Not even a new form of VAR imbroglio could prevent West Brom from swaggering to a victory that keeps alive their slim hopes of springing free of relegation. The hosts were denied an early breakthrough in circumstances that infuriated Sam Allardyce, who suggested VAR was making a “laughing stock” of the Premier League, but his side brushed off that disappointment and won thanks to goals by Matheus Pereira, Matt Phillips and Callum Robinson. Sam Johnstone saved a penalty from James Ward-Prowse in stoppage time to preserve an emphatic scoreline.
West Brom have won back-to-back matches for the first time this season but are still eight points below 17th-placed Newcastle. “Unfortunately we need to rely on other teams losing,” said Allardyce. “All we can do is keep winning and keep our fingers crossed.”
Allardyce had not been coy about declaring this a must-win match and his team started with such vigour and pizzazz that they could have had victory wrapped up within half an hour if not for errant finishing and a fresh kind of VAR controversy. Pereira surprised them with a quick free-kick that set up Phillips, whose shot was batted out to the edge of the area by Fraser Forster.
Darnell Furlong sent it back into the danger zone and Mbaye Diagne nodded the ball into the net from six yards. Simon Hooper disallowed the goal after seeing his assistant’s flag but television replays suggested that Diagne had, in fact, been onside. However, officials at Stockley Park indicated their view was partly obscured by other players so they could not advise the referee to overturn his decision. “The VAR could not get an angle that conclusively showed whether Diagne’s upper body was onside or offside, so they have stuck with the on-field decision,” explained the Premier League.
“VAR got it wrong because of human error,” insisted Allardyce, who said West Brom staff had seen footage that confirmed Diagne was not offside. “We have the angle. We’ve got it.”
“I’m afraid so,” he replied when it was put to him that VAR is making a laughing stock of football. “The reflection on VAR can be done at the end of the season and all parties and stakeholders should have an influential input into how VAR goes forward.
“I think that input needs to be from the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association], LMA [League Managers Association], the Premier League and the FA. We need to come together on this because there are too many of us not being given an opportunity to express how to make it better. That needs to be done in the hope of getting a better balance on what we are seeing week in, week out. It needs to help us more than it’s actually helped us.”
West Brom’s players did not protest. Instead they continued stylishly persecuting Southampton, who will certainly be ousted from the FA Cup if they play like this in Sunday’s semi-final against Leicester. Robinson, Conor Townsend, Okay Yokuslu, Phillips and Furlong all had chances to open the scoring in the first 20 minutes. After then, Southampton began to threaten to make the hosts pay for their wastefulness, but neither Danny Ings nor Stuart Armstrong could find a better finish. Diagne then missed West Brom’s clearest chance so far, shanking wide after dainty service by Pereira.
West Brom earned their perfect chance to open the scoring when Pereira beat Forster to a fine ball by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and was clattered by the keeper. The Brazilian got up to convert the penalty with the simple efficiency that had been lacking, ramming it straight down the middle as Forster dived right.
They doubled their lead three minutes later. Ings, working back inside his own half, gifted the ball to Diagne, who stormed down the left and measured out an impeccable low curling cross that Phillips rewarded with an expert finish at the back post.
West Brom made certain of victory when Yokuslu pounced on a loose ball in midfield and threaded it through to Robinson, who raced clear and planted the ball beyond Forster.
After a foul by Townsend on Mohammed Salisu, Johnstone made a brilliant save from Ward-Prowse’s penalty to preserve his clean sheet.
“It was a non-performance,” said Ralph Hasenhüttl. “We have to show a different face on Sunday.”