Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two Wins and a Draw...

WBA 0-0 Manchester City F.C.

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if one could accurately judge the performance of a football team based on what that club's supporters have to say, a quick glance at the posts in any online forum, or casual listening to post-match radio phone-ins dealing with west bromwich albion football club would suggest a wild inconsistency in quality of play over the past 6 weeks.

nothing could be further from the truth.

while results may have been erratic, and perhaps a bit unlucky, roy hodgson's west brom side has been consistently delivering good on-field performances since their win at home against bolton. even the subsequent home loss to spurs could be counted as a good footballing performance and the 3-1 scoreline certainly flattered the visitors on the day. the difficulty is in getting the average supporter (or at least, the average online poster) to believe in anything but results, and the derision aimed at the manager, chairman and certain individual players is all too often quite unbelievable.

Newcastle United F.C. 2-3 WBA

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after having listened to the baggies' home loss to wigan, i could hardly believe it when roy hodgson appeared on TV saying that he had no complaints about the team's performance and if they continue to play to this level they will certainly start to get results. it turned out over the next few weeks to be true. roy hodgson's baggies have started to get results.

however, at the time this sounded quite incredible and was completely at odds with what i had just heard online through the ALBION RADIO transmission on the club's website. it had portrayed the baggies' home fixture against premier league strugglers, wigan athletic, as tragic and a terrible game of football on all counts. indeed, it was made to sound so bad that both chris hall and dave bowler spent much of the match decrying the quality of the football rather than offering a description of the action.

"as you can tell," mr. bowler addressed the listening audience following a lengthy digression in the commentary, "there ay' much going on 'ere!"

however, when viewed as a TV broadcast later on that evening, it was a thoroughly engaging match with both teams playing well through the midfield and exhibiting fine displays of individual defending. most notable was the work of wigan defender, gary caldwell, and the goalkeeping of ali al-habsi.

what is apparent from reading posts made in online fan forums is how easy it is to forcefully state a harsh, critical and judgmental opinion. positive and measured speculation as to how the side might improve its play or what the team might be missing in terms of tactics, team selection and/or transfer goals is much more difficult. when result and form aren't meeting supporter expectation, finding a scapegoat is always the first order of business.

Blackburn Rovers F.C. 1-2 WBA

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i don't really know what the baggies' supporters expect realistically, but with most of the albion's points coming away from home, i get the idea that the atmosphere at the hawthorns can get unpleasant pretty quickly these days. the worst example being the aforementioned match against a visiting wigan athletic side.

whatever the case, the baggies have ended 2011 with three excellent results that leave them at 9th in the table and with a mid-season haul of 22 points. in a year that 36-38 points will probably be enough to secure survival - and barring a protracted run of completely disastrous results - the albion will almost certainly be playing top-flight football again next year. i can't understand what all the fuss is about!!!

the truth is, that the style of football that the baggies are playing at the moment is based on the two solid lines of four defenders and mid-fielders holding their shape, and two pacey forwards to produce the counter attack. this will cause the attacking team to have to play the ball wide as their only option coming forward, and any move to play through the middle or put in a cross is quickly cut out. the effectiveness of this style of play was best illustrated in the last match against newcastle, where the winning goal seemed to appear out of absolutely nothing and completely against the run of play.

likewise, the baggies' first half display of single-minded and resolute defending against a frighteningly good manchester city team was nothing short of brilliant, and left west brom with the very real possibility of nicking a win late on rather than sharing the points as they eventually did.

this is fine for away games and has a general use against superior opposition (like manchester city), but they are going to run into trouble playing this way at home against their contemporaries in the bottom-half of the table; and that's exactly what has happened. the gaffer probably needs to rethink how the albion play at the hawthorns. i think it's the most pressing issue for hodgson and his management staff to sort out going into 2012.

like anyone, i'd love to see an improvement on the current home form and would readily welcome some new players to come in and strengthen the squad during the january transfer window. i do have faith that roy hodgson knows what he's doing in that respect and can only hope he's given the resource and leeway to follow through.

Monday, December 12, 2011

WBA 1-2 Wigan Athletic F.C.

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"what are we doing in the same division as manchester city? that's what i'd like to know."

so said dave bowler, the club's head of publication as he rhetorically posed the all important question that, for him, expressed his personal frustration with the state of the albion and results just at the minute.

there was a generalized and ugly booing of the team, both at the introduction of two late albion substitutions; and, as the team came off the field, having suffered yet another hard-fought and unlucky home loss. a bad buzz pervaded the atmosphere at the hawthorns from before the kick-off and was palpable from as far as three-thousand miles away. i know. i could feel it!

even chris hall and dave bowler, who do the audio commentary for the club's ALBION RADIO transmission were negatively affected. the two commentators spent much of the game talking up what a poor match it was and amateurishly allowed their description of the action to drift and ramble. the situation at the hawthorns sounded nothing less than dire, and they gave the impression that we were listening to some really poor football.

