New-hand Clarke makes management look easy

West Brom 2 Everton 0

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The Independent Football

Steve Clarke seems to know a thing or two about this management game.

Just three matches into his reign as West Bromwich Albion manager, the Scot has now overseen their best start to a top-flight season since 1978/79 after second-half goals from Shane Long and Gareth McAuley secured this hard-earned, though ultimately deserved, victory and left the Hawthorns club with seven points from their opening three games.

Clarke, holding the managerial reins for the first time after so many years as a No2, did not have an easy start on paper, with home fixtures against Liverpool and Everton sandwiching a visit to Tottenham ,but his West Brom side have come through it unbeaten.

And if repeating the third-place finish that Ron Atkinson's side managed in the old First Division all those years ago seems beyond them, the evidence of this performance is that West Brom can enjoy a productive season under Roy Hodgon's successor.

The home side succeeded in denying Everton the kind of space they enjoyed in winning so handsomely at Aston Villa last weekend, defending resolutely while always carrying a threat on the counter, and Clarke understandably cut a satisfied figure afterwards.

"Seven points from nine is a good start and it gives us something to build on," he said. "The first half was a little bit cagey with two good teams feeling each other out but in the second half, when the game opened up, we were value for the win."

Everton had arrived full of confidence after their victories over Manchester United and Villa but Clarke seems to have their number. As Kenny Dalglish's assistant manager at Anfield, he sat in the winning dugout in three Merseyside derbies last season and he did it again yesterday as Everton suffered their first defeat since the FA Cup semi-final loss to Liverpool in mid-April.

David Moyes's visitors were not helped here by the loss within 20 minutes of the influential Darron Gibson to a thigh injury. They had plenty of early possession but Nikica Jelavic was off target with a header from a Leighton Baines corner and then had a penalty shout ignored by referee Jon Moss when he went down under Claudio Yacob's challenge.

Yacob, a summer recruit from Argentina's Racing Club, was playing an important role in helping Albion's admirable central defenders, Jonas Olsson and McAuley, contain the threat of Marouane Fellaini, even if the big Belgian did loop a header on to the roof of the net.

At the other end, Long should have scored in the 29th minute when he got in between his markers to meet Liam Ridgewell's cross but his header thumped the crossbar. Albion opened up Everton again on the stroke of half-time when Youssouf Mulumbu flicked the ball on for James Morrison to run through but the Everton keeper Tim Howard kept out his shot with a strong hand.

It was Everton's turn to get profligate in the second period, with Fellaini the culprit. He dragged one shot wide and then, after 64 minutes, was guilty of a pivotal miss. He looked poised to convert substitute Kevin Mirallas's far-post cross but instead sliced the ball horribly wide with his left foot.

"The first goal in the Premier League is vital," lamented Moyes. "If we had got that, they would have had to come out and they hadn't come out prior to that."

Moyes admitted that he had sent on Mirallas to go for the victory but instead, 90 seconds later, it was Albion substitute Odemwingie who delivered the low ball from the left that Long buried for the breakthrough goal.

A home win now looked inevitable and although Howard tipped over a Mulumbu shot, he was beaten moments later when he came out to meet a Chris Brunt corner and McAuley got there first to nod home.

West Brom (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid (Jones, 52), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Dorrans (Odemwingie, 58), Morrison, Fortune; Long (Brunt, 75).

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard, Neville (Anichebe, 74), Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Naismith (Mirallas, 62), Gibson (Hibbert, 20), Osman, Pienaar; Fellaini; Jelavic.

Referee: Jonathan Moss

Man of the match: Olsson (West Brom)

Match rating: 6/10

Claudio Yacob looks an inspired buy for Albion but just as significant is the fact Jonas Olsson has stayed. Everton did well keeping Leighton Baines and bringing back Steven Pienaar. Kevin Mirallas looked lively.

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