Pepe pieces it all together for West Brom
After many trials and tribulations in his previous eight games at the Hawthorns, Pepe Mel finally tasted victory at home on Saturday, with Saido Berahino seeing off West Ham.
It may have taken a while, but Mel recorded a first victory at just the right time, as the 1-0 win against West Ham near enough secures West Brom's Premier League status for another season. Although it is not mathematically impossible for Albion to go down yet, it will take a huge turnaround to drag them into the bottom three.
- Report: West Brom 1-0 West Ham
After throwing away leads against Cardiff and Tottenham in their previous two home games, Mel's men managed to hang on to a one-goal advantage given to them by Berahino in the 11th minute. In doing so, Albion and Mel finally pieced together all the aspects they've been criticised for in previous weeks, when letting slip 2-0 and 3-2 leads against Cardiff and the three-goal advantage they had over Spurs.
Mel also must take credit for his decision to play Berahino from the start. It was harsh on Matej Vydra, who contributed a goal and two assists in his run of four starts, but ultimately Berahino rewarded Mel's faith in him by scoring the winner. It wasn't the prettiest or best of Berahino's five Premier League goals, but it was crucial.
It has come full circle for Berahino, who needs to rebuild his rapport with the club's support.
The disappointment started with his ill-fated decision to try to get a fourth goal against Cardiff rather than simply taking the ball to the corner. Then there was the controversy about his fight with James Morrison after the match, and later, a video surfaced of him using laughing gas.
The goal against West Ham is simply the beginning of rebuilding his relationship with the club, but there is no doubt he has the talent to become a big player for Albion over the coming seasons. You only have to look at the goals he has scored to realise that although he may have made his fair share of mistakes on and off the pitch, he has made a telling contribution to Albion's survival bid.
Of his five Premier League goals this season, four have come in West Brom wins, with three of them the decisive goal. His other Premier League strike this season also earned Albion a point, getting the equaliser in a 3-3 draw with West Ham at Upton Park -- the game known more for Nicolas Anelka's celebration than anything else.
As mentioned, it wasn't just the attackers who deserved credit as the defence finally dragged themselves out of a malaise that had threatened the club's Premier League status. Poor marking and decision-making contributed massively to the collapses against Cardiff and Spurs, but it was a different story against West Ham, even with a makeshift back four.
Jonas Olsson once again performed well against Andy Carroll while Craig Dawson also had his best game in an Albion shirt, but it was the display of Billy Jones that really stood out. He returned on Monday against Manchester City but was immediately moved from his favoured right-back role to left-back to fill in for the injured Liam Ridgewell, with Steven Reid back in at right back. Jones looked comfortable on the left, with most of the threat coming from Matt Jarvis up against Reid.
When Reid had to be taken off with an injury, Jones moved to right back with Chris Brunt going to left back, putting in a captain's display in an unfamiliar position.
While it may be discouraging that two players playing out of position -- Jones and Brunt -- performed better than Albion's first-choice left-back has this season, it was evidence they need to tie Jones down to a new deal as soon as possible as Mel looks to put together a side more capable of playing his desired style.