"the smethwick is just about empty," bowler noted rather drearily, towards the end of transmission, "and large of sections of the east stand have already gone..."

it truly sounded abject and desperate. from the general reaction one might have assumed that the visitors were well in front and leading by two or three goals. that's how hopeless it was made to sound.

the truth of the matter is that is was a single goal's difference and the baggies did just about everything that was in their power to make it up. in the second-half of the match, and barring the wigan penalty, the baggies controlled the ball and dictated the play quite comprehensively. they laid absolute siege to the wigan goal and just kept coming. it was only the brilliance of the latics goalie, ali al-habsi, and the determined defending of gary caldwell that ultimately kept the albion attack at bay.

yet again, the albion didn't get any important calls go their way, as graham dorrans was booked for diving in the 87th minutes. truly, it was hard to tell if it really was a penalty, because while the contact was clearly much less than dorrans fall would have merited, any contact in this situation would have been a legitimate penalty call and the baggies probably deserved it.

this was one of the most upsetting days in the entire time i have been a west brom supporter. for sure, there have been some heartbreaking disappointments on the trail of being an albion fan this last ten years. but there have been some great and heroic moments of success too. some supporters seem to have forgotten that we were the league's unquestionable form team into october last year. then we hit the blackpool away fixture and went 13 matches (if i remember correctly) without a win.

i remember how some poor idiots were walking out on wolves at home last year. with the baggies one-nil down since the first half, and with 4 minutes injury time still to play, some were long gone and halfway back to dudley when carlos vela scored the injury time goal that earned a draw and kicked-off an eight game undefeated run of form that saw the baggies take points in ten out of eleven matches to end their season.

have these supporters really forgotten how exciting that was? do they remember how, on the last day, when - and 3-0 down to newcastle - we were just getting ready to pat ourselves on the back for a 14th or 15th place finish, somen tchoyi scored a stunning ten-minute hat-trick at st. james park that saw us finish 11th in the table?

and the voices of dissent have returned... singing the nostalgic praise of ex-managers while saying that roy hodgson has "lost the plot" and eternally levelling critical assertions as to jeremy peace's lack of ambition.

for my money, the doom-sayers are missing the bigger picture and don't see that every year for the past decade, the baggies have either been involved in battles for promotion to the premier league or relegation to the championship (formerly called the "second division" and, after that, "league 1") with unquestionable - albeit incremental - improvement to squad and management team every year.

but albion fans are impatient at the moment and they want the success that they perceive other clubs as achieving while we lag behind again, possibly battling relegation. would you really like to be hull city now? they came up from the championship with us for the 08-09 season and were in the premier league for two years... trouble is, they spent three years worth of top-flight wages and transfer fees in doing it. going back down again was not easy, and they had to settle for a mediocre mid-table finish in english football's second-tier last year.

would one really classify the thuggery they serve up at the britannia stadium that gets passed off as football as "success"?

you can keep it, mate!

just a few miles across town and with a team that's still probably going to finish solidly mid-table, aston villa fans are having the most miserable time this season. they are so upset with the club that they say they are actually hoping for bad results so that they might get rid of an unpopular manager. even on days when the villa win, there are endless callers on the BBC WM football phone-in saying they are villa supporters and expressing how angry they are at not being in the top six, not playing the kind of football that they want to see, and being managed by someone who is simply not welcome.

judging by the reactions from west brom supporters, there was something like a mass hallucination at the hawthorns last saturday. where many baggies fans seem to have seen an unspeakably horrible performance by their team, a number of us (including the gaffer) saw a good performance in an absorbing, competitive game of football with a disappointing result.

the premier league can do terrible things to the soul of a football club.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


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while the baggies have what would regularly be thought of as three "winnable" league fixtures coming up, i was wary of travelling to loftus road and thought about what happened last time we went there.

it was a dismal performance in the championship and the baggies deservedly lost by a score of 3-1. the lone albion goal being a late consolation by chris brunt in a game they were otherwise not really in at all.

considering what a difficult place to go loftus road can be - and has been over the years - i thought that a draw would be a good result. with the next match being wigan at home, followed by a trip to blackburn away, this is probably the most difficult of the three fixtures and a single point on a visit to west london would be OK. with a potential 9 points on offer, realistically, five points from the three games would probably be a decent return for their efforts.

to be fair, the baggies were second best on the day. while the teams were fairly even in overall performance, numbers would suggest that it was albion who created the better scoring chances. however, the londoners held a much higher percentage of possession but did not make the most of their superiority in time with the football. similarly, the baggies were no better at taking advantage of their opportunities than rangers were at creating them.

the problem that west brom are facing right now is that they are going to have to figure out what to do now that zoltan gera is out for the season. gera was exactly what was missing in the team, given the way in which the season started, and his inclusion in the side was immediate and obvious. the hungarian was superb at linking the midfield and striker(s) and his going out injured has left a massive gap, which will call for roy hodgson to rethink both how the baggies need to play, as well as putting his mind to making at least one significant incoming deal during the january transfer window.

while an away draw is never a bad result, it puts pressure on the baggies to win when wigan athletic come to the hawthorns next week. nontheless, this was a tactically good game where the albion were able to dominate in a lot of statistical categories (shots on goal, corner kicks etc.) while having less of the football then their opponent. one of the hallmarks of a roy hodgson side is the quality of economy. he gets his teams to perform well through good defending and concise movement going into attack without a lot of over elaboration.

