SAM Allardyce’s reign as West Bromwich Albion manager got off to a miserable start as Aston Villa brushed aside the 10-man Baggies.
Anwar El Ghazi’s improvised close-range finish gave Villa an early advantage in a West Midlands derby that was one-sided even before Baggies captain Jake Livermore’s red card.
The visitors were utterly dominant once Martin Atkinson consulted his pitchside monitor and decided to dismiss Livermore for a studs-up lunge on Jack Grealish before half-time.
They sealed the points with two goals in the closing stages as Grealish set up Bertrand Traore’s cool side-footer and then won the penalty converted by El Ghazi for the Dutchman’s second.
Albion might be aggrieved that the VAR did not request Atkinson take a second look when Kortney Hause trod on the ankle of Baggies midfielder Grady Diangana shortly after Livermore’s sending-off.
But it was still a night to forget for Allardyce, whose side remain three points from safety in 19th, as he returned to a Premier League dugout for the first time since May 2018.
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Much has been made of Allardyce’s record of never suffering relegation from the Premier League as a manager but he will already be aware he has an uphill task to maintain that proud statistic.
While his new charges showed the sort of resilience that earned them a point at Manchester City in midweek in Slaven Bilic’s final game in charge, they lacked the quality and potency to trouble Villa even before going down to 10 men.
Albion did not collapse after Livermore’s ejection like they did following Matheus Pereira’s red card in their last home game when Crystal Palace cruised to a 5-1 victory but, in truth, the scoreline could have been even more embarrassing than that.
John McGinn headed a Grealish cross wide, Ollie Watkins saw a sliding finish scrubbed off for offside by VAR and Albion goalkeeper Sam Johnstone twice superbly denied El Ghazi before the incessant pressure told late on.
With the January transfer window looming, Allardyce will need to bolster a defence that has conceded 29 goals – a tally only surpassed by Leeds – while reinvigorating an attack that has netted just five times in their past 11 games.
They failed to force Emiliano Martinez into a save of note as Allardyce suffered only a second opening-game defeat in a 20-year Premier League managerial career now spanning eight clubs.
The fixture list will not make pleasing reading for the former England manager, whose side face Liverpool, Wolves and Manchester City among their next six as they seek to add to their solitary win this term.
Vibrant Villa terrific on travels again
While it will be their shortest trip of the season – just four miles down the road from Villa Park – the impressive victory was still another away win for Dean Smith’s men, their fifth in just six attempts.
It’s a far cry from their form on their travels last season when they collected just 11 points, a total Villa – who have now kept seven clean sheets in 12 games – have already comfortably surpassed.
Smith’s team look transformed from the one that narrowly stayed up on the final day in July and once El Ghazi used the outside of his boot to flick Traore’s teasing cross past Johnstone five minutes in, the outcome was rarely in doubt.
The goals had dried up in recent weeks – three in the past four games after netting 18 in their opening seven – but if Traore and Grealish, in particular, continue the type of irresistible display each produced at The Hawthorns, that will be just a blip.
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