‘Big Sam’ pulls off another stunner at Anfield in EPL
A trip to Anfield has become the most daunting match in English soccer.
Unless, that is, you are Sam Allardyce.
“Big Sam” — as he is widely known — pulled off another masterstroke Sunday, guiding likely relegation contender West Bromwich Albion to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool as the champions dropped points at home for the first time in their Premier League title defense.
It was only Allardyce’s second match in charge of West Brom since taking over, for his first managerial job in 18 months, with the team in the relegation zone.
Go back to April 2017 and it was Allardyce who led Crystal Palace to a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield. That remains the last time Liverpool lost a league game at home.
Indeed, Allardyce is unbeaten in each of his last four league games at Anfield. They have all been with different clubs — Sunderland, Palace, Everton and now West Brom — with a short and ill-fated spell as England coach coming in between.
“We kept a tight ship all the way through,” said Allardyce, who is out to prove once again why he has a status as the survival specialist in English soccer.
Liverpool had won its first seven home matches in the league this season, and was on its way to an eighth when Sadio Mane controlled on his chest a pass from Joel Matip, swiveled and struck a fierce low shot into the corner in the 12th minute.
That, though, was one of only two shots on target all match from Jürgen Klopp’s side, which was suffocated by Allardyce’s deep defensive set-up. It wasn’t unusual to see West Brom have 10 men behind the ball, the next-to-last visitors finishing the match having had just 22% possession.
And from one of West Brom’s rare forays forward, a cross came over from the right and Semi Ajayi climbed above Fabinho to send a header into the net off the post in the 82nd.
“People will say we are lucky,” Allardyce said, “but that was good application from the players and they took their opportunity at the other end.”
Liverpool is still on course to retain the title, sitting in first place with a three-point lead — over Merseyside neighbor Everton — after playing 15 games.
But Klopp’s defensive problems mounted when Matip hobbled off with a left adductor injury in the 60th. He was Liverpool’s only fit senior center back, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out with long-term injuries.
“It is not a game we will talk about in 20 years,” a disgruntled Klopp said.
Wolves striker Raul Jimenez made a welcome return to Molineux for the first time since sustaining a fractured skull. He watched from the stands as teammate Romain Saiss scored an 86th-minute equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw against Tottenham.
Mexico international Jimenez hasn’t attended a Wolves game since he was injured in a clash of heads playing for the team in a match at Arsenal on Nov. 29.
Wolves conceded after just 57 seconds, when Tanguy Ndombele smashed a low shot from 20 meters past Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Saiss snatched a point for the hosts by heading in a corner from Pedro Neto.
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has refused to give a timeframe for Jimenez’s possible return to action.
By conceding, Tottenham missed a chance to move into third place, instead climbing to fifth and six points behind Liverpool.
It was a tale of two contentious penalty calls in Leeds’ 1-0 win over Burnley.
The winning goal was converted from the spot in the fifth minute by Patrick Bamford, who was adjudged to have been tripped by Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope after latching onto a long ball.
If Burnley’s players were aggrieved at that decision — replays suggested Pope might have got a touch to the ball — they were even more upset at not being awarded a penalty of their own in the 19th when Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier came out to collect a high ball and appeared to jump into the back of Burnley defender Ben Mee.
Meslier dropped the ball, and Ashley Barnes swiveled to shoot into the net but a foul had already been called against Mee.
“I’m incredibly frustrated,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose team is only two points above the relegation zone. “They’re two very important decisions that have gone against us.”
SOUCEK RESCUES HAMMERS
Brighton was eight minutes away from beating West Ham and pulling four points clear of the bottom three.
Then, Tomas Soucek popped up to head in his third goal in five matches and earn West Ham a 2-2 draw at the Olympic Stadium.
Brighton took the lead twice, through Neal Maupay and Lewis Dunk, with 20-year-old full back Ben Johnson grabbing West Ham’s first equalizer with his first goal for the club.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80