coming off the successful run at the end of last season the gaffer was very focussed on improving the albion defensively going into the season. he managed to improve the goalkeeping position by bringing in ben foster from birmingham city, and gareth mcauley has certainly been one of the few stand-out centre-halfs to play at the hawthorns in the last few years.

the secret of success for the baggies is going to be in how well their strikers do. so far, only shane long had been scoring regularly and this lack of goals has somewhat negated the improvements that have been made to the team's defence. however, the albion goal suggested that the long/odemwingie partnership might be starting to gel and how well the pair do over the next few weeks will be crucial in both the development of the team and how it will affect results on the season.

whatever else, this was a well organized performance by the baggies, and would suggest that both rangers and the albion will be among the survivors of this competition when the final whistle is blown on the 13th of may, 2012.

Friday, December 2, 2011

WBA 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur F.C.

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this match represented the extent to which the barclay's premier league can be cruel for those who have yet to establish themselves as regulars in the competition. while the final scoreline was testament to the individual skills in the tottenham side, it was flattering to the londoners and left me feeling much like i did after last season's early 1-0 loss at anfield. how can a team play this well and still get beaten?

so far this season, the baggies have made a habit of scoring goals before the game has had any chance to settle, and this encounter with spurs was no different. on pretty much the first attack of the match, youssouf mulumbu opened his account for the season with a goal just on 9 minutes. finding space between two tottenham central defenders - and directly in front of goal - the congolese midfielder rose to meet stephen reid's brilliantly placed cross from deep on the right wing and headed the albion into the lead with spurs keeper, brad friedel, left with no chance.

with 21 minutes of the match gone, disaster struck for the albion as zoltan gera, who had been instrumental in the first goal, turned awkwardly while chasing a ball deep in spurs' half and badly injured his knee. subsequent tests showed that it was serious enough an injury that the hungarian international won't be back this season, to the huge disappointment of baggies supporters everywhere. over the three games he had played since returning to the hawthorns, he has formed the best partnership of anyone yet with striker shane long, and will have to be considered a catastrophic miss to the team.

despite being the better side right through the first half there were at least two game changing decisions that went against the baggies in the first half hour. the first, and perhaps most important of these decisions, was a penalty call that helped put spurs on even terms at 1-1.

i'm not sure how much there was in the challenge, but nicky shorey was adjudged to have brought down aaron lennon in the box. emmanuel adabayor stepped up and delivered what was a really poor spot-kick which was initially saved by ben foster. however, the albion goalie wasn't able to get up quickly enough, nor get quite enough of the ball, to keep out adabayor's follow up.

it was harsh not only on the baggies, but i found it hard to tell if the foul was for a high arm or for an incidental trip. in fact, after having viewed the replay, it was hard to tell whether shorey had committed a foul at all. in addition, there was precious little difference between this incident and jerome thomas going down in the spurs' penalty area on a run that had tottenham defender, kyle walker, similarly turned and beaten ten minutes later, but which wasn't called.

perhaps the most contentious moment of the match, for me, was when brad friedel, after having pulled down a high looping ball coming in at goal - appeared to have turned in and walked the ball over the line. the referee signalled that it was a goal and a slow buzz started to mount around the hawthorns, as it was pretty obvious that the spurs' keeper, while trying to avoid the challenge of gareth mcauley, had indeed taken the ball over the line. for a moment everyone thought that the baggies had gone back into the lead. but the score was chalked off and the breaking cheers died down quickly when the ref deferred to the linesman who had signalled for a foul by mcauley on friedel. however, it wasn't apparent that the american keeper had been fouled, and the linesman's call seemed late in coming.

what i found interesting was how this passage of play - and its obvious controversy - was left out of any highlights that i encountered both on TV and online. nor was it mentioned on any of the radio news i listened to or any of the text reports i read.

while the baggies were the better team over the first 50 minutes, and simon cox probably should have scored in around the 51st minute from a free header in front of goal, tottenham responded immediately and dominated the attacking play from then on out.

jermain defoe made the first of a pair of dazzling solo runs from the middle of the park to cause havoc for the albion backline. despite having to take the ball to the bi-line after being driven wide and away from goal by the albion defenders, the diminutive striker's pace and skill pulled ben foster completely out of position, and if he'd been able to pull the ball back for a team-mate inside the box, tottenham would've almost certainly scored.

to their credit, the baggies defended well and with 9 minutes left to go, it was distinctly beginning to feel like a draw.

however, in the 81st minute jermain defoe made a second solo run out of midfield and with jonas olsson backing off, trying not to give the tottenham striker any room to shoot, defoe found the extra yard he needed by cutting a step to the inside just at the top of the box. the pacey striker finished with a low and accurate long-range strike which went just beyond the reach of ben foster to score what would ultimately be the winning goal.

emmanuel adabayor scored a somewhat scruffy late goal on the counter-attack to give the scoreline its gloss.

one of the troubles with playing in the premier league is that the albion can play as well as this and still not get a result. this is the third match of the season against top 5 opposition where it could be said that the baggies will probably play worse than this in a few matches this season and still manage to take all 3 points. it's all too common a feature of life in the top-flight for west bromwich albion.

i am anxious to see how roy hadgson manages the situation with zoltan gera gone - and especially with a critical run of three matches coming up, starting with a visit to loftus road on saturday. once again, the veteran manager has both need and opportunity to show that he knows how to earn his money.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

WBA 2-1 Bolton Wanderers F.C.

