West Ham strode closer to Europe thanks to a pair of late goals that ruined Sam Allardyce’s farewell to West Brom. Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio struck towards the end of an engrossing contest, after which Allardyce revealed he will leave the relegated club at the end of the season, unconvinced he would be able to guide them to promotion from the Championship next year.
While West Ham know they will secure European qualification – and sixth place, their highest league finish this century – if they avoid defeat at home to Southampton on Sunday, West Brom must begin searching for a new manager, as Allardyce, who was hired in December in the hope he could rescue the club from relegation, declined overtures to carry on.
“I believe the club now needs stability and continuity and this would, in my opinion, best be provided by a young and ambitious manager who can get us back to where we should be as an established Premier League club,” he said in a club statement.
West Brom’s sporting director, Luke Dowling, had tried to persuade Allardyce to stick around, revealing: “Sam, Ken (chief executive Xu Ke) and I have discussed at length our plans for the future and we very much hoped to have Sam in charge for next season and beyond. Sam has given his reasons for leaving and we respect the decision.”
The Hawthorns welcomed back fans for the first time in over 14 months but none could give their manager a send-off, as his departure was not announced until they, too, had left. Nor did the 6,000 home supporters get the result they wanted but they were, at least, treated to an entertaining spectacle, and that certainly counted for something.
The night got off to an ominous start for West Ham when their goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski, suffered a knee injury in the warm-up. Darren Randolph was drafted in to replace him. Once the game began, the home goalkeeper found himself in a different kind of a bother, as Sam Johnstone conceded a penalty after 37 seconds, bringing down Antonio as he tried to retrieve a bad backpass by Semi Ajayi.
Declan Rice failed to mete out punishment, ramming the penalty against the base of a post. Trivia fans may have been tickled to learn it was the earliest spot-kick miss since the formation of the Premier League; home supporters just rejoiced at the welcome change of fortune for their largely luckless team. Matheus Pereira set about giving them further cause for glee but Randolph saved his flicked header easily. Johnstone then tipped a swerving long-range shot by Saïd Benrahma over the bar.
The players seemed to be enjoying themselves, with no trace of late-season fatigue as they hurtled from end to end. Pereira fired just wide from the edge of the area in the 21st minute. Then the Brazilian Pereira helped to give West Brom the lead by curling a corner towards the near post. Tomas Soucek leapt to head clear but only glanced it past Randolph.
Pereira would have doubled that lead if not for an excellent save by Randolph but then, in stoppage time at the end of the first half, Soucek drew his team level, tapping in at the back post after exquisite service from Benrahma.
The tit-for-tat pattern continued in the second period. Aaron Cresswell took Johnstone by surprise in the 65th minute by going for goal with a free-kick from 35 yards but it struck the outside of the post. Johnstone denied Fornals in the 81st minute but West Brom could not hold out as, from the resultant corner, Ogbonna headed Cresswell’s delivery into the net from close range. Jesse Lingard sent Antonio through to complete the scoring two minutes from time.
“We’re so close but we’re not there yet,” said David Moyes of his team’s European prospects. “Our fans will be back on Sunday and hopefully, with a little bit of luck, they’ll get the chance to see their team do something special.”