WEST BROMWICH // It may rank among the most forgettable matches of the Premier League season but at least the first slump of Steve Clarke's managerial career is over. After their season stalled with a hat-trick of defeats, West Bromwich Albion are on the move again, albeit slowly.
A rather sterile stalemate against West Ham United nudged them up to 27 points. Forty, the traditional guarantee of safety that the pragmatist in Clarke recognises is the first target, should be reached with much of the campaign remaining.
"It does stop the run of defeats and it is another point towards the total we are trying to achieve," he said. "I thought the draw was just about the right result."
West Ham, too, illustrated why safety beckons. After a gruelling recent run of games and with a lengthy injury list, they still ground out a draw.
Indeed, it represented a better result for them, not least because Albion's James Morrison twice struck the bar. The hosts had more of the possession and the majority of chances but their goal drought has been extended. "We didn't quite do enough," added Clarke.
November's manager of the month is unlikely to retain his title for December, not least because Albion have failed to score in their last three games, but they showed they are not a side on the slide.
They displayed organisation and endeavour, but while there was plenty of perspiration, inspiration was in rather shorter supply.
The only real moment of invention came from Morrison, who clipped the bar with an improvised volley after Zoltan Gera had hooked Chris Brunt's corner back into his path. The midfielder struck wood again when Brunt delivered another corner and he rose highest; once again the frame of the goal came to Jussi Jaaskelainen's rescue. "If that goes in, it is a different game," said Clarke.
But Allardyce felt they were rare opportunities. "Our defensive qualities were exceptionally good and that frustrated West Brom to little or no clear-cut chances," he said. "The players take great credit."
Central defenders Winston Reid and James Collins were particularly defiant.
They also had a role to play at the other end. Dead-ball expertise is a feature of Allardyce's teams and West Ham are no exceptions. It almost brought a breakthrough when Reid volleyed over after Collins headed Mark Noble's corner into his path. Late on, a stretching Joey O'Brien volleyed just over following a free kick from Noble, the designated set-piece specialist.
In between, there were moments of menace from Carlton Cole but they were isolated incidents.
The Hawthorns has become a fortress for Albion. Only Stoke City have conceded fewer goals at home and a shutout was a sign of solidity.
"It was important to defend well for the clean sheet," Clarke added, "We haven't had one for a while."
Their task was made simpler by the absence of many of the Hammers' attacking talents. Allardyce was only able to name six substitutes because of a debilitating injury list, with seven players sidelined.
"We are down to the bare bones," he said. "It was a real good, honest, solid performance from the players. I am really relieved we got a point."
Yet while it was a laudable effort, a lamentable game was summed up by gifted technicians, in Noble and Brunt, miskicking with a sight of goal.
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