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i am going to have no trouble this week writing about how well the baggies played last saturday; nor will i find it difficult to credit the character and skill of shane long either. the young republic of ireland international made a heroic return to the albion first team a full two weeks ahead of the expected time frame, as well as scoring the winning goal.

in truth, there were any number of players in the side which played against bolton who could have been given the man of the match award. while long was truly heroic in coming back from what is generally a six week injury in just four weeks, nicky shorey played what was by far and away his best game since coming to the club and both centre-halfs were brilliant. youssouf mulumbu and jerome thomas were both back in form. chris brunt has evolved into the most cultured of players, now being the team's most senior member and club captain. stephen reid played an extremely solid game at right back and one can only hail the return of zoltan gera as a revelation.

the baggies haven't played anything like this since the opening games against manchester united and chelsea, and this was even better football than either of those two performances. especially the second-half, where we finally saw the possession and passing of a roberto di matteo or tony mowbray team infused with the economy, steel, defending and counter-attack of a roy hodgson side.

only time will tell, but this may have been a real turning point in the season. it might just have determined whether the baggies spend the rest of the campaign moving steadily, and in workman-like fashion, towards a mid-table finish, or whether they end up desperately battling against falling into the bottom three. the quality of this performance would suggest a scenario more in line with the former than the latter.

since the opening couple of matches against two genuine premier league giants, the baggies have been uneven and have played a very one dimensional style of football. that is, they have allowed teams to have possession, defended from midfield and increasingly pushed up from the back to force counter-attack opportunities. this tactic was practiced to great success against wolves and the villa, but was of little use against the likes of liverpool and arsenal.

the first order of business going into the season was to improve the side defensively. roy hodgson is known for producing very solid teams who are difficult to break down. after all, if your opponents don't score they're going to have a hard time winning games against you, aren't they?

under roy hodgson, a team has to learn how to defend and counter-attack efficiently.

the trouble has been that in adapting to the gaffer's style of football the baggies seemed to have committed to working on this pressing defence/counter-attacking system to the exclusion of anything else. this meant almost nothing but long balls cleared from the back that depend on shane long's ability at running the channels, holding the ball up or (with no other option) looking for a crack at goal. gone was the pretty and precise passing game that the baggies have been known for since the days of ronnie allen, ray barlow, don howe and bobby robson. albion supporters have come to have certain basic expectations, and win, lose or draw, hard tackling "long-ball" has never gone over well at the hawthorns.

the trotters started out brightly enough, signalling their intention to take the game to the albion by going straight into attack. but with just 15 minutes of the match gone, and the baggies meeting the lancashire clubs enterprise with resolute defending, zoltan gera beat the off-side trap putting jerome thomas through on goal. the albion left-winger went wide forcing the bolton keeper, jussi jaaskelainen, out of position and finished the move by putting the ball into an empty net.

however, inside of five minutes and in a near carbon-copy of what became a questionable and contentious call in their home game with liverpool, thomas was adjudged to have taken down fabrice muamba just inside the baggies' penalty area, giving ivan klasnic the opportunity to level the score at 1-1.

with west brom having a slight edge in terms of possession at the half and the game poised for a competitive second period, the baggies came back to take complete control of the match from here on out. in fact, the final 2-1 scoreline was in no way indicative of how one-sided the second-half really was.

the quality of the bolton defenders was evident from early on. in one of the first really dangerous attacking opportunities of the game jerome thomas sent shane long through on goal. the albion striker looked almost certain to get a proper crack on target but was thwarted by a perfectly time last ditch tackle made by a desperately back-tracking gary cahill. in truth, the baggies could've won this one by two or three goals save for the excellent work of jaaskelainen and the bolton defence.

the baggies finally made the breakthrough that put them on top 10 minutes into the second half. with bolton increasingly on the back foot, chris brunt spread the play with a cross-field pass to thomas, who held the ball up on the edge of the bolton penalty area just long enough for nicky shorey to find space in behind him. the albion left-back, returning to the starting eleven after several weeks out of the side, delivered a perfect cross for the athletic long to beat his marker in the air and head albion into the lead.

the next half hour saw the baggies playing football of the highest order, keeping the ball and always threatening. the trotters didn't see much of the play nor any real opportunity to threaten ben foster in the albion goal.

what roy hodgson has done is very simple. he's got everybody on the team performing fundamental defensive duties that they did not attend to under the last two managers. he has got both james morrison and chris brunt moving into deep defensive positions, winning and playing more balls out of the back. he's taught youssouf mulumbu where to set himself up and how to defend on set-plays - always a weakness for the congolese midfielder in the past; and in gareth mcauley he's found the centre-half that the albion have needed to play alongside jonas olsson.

the only problem is that the whole thing has required shane long leading the line to make it work. peter odemwingie has not found anything like the form of which he's capable; simon cox hasn't been given enough opportunity to play; and neither marc-antoine fortune nor roman bednar seem to be in the gaffer's plans. this leaves the enigmatic somen tchoyi as the only candidate to lead the line in the case of long being injured, and it is unlikely that there'll be any action during the january transfer window.

now that we've seen what kind of football the baggies should be playing, we can only hope that they continue to do so. this was an excellent performance all around.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Big Teams...

