Nicolas Anelka gesture: West Brom head coach Keith Downing admits striker is surprised to the reaction regarding apparent 'quenelle' salute

Anelka made the alleged anti-Semitic salute following his first goal in the 3-3 draw with West Ham

West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka could face a Football Association charge for his controversial goal celebration during Saturday's 3-3 draw with West Ham, despite manager Keith Downing pleading the player's innocence.

The 34-year-old Frenchman scored his first Baggies goals with a brace at Upton Park after being recalled to the starting line-up for the first time in over two months.

But during his celebration for his first strike, which levelled the game following Joe Cole's effort for West Ham, Anelka seemingly performed the 'quenelle' salute made famous by French comedian Dieudonne.

The gesture has been linked to anti-Semitism in his homeland.

Downing said after the game that Anelka was "surprised" with the resulting outcry but Press Association Sport understands the FA is aware of the gesture and will be looking into the matter.

The French minister for sport Valerie Fourneyron on Saturday night condemned the gesture, describing it as "shocking" and "disgusting" through her official Twitter account.

She wrote: "Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting. There's no place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field."

But following the draw, in which Modibo Maiga and Kevin Nolan goals had briefly put West Ham back in front before Saido Berahino finished the goalscoring to earn West Brom a point, Downing was quick to defend Anelka.

"I'm aware of it but it has got nothing to do with what is being said," Downing replied when asked about the gesture.

"It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. He uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now, it is absolute rubbish really.

"He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it."

Anelka had not played since the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool on October 26 but was recalled as one of six changes made by Downing, who looked to prevent any tiredness with the game coming less than 48 hours after a Boxing Day draw at Tottenham.

The caretaker manager was pleased with Anelka's display and is adamant the former Arsenal and Chelsea man is happy at The Hawthorns.

"I thought he had a good game," Downing added.

"He combined with Berahino really well. He has the quality to drop in and link the play and controls the game from that area.

"He got on the shoulder for his first goal and then a typical poacher's goal from the corner.

"It has been a while since he has played but his dedication and attitude has always been spot on. He is prepared to play and wants to play."

West Ham had only averaged one goal in their previous nine Barclays Premier League home games as they welcomed the Baggies to Upton Park.

But, despite remedying their lack of goals, it was in defence where Sam Allardyce's side were found wanting.

With central defensive duo James Collins and Winston Reid already sidelined, Allardyce would have winced when he saw James Tomkins forced off after just 10 minutes with a groin complaint.

With Guy Demel replacing Tomkins, West Ham had no recognised central defender on the pitch and Allardyce felt that cost his side a crucial three points as the Hammers remain inside the relegation zone.

"You try and defend with two full-backs playing centre-half," he said.

"The fact of the matter is it is not their positions and where it is not their positions and you are playing against the Anelkas of the world.

"At the end of the day that is nobody's fault if you are overpowered by the opposition's players. If we had our full quota of defenders fit today we would have won."

Ravel Morrison, Ricardo Vaz Te, Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Mladen Petric are also missing for the Hammers and Allardyce reckons he needs to get them fit as soon as possible to turn their luck around.

"It is like drawing a rabbit out of the hat at the minute for me," he said when asked about possible return dates for his crocked players.

"Every day and every week goes by and we have got to get them all fit as quickly as we can, it has been weeks and weeks and weeks for too many of our players.

"That is why we are paying the price at the moment, we used to be great at keeping clean sheets but because of our defensive problems we are finding it hard to do that.

"Finally we have scored three goals at home and we haven't won the game but that is no real fault for the players who played today."

PA

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