It is on days like these that Huddersfield look as if they may just survive in the Premier League. Tony Pulis’ survival prospects, by contrast, are looking rather bleaker.
The Albion head coach faced chants of “We want Pulis out” from the visiting support during defeat by opponents who played for the final half-an-hour with 10 men following the dismissal of Christopher Schindler for two bookable offences.
It is now nine league matches without a victory for Pulis, a run that has brought just four points. Optimism levels have fallen a long way since they won their opening two league matches of the season.
Huddersfield too have found life harder since beginning life in the Premier League with two victories, but then the fact that they are here at all is something of a wonder. At times, they have looked out of their depth, notably against Tottenham and Liverpool.
Yet victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago showed that they could pull off the miraculous. This win was more of a grind, but arguably more valuable. It was the perfect way for David Wagner to celebrate the second anniversary of his appointment, which falls on Sunday. The head coach, ecstatic at full-time, raced on to the field to embrace his players.
It was a fractious match, settled by a moment of quality. Rajiv van La Parra’s first Premier League goal was one to savour.
It came right at the end of the first half, from a free-kick quickly taken by Aaron Mooy, after Jay Rodriguez had dragged down Jonathan Hogg just inside the Huddersfield half. Van La Parra raced on the pass, fed the ball left to Laurent Depoitre, and was then well-placed to take Scott Malone’s short pass infield and curl past astatic Ben Foster from 25 yards.
The goal was reward for Huddersfield’s dominance of possession, although they had struggled to create clear openings against a disciplined Albion defence.
It was not an easy opening 45 minutes to watch. Fourth official Lee Mason was arguably the busiest person of a foul-riddled first half, fielding complaints from both technical areas as referee Roger East battled to keep control on the pitch.
There were a number of flashpoints; van La Parra, booked for diving in a league game at Burnley in September, went down rather easily under an early challenge by Kieran Gibbs, without receiving either a penalty or a yellow card. The Dutch winger was involved in two rather more painful incidents later in the half, first barged over by Ahmed Hegazi and then sent flailing by a swing of the right leg from Allan Nyom; both Albion defenders were booked.
Hal Robson-Kanu, involved in an incident by the touchline that led to Schindler receiving his first caution for wrestling him into the advertising boards, then escaped a yellow card for catching Jonathan Hogg.
The niggles continued throughout the afternoon. When Mason was not fielding complaints from Wagner and his assistant Christoph Buhler, he was facing them from Gary Megson, West Brom’s number two.
Amid the fouls, there was the odd flash of a chance. Schindler misdirected a snapshot after Mooy’s corner had fallen at the far post; Tom Ince saw an angled drive held by Foster, then blazed over after another set-piece had caused Albion panic.
The visitors had few first-half openings; the best fell to Rodriguez, played through by Robson-Kanu, but Schindler made an excellent block.
Schindler has had a fine season, but this was not a day for him to remember fondly; he was sent off just before the hour mark for a second bookable offence, mistiming his sliding challenge on Hegazi.
Pulis responded by throwing on Salomon Rondon, Matt Phillips and James McClean in an attempt to save the game. It almost brought reward inside the final 20 minutes, as Rondon headed wide an inswinging Jonny Evans cross from eight yards.
Yet although Albion had nearly all of the territory in the closing stages, they failed to cause anywhere near enough problems until it was just about too late.
Wagner spent the final minutes whipping up the home crowd. There were two more scares for Huddersfield to survive, but goalkeeper Jonas Lossl was good enough, first to push away a McClean header, then to turn aside a low Phillips shot.
McClean, his frustrating boiling over, was perhaps lucky only to receive a yellow card for a wild hack at Ince. Pulis, though, could probably have understood his frustration.
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