Arsenal F.C. 3-0 WBA

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with this away match to the now high-flying arsenal - and the currently unstoppable robin van persie - the baggies completed their first set of matches against the traditional "big-four" clubs of english football. while this was a source for west brom picking up important points last year, it has become apparent that this year's challenge is to get results from sides with whom they will be in more direct competition in battling for top-flight survival.

while the baggies were poor at home to liverpool, they were only a little better playing away to the north londoners. however, it was all of small consequence and only certain individual performances gave them any reason to take heart from this encounter. arsenal are absolutely rampant at the moment, and nothing reflects this better than the fact that robin van persie has scored 28 times in the last 27 matches.

again, the baggies showed how bereft of ideas they are without shane long, and perhaps just how dependent they are, at the moment, on the injured striker. i could see from being at the wolves game just how much of the way that roy hodgson has them playing is reliant on long leading the line. without him, it's all defending and playing the ball out from the back. without long in the side, no one is making the ball stick up front and the forwards are getting isolated from the play. it is the young irish international's running of the channels and ability to hold up the ball that creates opportunity for the baggies' counter-attack.

while most of us could probably see it early on, it has become evident since even the away fixture to norwich city, that the baggies need to find another way to play.

this is all the more true with shane long out for another two or three weeks.

WBA 0-2 Liverpool F.C.

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not a big surprise, but after their two excellent derby wins against wolves and aston villa, the albion really had nothing to offer and save for one - mayber two - good passages of play, all the good work and momentum of the derby weekends came completely undone against the world famous merseysiders.

the albion weren't expected to win, or even draw this game, but it was pretty dismal and uninspired football and not worhy of a roy hodgson team, regardless of the circumstances. there were, however, more than a few questionable calls from referee, lee mason, not the least of which was a controversial penalty against jerome thomas early in the match which allowed charlie adam to put the merseysiders one-nil up and set the tone for the rest of the game.

while it was generally acknowledged a soft penalty by one and all, it was by no means the worst call (or non-call) of the match. liverpool were allowed to handle the ball perhaps eight or ten times in the second-half without being called for a foul.

be that as it may, there is no point dwelling on these games. we can only hope tht roy hodgson has got something figured out for the upcoming home fixture with bolton.

so far, we still haven't seen a lot of the good passing football for which the albion has always been known - and has been the cornerstone of their success these past few seasons. with the squad that he's got right at the moment, the gaffer would probably be well advised to get the team more focussed on possession, playing the ball through the midfield, looking to stretch the play and getting players like james morrison, graham dorrans, youssouf mulumbu and zoltan gera more involved in attack.

other than that, all we can hope for is shane long's quick return to the team.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Aston Villa F.C. 1-2 WBA

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with only 2600 tickets allotted to the supporters of west bromwich albion football club for an away day at villa park, i travelled to england knowing that i would not be attending this particular derby. even as a membership subscriber to the club's ticket scheme, i was not given a chance to buy a ticket.

this was, in fact, the first match that i have missed following in real time either through listening to online, watching on TV or attending live - and that includes all major competitions - in over four years.

on my second trip, two seasons ago and going for promotion in the championship, i saw the baggies play three times at home and once away to swansea, all in the space of two weeks. the match at liberty stadium was won 0-2, on a penalty by graham dorrans and a late goal by ishmael miller and all but clinched automatic promotion for the baggies. it was a match that was highly symbolic of the albion's success that year and a defining moment of the season. i remember the experience vividly... how time stood still for a moment as miller deftly cut back around swans goalie, dorus de vries, and fired home to emphasize the victory.

what i don't remember is having any particular difficulty in obtaining a ticket for the game.

this year - and with both teams in the almighty, bloody premier league - it was reported that the same trip to south wales was sold-out as 3000 baggies supporters travelled to the liberty stadium to witness their team's worst performance of the season to date, as the baggies conceded three goals and dropped all three points.

knowing that the swansea trip had been sold-out, i knew i would have to be online the moment that the ticket office opened if i was to get a ticket for the villa. however, after finding out that tickets would be available to season-ticket holders for a full 9 days before i would get a crack at it, i was not hopeful. especially after i learned (much to my chagrin) that only 2600 tickets were going to be made available to travelling away supporters.

in any case, on the day i woke myself up at 4 AM EST in order that i would be online as soon as the ticket office opened, and whatever tickets might still be available were scheduled to be released for purchase by those with club membership, like myself. this also coincided with tickets to the home game with liverpool going on sale to both season-ticket and membership subscribers. i logged into my account, clicked on the BUY TICKETS tab, which delivered me to the EVENTS SCHEDULE page from where one makes their selection and proceeds to CHECK-OUT to complete their purchase.

