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Steve Clarke must feel like management is a breeze. The West Bromwich Albion head coach has barely been in the job two minutes but he has already presided over the Midlands club's best start to a top-flight season since 1978, lifting them to the dizzy heights of third place and leapfrogging Everton in the process.
Liverpool were vanquished on the opening day here and their Merseyside rivals suffered the same fate on an afternoon when goals from Shane Long, who had hit the bar with a header in the first half, and Gareth McAuley inflicted a first defeat of the season on Everton.
It was a disappointing afternoon for David Moyes's side and in particular for Marouane Fellaini, who wasted several decent chances, including a golden opportunity just before Long gave Albion the lead. The Belgian cut a frustrated figure as he argued with the referee, Jon Moss, about being penalised for free-kicks, and his miserable day was complete when he picked up a second-half booking for a foul on Long.
By that point the game was slipping away from an Everton team who had arrived full of confidence and looking to make it three straight league victories at the start of a season for the first time in 19 years. Although Fellaini was guilty of profligacy, Everton never clicked as an attacking force and found Albion a very different proposition to the Aston Villa side who rolled over last weekend. Albion looked solid defensively, have two excellent holding midfielders in the shape of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu, and carry a threat on the counterattack.
"It was a good game for us," said Clarke, whose side drew at White Hart Lane in between their wins over Liverpool and Everton. "The first half was a bit cagey but in the second half, when the game opened up a little bit, I thought we were good value. It's a good start to the season. When you looked at the games we had, you thought it would be difficult. But seven points from nine is something to build on."
Long's goal, which came at the end of a flowing move that started at the back and ended with the substitute Peter Odemwingie delivering a sublime cross from the left that implored the Albion striker to stab home, came at a crucial juncture in the game. Fellaini had just side-footed high and wide with the goal at his mercy and a couple of minutes before that Moyes had gone for broke, replacing Steven Naismith with Kevin Mirallas to chase three points. It was a tactical decision that the Everton manager was left to regret.
"I thought for probably the first hour we had good control but we didn't do well enough in the final third and that was the reason we didn't win," Moyes said. "I made a change to try to go for it because I thought we weren't doing enough to score and in opening up we conceded a goal from it, so I probably should have stayed the way we were.
"But I wanted to try to win the game and we had enough of the ball to do that. But in the final third we hardly crossed it, we hardly passed it well. But that's great credit to West Brom. They look as if they've still got Roy's shape about them at times."
There was certainly no way back for Everton – who lost Darron Gibson to a thigh strain in the first half – once McAuley headed home Chris Brunt's inswinging corner with Tim Howard caught in no man's land.
STEVE CLARKE’S West Brom found a way past flying starters Everton to chalk up their best-ever start to a Premier League season.
Striker Shane Long and defender Gareth McAuley scored second-half goals to end the Toffees’ 11-match unbeaten run in the league.
The Baggies have now won two and drawn once in their first three leagues clashes as new boss Clarke continues his happy honeymoon.
David Moyes’ visitors missed out on the chance to record their best start to a league campaign in 19 years but in truth Albion deserved the three points.
Clarke threw away the shackles of a more defensive line-up to go 4-4-2 just before Long netted and then saw his side seal the points after Everton followed suit.
The Merseysiders, who lost midfielder Darron Gibson to injury in the 20th minute, had lots of possession but failed to produce many chances.
A cautious start to the match ended when Albion struck the woodwork in the 29th minute.
Left-back Liam Ridgewell had time on the wing to pick out lone striker Long but his header rebounded off the bar when he should have scored.
Despite enjoying more possession, it took Everton until the 38th minute to register an effort on target when Nikica Jelavic’s weak header from Steven Naismith’s cross failed to test Ben Foster.
Albion threatened on the counter when James Morrison’s thunderous shot from 20 yards was brilliantly parried away by Tim Howard.
It was a rare moment of skill and entertainment in a contest where both teams cancelled each other out for much of the game.
That was until things suddenly exploded in the 64th minute – at both ends.
First Everton had their first genuine chance, created by sub and new signing Kevin Mirallas with a break down the right wing.
His deflected cross into the penalty area evaded a mass of players and bobbled through to Marouane Fellaini who was in acres of space.
The Belgian almost had too much time to pick his spot and blasted 15 feet over. It was a miss Everton would soon regret.
Just a minute later, Long tapped in from close range, getting in ahead of Distin after a low left-wing cross from sub Peter Odemwingie.
Clarke replaced Long soon after with midfielder Chris Brunt and Everton took off skipper Phil Neville, replacing him with striker Victor Anichebe.
But the scrapping of their usual solid shape saw Albion trouble them further.
Mulumbu’s stinging shot on the edge of the goal area in the 81st minute was well saved by Howard but the resulting corner brought Albion’s second.
Morrison took it on Albion’s right and McAuley headed home.
