Never mind Danny Dyer at the Queen Vic, the other EastEnders Christmas special has become a soap opera all of its own. In the Boxing Day edition, West Ham were beaten by Arsenal and sank into the relegation zone for the first time this season. In part two, they stayed there after leading twice against West Bromwich Albion in between the boos and were saved by the width of a post from a second home defeat in three days.
Meanwhile the central figure, Nicolas Anelka, was accused of what could be construed as an anti-Semitic gesture after scoring twice in his first game since October. Albion are the sixth Premier League club for whom Anelka has bagged goals, and the West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce, having brought him back to this country with Bolton, knew all about the striker’s ability.
His team’s back-four was not in the best of shape to prevent the goals, having lost James Collins and then James Tomkins to injury and playing most of the game with two full-backs in the centre of defence. When Anelka struck twice in six minutes immediately before the interval, overhauling Joe Cole’s early goal, Allardyce seemed to be on a slippery slope.
He responded by replacing Carlton Cole with Modibo Maiga, who scored a fine equaliser and then set up Kevin Nolan for 3-2. Albion, however, equalised within two minutes and Saido Berahino, who scored it, later hit the post from a free-kick. West Ham stay 19th in the table after one win in 12 League games and have another huge game on Wednesday away to Fulham.
Instinctive boos at the half-time whistle were followed by more discontent in the second half but Allardyce insisted his team would have won, had their regular centre-halves not been injured. “The sad thing was not protecting the winning position we had got,” he said.
“It’s really bitter for me, that pill. We just mentally switched off. Anybody could have won it then as fatigue kicks in. It was a remarkable performance considering we had four full-backs across the defence.”
The hope is that Andy Carroll, who has not played all season, will be back within three weeks as even with Carlton Cole scoring in the two previous games against Tottenham and Arsenal, West Ham have looked badly under-strength in attack.
Maiga has potential, and it was significant that his goal came soon after having an even better effort saved. Ben Foster just managed to claw the first shot for a corner, which gave Maiga the confidence to try again in the next attack, that effort flying lower but right through the goalkeeper, who should have done better.
Foster was unhappy too at allowing Joe Cole’s third-minute shot past him from an angle. Failing to build on that start, the home side were grateful that Albion lacked any penetration against a hastily revamped defence until the 39th minute, when Chris Brunt sent Anelka through to score his first goal for Albion and first in the Premier League since August 2011. At that point Jussi Jaaskelainen, restored in goal, had little to do but within a few minutes West Ham failed to clear a corner and Anelka bundled in his second, prompting boos as the home side left the pitch.
Their recovery was a spirited one, bringing an equaliser in the 64th minute from Maiga, who then headed down Mark Noble’s cross for Nolan to hook in. But within two minutes more, Berahino, the England Under-21 prospect, drove in a lovely left-footed shot off the far post. He could then have won the game, striking the far post with a free-kick that seemed to be curling in but obstinately stayed out.
Albion’s caretaker manager, Keith Downing, who said he could not be satisfied with his team’s defending, has overseen three drawn games and could still have the role for a fourth, against Newcastle on Wednesday.
Albion have gone cool on one Spaniard, Pepe Mel, who wanted to bring his own backroom team, and have interviewed another, the former Osasuna and Bilbao coach Jose Luis Mendilib. The sudden availability of Malky Mackay, however, gives them an attractive alternative, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is more likely to go there than Cardiff according to his fellow Norwegian Jan Aage Fjortoft. “I’ve been told to carry on and I’ll do that,” Downing said. He would doubtless prefer to do so without the socio-religious-political controversies.
West Ham (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen; O’Brien, Tomkins (Demel, 8), McCartney, Rat; J Cole (Collison, 82), Diamé, Noble, Jarvis; Nolan; C Cole (Maiga, h-t).
West Bromwich (3-5-1-1): Foster; McAuley, Olsson, Lugano (Amalfitano, 67); Jones, Mulumbu, Morrison (Yacob, 77), Brunt, Ridgewell; Anelka; Berahino (Sessègnon, 84).
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Noble
Match rating: 8/10