however, there was no link posted to tickets for aston villa (away). there were links to tickets for the bus trip from the hawthorns to villa park and the upcoming home match with liverpool, but nothing for the ticket i wanted. i sat for a few minutes, refreshed the page and waited for a link to appear. ultimately, it never did and i went back to bed knowing that i was not going to get an away ticket for the match against the villa.

by the time i woke-up again at 8.30-9.00, a link to tickets for the villa game had appeared on the EVENT SCHEDULE, but this only led to a message saying that the match was sold-out.

what is really bugging me at this point, is that villa park holds 42000 some-odd, while liberty stadium just barely scratches a capacity of 20000. how had there been 3000 tickets made available for a match in south wales and only 2600 for a game to be played barely four miles away? on top of that, villa's attendance is down by an average of 3000 seats per match this season. this is a loss of about 10% of their regular home support and i thought west brom would have at least 5000 spots allotted.

while i will never know the truth, it turns out that the villa is not particularly interested in accommodating away supporters.

for example, there is no real "away" end at villa park. visiting opposition supporters are shunted into two sections in a corner between the doug ellis and north stands, facilitating cut-price tickets to home supporters in the lower tiers of the north stand and ensuring that there is exclusively home support behind both goals. while the smethwick end at the hawthorns is shared, it is a significantly smaller stadium and visiting supporters are, in fact, given a traditional space behind the goal. under the present set-up, the smethwick can accommodate just over 2500 away supporters for regular league matches.

so, while there were plenty of tickets still available to the general public in the "home" sections of villa park on the day of the match, the two "away" sections were listed on the villa website as "0% availability". i'm sure there were more than one or two baggies who zipped up their jackets to conceal their shirts, hid their scarves under their coats and bought tickets to sit in hostile territory, but that is something i just wouldn't think to do.

in other words, i wasn't about to travel to birmingham without a ticket. neither would i have wanted to buy a ticket that would necessitate me concealing the fact that i am a west bromwich albion supporter, might put me at risk of being denied entrance or possibly even removed from the ground. not to mention having to sit in a section of the stadium with people i don't want to be with!

having promised myself that i would miss no opportunity to watch live football during my time in england, i had already implemented a contingency plan and bought a ticket to watch cardiff city at home to barnsley. however - and no matter how hard i try - i do not like cardiff city football club, and barnsley are only remembered with some faint and long past fondness on my part for having beaten liverpool in the quarter-finals of the FA CUP a few seasons back. i was hoping that with michael chopra gone i wouldn't hate the bluebirds as i once did. while this was indeed the case, i could still find no real sympathy with them, and i wish i had stayed in chilcompton and listened to the villa game on the ALBION RADIO. but then, i can stay at home in canada to do that - and watch it on TV too!

with the bright, blazing mid-afternoon sun at cardiff city stadium uncomfortably in my eyes and half-time just set upon us, i heard the first news of the albion/villa match announced on the PA system along with other scores of the day:

"aston villa 1, west bromwich albion 1..."

i clenched my fist and stabbed covertly at the air.

"yes!!!" i hissed to myself.

with the score 5-2 and just going into injury time, i decided i'd get a head start and see if i couldn't catch the 5.30 train from cardiff central.

i saw the third barnsley goal on the TV screen by the burger and pies stand.

that is surely that, i thought to myself, and hustled outside back in the direction i had come from.

i ran up the stairs onto the platform at grangetown and just barely made the train back to cardiff central where i caught the 5.30 going in the direction of bristol temple meads. i settled into my seat and called my mother on the cell phone to say that i had managed to get the early train and would be at bath spa within about an hour and a half.

"west brom won!!!" she said excitedly in answering, "west brom won!!! i just heard it on the news."

i was stunned by what my mother was trying to tell me. her excitement had taken me aback and i was almost speechless.

"that's great... wow... that's the best news all day... oh, that's just so great!!!"

when i got off the phone i smiled to myself and kicked at the floor to emphasize my joy at hearing that yet another old hoodoo had been dispelled and fallen by the wayside.

"BAGGIES!!!" i could only just contain myself.

i was happy enough in the moment knowing that i would see it on MATCH OF THE DAY.

it turned out to be a great day for the baggies despite the loss of shane long with a speculative knee injury that might see the young striker out for as much as six weeks. it was a dirty game played by the villa, and manager, alex mcleish, had told his defenders to get out and intimidate the opposition... hurt them, so to speak. alan hutton's tackle on long was shamelessly brutal football by today's standards and could easily have been justified a red card.

hutton wasn't even warned. however, there was an incident away from the play in the villa penalty area that saw villa midfielder, chris herd, dismissed for a stomp on jonas olsson. the baggies had a man advantage and a penalty. albion troubles with penalty kicks continued, as captain, chris brunt - normally a penalty taker of the highest order but having a poor run of form as of late - sliced the ball yards wide of the mark, wasting albion's first opportunity to equalize.

luckily, the baggies captain made up for it only minutes later with a perfectly delivered corner kick that saw jonas olsson heading the ball into the villa goal for honours even at the half; and another chris brunt corner kick in the 57th minute produced the opportunity for paul scharner to smash home the winner.