Clarke said: “It was a good game for us. The first half was a little cagey with two good teams feeling each other out.
“But when the game opened up in the second half, I thought we were good value for the win.”
Jonas Olsson, who is in the last year of his contract and is yet to sign a new deal, was man of the match and Clarke added: “He’s very important to us.
“He’s an integral part of our team. Hopefully with a few more wins we can persuade him to stay.”
Moyes said: “I thought for the first hour we controlled the game but we didn’t do well enough in the final third.
“I brought on Mirallas to try and go for it but maybe I should have left it and come away with a nil-nil.”
Steve Clarke is making management look easy after West Bromwich Albion's victory secured their best ever start to a Premier League season.
Clarke has waited a long time to operate in the pressure cooker but remains unbeaten as David Moyes suffered only his second defeat in 15 games.
Shane Long is thriving on the pressure of keeping his place in Clarke's starting XI and collected his third goal of the week before Gareth McAuley's late header completed another satisfactory afternoon for Albion's new head coach.
Everton had comprehensively outclassed Aston Villa last weekend but this latest visit to the West Midlands was always going to be a tougher proposition and by the end they were comfortably beaten.
Moyes' players escaped from a snooze-inducing encounter last season on New Year's Day with a victory and the first half was just as dull, with the game devoid of any fluency.
Long wasted a good opportunity for Albion when he headed Liam Ridgewell's cross against the crossbar. Barely a minute later Marouane Fellaini was also profligate from a decent position, looping Tony Hibbert's deep centre onto the roof of the net.
And on the stroke of half-time James Morrison advanced into the area after easily bypassing Sylvain Distin but his shot was saved by Tim Howard.
The second half was a significant improvement on the 45 minutes that preceded it and Albion finally made a chance count shortly after Fellaini had been guilty of an appalling miss.
Kevin Mirallas, the £6 million signing from Olympiakos, was introduced as a substitute and his low cross presented his fellow Belgian with a simple chance but he inexplicably ballooned the ball over.
Albion's response was clinical and another substitute, Peter Odemwingie, cut down the left after a sublime sequence of passes from one end of the pitch to the other and his cross was turned in by Long. It was a goal that epitomised the team spirit coursing through Clarke's squad.
The hosts were far superior after that, with Claudio Yacob driving wide before Youssouf Mulumbu's shot was tipped over by Howard, and McAuley added a second with a close-range header, sparking a mass exodus from the away end.
When gallows humour was a Goodison speciality, Everton supporters normally had a nice line in nicknames.
Few of those fans will have anything other than fond memories of Daniel Amokachi.
Indeed, no less an oracle than FIFA’s official website records his popularity on Merseyside, noting how the soubriquet of Amo-Taxi was earned ‘for his bustling style of play’.
Erm, it might have been something to do with him carrying passengers but never mind.
I will spare individual blushes as I’m sure Everton were not the only club to have a striker known as Jigsaw. Goes to pieces in the box.
But a favourite was the Fireman, so christened because everything he touched went out.
For some reason, that moniker came to mind watching this worthy but woefully unaccomplished game. I had probably been spoilt, the memory of Atletico Madrid’s technical masterclass fresh in the memory.
But technique exhibited by the Spanish in Monaco should not be foreign to these teams.
Particularly Everton, whose league placings over the last decade have been in a similar parish to those of Atletico’s.
And as every little Englander never tires of telling us, after Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga is hopeless.
Yeah, right. This was not a bad game. Just a basic one. Not unexciting but unsophisticated.
It was no coincidence that the one genuinely fluid move of the match – featuring a rare occasion when two consecutive passes were perfectly delivered and weighted – put West Brom in a match-winning position.
And the solidity instilled by Steve Clarke ensured Everton always looked likely to be held at bay – even without the insurance of Gareth McAuley’s header.
Being able to introduce mercurial talent from the bench – Peter Odemwingie put in a splendid cross to set up Shane Long’s goal – is nice. But West Brom’s continued success will be founded on the defensive midfield toil of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob.
Practicalities mean everything in this part of the Premier League. And if that is at the expense of purism, then so be it. For the most part, this was little more than a litany of misplaced passes and, poor control. Before Long’s bright finish, Marouane Fellaini found the ball on his left foot, Ben Foster pretty much a spectator.
And with one wild swish, the sudden gloss on Belgian reputation was dulled a touch.
Fellaini’s role provided David Moyes with one of the questions to ponder after this first defeat.
While Sir Alex Ferguson was simply a sore loser in his comments a fortnight ago, there was an inclination to go unnecessarily direct to Fellaini here.
And this was a reminder to over-expectant Everton followers that certain areas still look thin.
When Darron Gibson had to hobble off, the one genuinely cultured central midfielder hobbled off. If he is out for any length of time, he will be a considerable loss.
For Moyes, though, this is no emergency. It’s just that for all our sakes watching the Premier League, we could do with a few less firemen.
