily obliged.

"It's been a very good week with three very good performances but the moment you start getting carried away is the moment the game comes back to bite you," he said afterwards.

Nonetheless, Albion faced a Burnley side that had until yesterday been difficult to score against, even if there has been little to enthuse about at the other end of the field.

This performance, full of fluid movement, suggested that Irvine's methods - which gained him great kudos as a coach at Everton if only modest success as a manager at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday - may in time reflect well on Peace's judgement.

Burnley, for the most part, were poor. Without a goal since the 14th minute of the first game of their return to top-flight football, they are already looking like a side who may not be staying long.

Three goalless draws had preceded this match, giving the relentlessly positive Sean Dyche something to cling to.

But, after the chance of a fourth disappeared with Craig Dawson's 30th-minute header, there was never a moment when Albion's win seemed in doubt.

Still missing Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, who contributed 41 goals to the winning of promotion last year, and with the midfield partnership of David Jones and Dean Marney both ruled out by injuries since they last played, it is not surprising that Dyche's team were lacking as an attacking force. But the manager will have been dismayed at how readily they conceded, and from set pieces, too.

Undone by Chris Brunt's inswinging corner when centre-back Dawson rose above Jason Shackell at the far post to score his first Premier League goal, they were suckered even more embarrassingly before half-time when Graham Dorrans flicked on James Morrison's corner to the near post and Saido Berahino nodded it over the line despite a posse of opponents around him.

Dyche's double substitution and a change in his system sparked a better response from Burnley in the second half but, before they could seriously threaten Ben Foster's goal, they had conceded a third.

Berahino scored for the fifth time this season when he peeled off Shackell's shoulder to pick up a well-measured pass by Dorrans and angled a lovely diagonal finish wide of Tom Heaton and into the corner of the net.

Berahino, dropped by Mel after a number of off-the-field incidents, has thanked Irvine for allowing him to put his indiscretions behind him, and there is a mutual admiration.

"For someone so young his movement and his finishing are very good," Irvine said.

"People have spoken about his problems in the past but I've seen nothing of that. He is a very talented player, a great pro and if he keeps playing like that he will get all the rewards he deserves."

Albion's fourth goal came in the closing minute, when substitute Cristian Gamboa delivered a neat pull-back that Dorrans finished with equal aplomb, inflicting Dyche's heaviest loss since he took charge in October 2012.

"We are growing and learning as a team and that was a massive learning curve today," Dyche said. (© Independent News Service)

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