i've been to st. andrews to watch blues play. i've also bought tickets for and been to walsall, brentford, millwall, swansea, leicester city, bath city, yeovil town and bristol city. i was even at the old highbury stadium and stamford bridge in 1976 and made a single trip to the old wembley for an international friendly in 1974. while there are more than one or two of these experiences that have left me cold and without any feeling for the clubs involved, cardiff city was a low-point and the first time i have ever left a football ground before the final whistle.

travelling to see the baggies play in the championship two seasons ago was great fun. i saw them play six games in two visits, including the away match at swansea. not to mention that i could have made it to a seventh game if i had been enterprising enough to make the twelve hour return train journey to middlesbrough and back. truthfully, and with west brom now in the premier league, the championship provides much better opportunity for someone travelling from abroad with the intention of supporting their favourite football team live at the stadium.

i returned to canada too late (by just a few hours in fact) of even seeing the aston villa game repeated on TV and have only seen the footage offered on MATCH OF THE DAY and the 10 minute highlight video on the baggies website.

i am still fuming about this, and i probably won't get over it until my next trip to england sometime later in the new year. in my frustration, i have also promised myself that anyone seen wearing an aston villa jersey is going to get a hassle for it. even though it's not really my style, any villa supporter who crosses my path on this side of the atlantic will leave my presence understanding more about the historical animosity between their club and mine.

while i am thankful that the premier league has given us live TV coverage and repeats of all top-flight matches played over any given weekend, i shall have to wait until my beloved baggies are once again established as a major force in the top-flight and competitive european games have returned to the hawthorns on a regular basis before they'll be playing enough football for my convenience.

i won't be expecting that to happen too soon. i guess i can always hope for a cup run... a good home draw? hey, you never know!!

until then - and if you live in toronto and support the villa - you better stay out of my f**king way!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WBA 2-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.

match text commentary

this was sweet fare for the hawthorns crowd, and the first home win of the season.

while this was my first trip to the hawthorns this year - and my eighth visit in the last three seasons - it was, without a doubt, the most electric atmosphere i have yet encountered when attending football at the hawthorns. for the first time i could really feel what being in the premier league actually means for a club like west bromwich albion.

i am not always a fan of the top-flight and how it has created such a huge gap between the top four or five clubs and everyone else, but i have to admit that there is a level of intensity to being in the premier league that one cannot ignore. competing in the top-flight lends you a special status as every week you are seen on TV and known to football fans all over the world. it is a league where every game is of international importance - and for the baggies, they don't come more important than this one.

thankfully, roy hodgson has wisely continued to ignore all the blather about tactical formation and did just what he should have: field the most in-form individual players - those who are best adapted to the gaffer's system and those who understand his footballing vision.

all in all hodgson made four changes from the team that had drawn away to sunderland and home to fulham before the international break. nicky shorey - being off-form as of late, was replaced by billy jones at left-back. graham dorrans, james morrison and peter odemwingie were all on the bench, as somen tchoyi, jerome thomas and paul scharner all took a place in the starting eleven.

wolves started the match with a couple of incisive attacks down the albion flanks, testing albion goalie, ben foster, early on and forcing a finger-tip save that flashed across the face of the baggies goal on a shot from adam hammill. the wolves midfielder would have a similar and even better chance in the second half which would again be saved by foster and equally in similar fashion. however - and with hodgson's genius for defense and counter-attack - the more wolves pressed the baggies back line, the more opportunity opened up for the albion through the excellent forward play of shane long.

the republic of ireland international chased balls down the wings with a pace that surprised even the hawthorns faithful. his running of the channels was excellent and the young striker terrorized both wolves centre-backs, roger johnson and cristophe berra, all afternoon. he was confident on the ball and the quality of his hold-up play was evident from early on.

long served an early warning of intent when he took a long ball on the centre-line cleared from the back by chris brunt. making a good run just inside the opposition half, but having no immediate support, the albion forward held the ball up, took on the wolves defenders and moved himself into a position for an accurate but ultimately speculative long-range strike at goal. with nothing else on, he had made something happen.

i don't really know what to say about somen tchoyi... the one inescapable truth is that the baggies seem to play better when he's on the pitch. watching him play just makes you laugh - one way or the other. he doesn't much like to pass the ball; that's one thing. but there is a tenacious quality to his play. even when he's held onto the ball too long and the opportunity to pass has been cut off, he fights his way forward until he finds space or is knocked off the ball completely. he's not everybody's favourite, and maybe it's just the sense of fun that he brings to the occasion, but the baggies are most definitely a better team when he's in the side.

because he is a generally unorthodox player it's easy to underestimate tchoyi, but his unwillingness to give up the football and his play around the edge of the box lead directly to brunt's opening goal. he is much more useful than he first appears, and always looked dangerous throughout the match with his possession and holding up the ball on the periphery of the penalty area.

of course, ensuing results will form the final judgement on the season - and as it progresses - but it's safe to say that this match revealed the arguments and discussion as to the team's tactical formation to be largely superficial, and no more than distracting media hype and fodder for discussion on various online message-boards.

what was important here was the quality of the team performance and had little to do with actual tactical formation. it was also a good example of how a traditional 4-4-2 formation is meant to defend. that is, the baggies allowed the wolves some space to play through the midfield, but closed down the forwards then looked to clear and release a front-running hold-up player. the tactic worked brilliantly.

