Fans return as Big Sam calls time

West Brom 1 West Ham United 3

Sam Allardyce experienced his first and last match as Albion manager in front of Baggies fans on Wednesday night as the fans returned to the Hawthorns for the first time in fourteen months. Within half an hour of the final whistle, the news emerged that Big Sam would be stepping down at the end of the season despite the widespread expectation that he would spearhead Albion’s promotion challenge next season.

Despite the result, it was a special night for the five thousand or so supporters who attended the Hawthorns and the atmosphere was special, particularly in the first half when Albion really should have scored one or two more goals.

It was a horrible start when Semi Ajayi’s mishit backpass led to Sam Johnstone bringing down Michail Antonio for a penalty inside the first minute. The noise when Declan Rice’s spot kick struck the post was incredible and it set the tone for the remainder of the first period when the Albion faithful were in excellent voice. Rice now has the unwelcome record of the earliest penalty miss in a Premier League game.

Matheus Pereira’s goal direct from a corner, something that he had come close to doing against Liverpool on Sunday, was well deserved and the Brazilian almost added a second when his shot was superbly tipped over by Randolph after Conor Townsend’s free kick had struck the wall.

However, the visitors responded strongly as the game approached half time and Tomáš Souček, by far West Ham’s best player, equalised when he tapped home Benrahma’s cross. There were a couple of minutes of hope that a VAR review might rule it offside, but it was not to be.

Both sides had chances to take the lead in the second half, but it was West Ham who took the lead with eight minutes left when Ogbonna headed home having lost his marker, Yokuşlu. In the dying minutes, with Albion pushing for what would have been a deserved equaliser, they were caught on the break and Antonio gave the scoreline a flattering look for the visitors by making it 3-1.

Given that the Baggies were already relegated, and that it was the first game back, the result was always going to be secondary. It would have been great to get a win, but the experience of being back in the stadium was fantastic nonetheless. It was not back to normal given the low attendance and the lack of away fans, but it was a start, and it’s left me aching for more and I can’t wait for the start of next season.

We know now, of course, that it will be under Albion’s sixth permanent Head Coach in five years. The club are back where they were two summers ago and it’s difficult to argue whether they are better or worse off. They have saleable assets in Sam Johnstone and Matheus Pereira, but not much else besides. Finding Slaven Bilić then was something of a coup, albeit it never quite worked out, but can the board find someone as good or better to try to build something, and will they get the time?

Whatever happens, I’ll be there to see it play out. Once a Baggie, always a Baggie.

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