The ironic cheers from the home fans when the home side belatedly decided to see if Joe Hart was still awake summed up the hopeless lack of entertainment here.
It reflected poorly on West Bromwich Albion that Hal Robson-Kanu’s tame header was one of their better chances on a dull, grey afternoon, and there were loud boos when Paul Tierney put everyone inside the Hawthorns out of their misery by blowing the final whistle.
However West Ham were satisfied with a goalless draw that extended their mini-resurgence. They did not create many opportunities, but at least Slaven Bilic could point to a second consecutive clean sheet as evidence that he deserves to keep his job.
Bilic kept faith with the players who ground out that ugly win over Huddersfield Town on Monday, using a tight 3-4-3 system intended to cover up West Ham’s lack of defensive speed and make them tougher to break down. Needs must. The pressure on Bilic has forced him to try a more pragmatic approach, even though doing so has meant sacrificing some of his team’s attacking threat.
West Ham’s willingness to sit deep in large numbers against opponents as unimaginative as West Brom created a grim spectacle, though. Both teams toiled throughout a forgettable first half, treating the ball without sufficient care and playing too much direct football. West Brom had an early chance after Pedro Obiang’s slip allowed Chris Brunt to wriggle clear on the right, only for Winston Reid to throw himself in front of Kieran Gibbs’s goalbound volley, and Gareth Barry headed just over from the resultant corner, but the hosts were edgy after last week’s comprehensive defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Barry was equalling Ryan Giggs’s record of 632 Premier League games, but there was precious little to add to the midfielder’s highlights reel. Jay Rodriguez was isolated against West Ham’s back three and countless West Brom moves broke down after poor decisions in the final third.
It was a shapeless mess. While their organisation and commitment was impressive, West Ham were unbalanced and limited in attack. Michail Antonio provided thrust with a few electric bursts, testing Ben Foster with a firm drive from 25 yards, but once again Javier Hernández struggled to make an impact in a wide role that restricted his potential to poach in the penalty area. West Ham’s best moments tended to stem from long balls to Andy Carroll, while Obiang struck the bar with an audacious attempt to catch Foster off his line from long range.
Sensing that West Brom were vulnerable, Bilic reacted positively when James Collins went down injured early in the second half, bringing on Marko Arnautovic in the hope that the Austrian’s maverick style could give West Ham greater variety.
West Brom were desperately ponderous, with the lethargic Grzegorz Krychowiak never threatening to make Bilic regret his decision to turn him down in the summer, and the visitors looked likelier to pick the lock, especially when Carroll’s flick sent Hernández through. Foster hurtled out of his area and tripped the Mexican. The West Brom goalkeeper was more than happy to take a booking and the free-kick came to nothing, much like the game as a whole.
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