West Brom 0 Aston Villa 3: Sam Allardyce suffers nightmare Prem return as El Ghazi scores twice past ten-man Baggies
SAM ALLARDYCE will have to create history if he is to avoid suffering his first ever relegation after his 10-man West Brom crashed to a crushing home defeat on his debut.
Anwar El Ghazi’s early opener put Aston Villa in the driving seat and the floodgates should have opened when skipper Jake Livermore was sent off for a foul on Jack Grealish 10 minutes before the break.
However Villa missed a string of chances and it took them until the last 10 minutes to put Big Sam out of his misery with further goals from Bertrand Traore and a second El Ghazi strike, this time from the penalty spot.
It was the first time Allardyce had lost at home in his first game in charge of a new club.
More worryingly, the Baggies' tally of seven points after 13 matches is an ominous sign – as no team has ever avoided relegation after collecting fewer than eight points from 14 fixtures of a Premier League season.
Big Sam had only managed three training sessions with his new squad and will be desperate to get back to the training ground on Monday.
Albion came into this game on the back of a gutsy draw at Manchester City on Tuesday which should have put a fresh boing, boing in their step.
But that theory was soon exposed as fanciful and, despite selecting the same starting XI Bilic had trusted at City, the new gaffer was in for a rude awakening as his side crumbled with Villa’s first attack.
Allardyce had barely exchanged pleasantries with Dean Smith, John Terry and his old mucker Craig Shakespeare when disaster struck, a mere five minutes into his Albion reign.
It was a goal which would have set alarm bells ringing for the Premier League’s most famous 'firefighter'.
John McGinn launched a booming diagonal pass and Ollie Watkins leapt above Kieran Gibbs and Dara O’Shea to nod the ball down to Bertrand Traore at the edge of the box.
The Burkina Faso winger whipped a wicked ball to the far post and El Ghazi ghosted clear of Darnell Furlong to beat a startled Sam Johnstone from close-range with a nifty flick with the outside of his right boot.
How he managed to squeeze the ball between the keeper and his near-post remains a mystery and the Baggies defence certainly looked baffled and bewildered.
No doubt Big Sam had his own thoughts as he was handed an early reminder of why his team currently languishes in 19th place.
There were precious few positives for Allardyce to take from a game which saw his side outclassed and outnumbered as they were controversially reduced to 10 men.
John McGinn had powered a shot narrowly over after 15 minutes, then flashed a header a fraction wide following a Traore free-kick.
Villa were in total command as Watkins headed wide and it took a desperate sliding clearance from Conor Gallagher to prevent Watkins doubling Villa’s lead.
But the Baggies were left with a mountain to climb when skipper Jake Livermore received his marching orders following another VAR controversy.
The England midfielder threw himself into a committed challenge on Jack Grealish 10 minutes before half-time.
Livermore appeared to hook his foot over the ball and win it cleanly from his Villa counterpart, who went down heavily – as he often does.
Martin Atkinson’s initial decision was to reach for his yellow card and book Livermore – until VAR ref Darren England urged him to take a second look.
Atkinson headed over to the pitchside monitor and, after careful deliberation, decided to upgrade the Albion man’s Christmas card to a red – much to the disgust of Allardyce and his assistant Sammy Lee.
It seemed a harsh call as Livermore clearly took the ball cleanly and there was no malice in his challenge. But the fact his leading leg was off the ground swayed the officials.
Big Sam was still scrutinising the replays when controversy flared again as Kortney Hause mistimed his tackle on Grady Diangana and left the England Under-21 man writhing on the turf.
Replays showed Hause had ‘topped’ the winger as his studs raked down on his shin but this time VAR failed to question Atkinson’s decision to book the Villa defender.
It seemed a clear case of double standards. However, having struggled to cope with 11 players, life wasn’t any easier with 10.
The only surprise was Villa failed to put this game to bed long before the end.
McGinn came close with a diving header and Sam Johnstone beat out a fierce attempt from Watkins before the visitors thought they had wrapped up the win after 72 minutes.
McGinn fed Matty Cash and the full-back’s teasing cross was expertly put away by Watkins at the far post – until VAR played its part and the red lines descended for Watkins to be judged to have strayed a fraction offside.
Unfettered Villa stepped it up a gear and Traore produced a brilliant finish, stroking home a Grealish pass with six minutes remaining.
El Ghazi then doubled his tally for the night from the penalty spot after Ajayi bunkled Grealish over in the box.
The Dutchman stepped forward to expertly beat Johnstone… and leave Big Sam with a raging fire to extinguish!
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