Steve Clarke may be a managerial novice but he has just inspired Albion to their best start to a Premier League season.
Goals from Shane Long and Gareth McAuley sent them bouncing up into the Champions League places.
Boing, boing indeed.
Clarke said: 'Seven points from nine is a good start. We looked at the games and thought it would be difficult.'
To avoid offending opponents, the canny Scot quickly added that the games really had been difficult and that club management was also difficult.
But you struggled to believe him in that moment, largely because he has made it all look so easy.
And while Clarke would not have dared dream of such an impressive beginning to life in the hot seat, old stager David Moyes admitted that his second-half gamble had backfired.
He sent on Kevin Mirallas and Victor Anichebe to go for the win … and went home with nothing.
'I tried to go for it. By opening up we conceded the goals. Maybe I should have stayed the way I was and got 0-0.'
Luck was on Albion's side.
Everton star Marouane Fellaini was ordered off the field at the start of the second half because his wrong-coloured under-socks were apparently showing.
'You'd have thought the officials would have checked again before they came out,' complained Moyes.
The Belgian quickly returned, but he did not seem in the right frame of mind when Everton's best chance rolled his way from a Mirallas cross.
He swiped hopelessly with his left foot - and his side's hopes disappeared into the Black Country skies with the misdirected ball.
It was not long before Liam Ridgewell released Peter Odemwingie down the left with a super pass.
The Albion substitute kept his cross equally low for Long's simple finish, which made up for the Irishman's earlier header against the bar.
The visitors were forced to throw more caution to the wind, and it created further danger for them.
Albion won a corner, substitute Chris Brunt sent in the perfect inswinger and Gareth McAuley beat Everton keeper Tim Howard.
In that moment Moyes knew his own bright start to the season had come to an end, though he was generous enough to compliment the way Albion had defended.
Darron Gibson has withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland squad for the World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan after telling manager Giovanni Trapattoni he is still suffering the disappointment of Euro 2012.
The 24-year-old midfielder was initially named in the 23-man party which will fly out to the former Soviet republic next week for the game on Friday night.
Sunderland's David Meyler has been called up in his place and will meet up with the rest of the squad in Dublin tomorrow.
Trapattoni said: 'When Darron informed me of his decision to withdraw, I called him to talk things through.
'As we embark upon a brand new campaign, he is very much in my plans and I consider him to be a key player for Ireland for this campaign.
'However, Darron has said that although he doesn't want to let anyone down, he doesn't feel ready to ready to return to the squad for this fixture after the disappointment of Euro 2012.
'I hope that Darron will take this time to reflect positively on his international career, and return to us in time for the Germany game in October.'
Gibson went to Poland and Ukraine with Ireland, but was restricted to a seat on the bench as they slipped to successive defeats at the hands of Croatia, Spain and Italy.
Trapattoni indicated in the aftermath of the finals that Gibson, along with the likes of James McCarthy and James McClean, would have bigger parts to play in his future plans.
The Italian has seen the vastly-experienced Shay Given and Damien Duff announce their retirements from international football in recent weeks and although Richard Dunne has confirmed his intention to play on once he has recovered from injury, the manager is having to contemplate significant change.
He will hope Gibson does eventually return to the fold with Group C favourites Germany due in Dublin on October 12, four days before his side heads for the Faroe Islands.
The Republic, who only just missed out on the last World Cup finals after a controversial play-off defeat by France, will look to open the latest campaign with a positive result in Kazakhstan before heading for London to face Oman in a friendly at Craven Cottage during the forthcoming international break.
And Everton manager David Moyes says Gibson will play for his country again.
He said: ‘You would have thought Darron would have been a key player for Euro 2012, too, but didn’t play, so he is disappointed.
‘But he’ll play for Ireland again, no doubt about that. I have spoken to him about it and I know he wants to play.’
STEVE CLARKE admitted he was focused on hurting Everton as West Brom continued their stunning start to the season.
The Baggies boss sent on Peter Odemwingie in the second half and he crossed for Shane Long for the opener.
Gareth McAuley added a second as Albion made it seven points out of nine — the club’s best start in 34 seasons.
Clarke said: “I wasn’t so much concerned about what Everton could do to us.
“I was more thinking what we could do to hurt Everton.
“Peter has got a little bit of pace which can catch the opposition on the counter. But management is not easy.
“I have some fantastic players who weren’t even involved so I have to juggle that around.
“It’s been a good start. When you looked at the games we had you thought it would be difficult but seven points from nine gives us something build on.”
Clarke paid tribute to Claudio Yacob after he helped to stop the Toffees playing their game.
The Argentine midfielder, 25, arrived on a free from Racing Santander in the summer.
Clarke said: “Yacob has settled in really quickly which is a great credit to the lad himself.
“Maybe when his English improves he’ll get even better because he’ll understand the lads — or maybe not!”