Spaniard Pepe Mel’s first match as manager of West Bromwich Albion ended in a 1-1 Premier League draw with Everton at the Hawthorns on Monday as the controversy engulfing Nicolas Anelka took a new twist.
Diego Lugano’s first goal in English football, a powerful 75th minute header, earned West Brom a share of the spoils after visitors Everton, who would have gone into the Champions League places with a victory, had taken a first-half lead through Kevin Mirallas.
The result saw West Brom move four points clear of the relegation zone and left Everton five in front of reigning champions Manchester United, managed by their former boss David Moyes.
Mel, brought in to replace the sacked Steve Clarke, saw the hours before the match dominated by the latest development in the Anelka ‘quenelle’ gesture row.
Zoopla, West Brom’s shirt sponsor, announced earlier Monday it would not be renewing its multi-million pounds deal in the wake of the furore surrounding former France striker Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ goal celebration against West Ham last month, a gesture regarded as anti-Semitic by many observers.
The ‘quenelle’, popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, has been described by critics in France as an ‘inverted Nazi salute’, but Anelka has insisted he was using it merely as “a dedication” to the comic.
On the field, the 34-year-old Anelka made a lively start but failed to get on the scoresheet and was substituted soon after the home side’s equaliser.
“I don’t know. I am only head coach,” Mel told Sky Sports when asked about Anelka’s situation.
“He is a good personality. He needs a goal and he will work for me very well.”
Of the two Spanish managers involved on Monday, it was Everton’s Roberto Martinez who was initially the happier when Mirallas scored four minutes before halftime.
Central defender Sylvain Distin, returning after a three-match injury absence, launched the ball towards Romelu Lukaku.
He in turn headed it into the path of Mirallas and his fellow Belgian made no mistake in beating Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Reflecting on the overall result, Mel said: “For me it was very good. The first half the team – we were too open but the second half we were compact.
“Everton is a team that is very, very strong. Tonight is a difficult match for me and my team.
“It’s only the first week. I need to work. I need my players but the players are angry. For me that’s important.”
Former Wigan manager Martinez lamented Everton’s failure to make the most of an encouraging first 45 minutes.
“Any point is a good point but we are disappointed with the second-half performance,” he said.
“The hardest thing was to get in front and score that goal.”