i mean, who would have put money on the baggies producing two clean-sheets back-to-back?

chris brunt worked tirelessly at getting back to defend, and was instrumental in breaking up several wolves attacks down the albion right flank. after some less than inspired performances for the republic of ireland, gareth mcauley was excellent and probably worth baggies "man-of-the-match" and looks to be the centre-half that the baggies have long needed to partner the ever-steady jonas olsson.

with four out of five goals scored within the first five minutes of their previous matches, the albion continued this particular trend when youssouf mulumbu picked up the ball just outside wolves penalty area and spotted albion debutant, billy jones, making a run outside the wolves defenders on the left of the box. jones timed his run to perfection, staying onside and taking mulumbu's pass to the bi-line before squaring the ball back for captain chris brunt to smash home his first league goal of the season in the eighth minute.

wolves missed their best opportunity of the match to draw level within minutes when what looked an absolutely certain goal was saved on the line by jonas olsson. the move started with a low-cross from matt jarvis giving nenad milijas a chance on goal which was parried away by ben foster. the ball fell to kevin doyle at the far post who looked a certainty to score on an open net from point-blank range. but the wolves striker was thwarted as jonas olsson, in a brilliant display of defending, threw himself in the way to block the shot on the line. an audible sigh of relief went through the hawthorns. wolves wouldn't come as close again.

the real brilliance of how roy hodgson sets out to play football lies in his emphasis on defending and use of the counter attack. the back four were resolute, even when under siege from the wolves attack. in fact, it was the wolves attacking that constantly lead to the albion breaking and creating the better of the opportunities throughout the match. it was also a proper display of how to defend from the front, with midfielders dropping back to help cover for their full-backs.

both paul scharner and youssouf mulumbu had opportunities to score just before the break.

with nothing else on, mulumbu's long range effort swerved dangerously and could only be parried away by wolves keeper, wayne hennessy, however no one was in a position to follow up and wolves cleared easily.

scharner's opportunity came on a concise baggies counter-attack, with shane long running the ball down the left channel and cutting the ball back for the austrian whose effort only just curled past the far post.

peter odemwingie came on for somen tchoyi in the 72nd minute, and it didn't take the nigerian international long to shake off the slump that has plagued his season thus far. opportunistically, odemwingie took a sublime back-heel from paul scharner and slotted the ball home to send the hawthorns into relieved delirium.

for the moment, the baggies are champions of the black country.

roy hodgson's albion are starting to look good. things are beginning to gel and i think the team have generally adapted to the way that hodgson has wanted them to play all along. although i wasn't lucky enough to get a ticket for the match at villa park next week, i fully expect an albion victory and another historical bogey to be dispelled forever.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunderland A.F.C. 2-2 WBA

match text commentary

before this match had ever kicked-off, any albion supporter would probably have (even if somewhat grudgingly) taken the single-point away to a sunderland team that bought big over the summer, and have made no secret of their ambition to consolidate their place as a top-ten side in the premier league. however, after having seen the baggies go 0-2 up in the first 5 minutes - on goals by much-maligned winger, james morrison, and in-form striker, shane long - albion supporters would feel like this was two points dropped.

while overall team performance in the first-half was much better than either the away win at norwich or the 3-goal loss at swansea, it was not what we have come to expect from the baggies over the last few years under the likes of tony mowbray and roberto di matteo.

roy hodgson has stuck with the tactical gambit of controlling the tempo of the match through solid defending and incisive counter-attacking - especially away from home. while it may be a bit one-dimensional and certainly doesn't seem to make adequate use of the considerable talent that the baggies have in midfield, it was most effective in the win at norwich city. west brom allowed their hosts a significant advantage in possession but allowed no real scoring opportunities, and kept an all too rare clean-sheet. it was classically economical football played from the back, creating the better chances coming forward and west brom should have won by 2 or 3.

the first mistake against sunderland was not to push on more aggressively and find the third goal. with their opponents on the ropes and the home crowd having turned on them, a 3-goal deficit would have left the black cats too much of mountain to climb and no hope of coming back.

the sunderland home support have recently grown frustrated - and vocally demonstrative about it - with gaffer, steve bruce, and the general perception of the club's start to the season as being unacceptably mediocre. in fact, with the wearsiders having come back from a 2-goal deficit to equalize, they were quite amazingly booed off the park at half-time. the big money buying has brought with it some big expectations and a palpable, hostile impatience now permeates the atmosphere at the stadium of light.

for me, the difference in this match was sunderland midfielder, stephane sessegnon. the benin international had served notice in the 13th minute when a long ball into the albion penalty area ended with a low, hard shot running just wide of ben foster's right-hand post. the baggies got another scare 10 minutes later when a similar effort was turned in for an apparent goal by ex-birmingham city midfielder, sebastian larsson. having spotted his team-mate's run, larsson got in behind his marker and redirected another low, hard drive by sessegnon into the albion goal. however, it was called back as larsson had made his run a step too early and was correctly ruled to be offside.

the black cats kept coming and finally made the breakthrough when sessegnon's next ball in at goal - and again running at the albion left flank - was back-heeled by larsson to the on-rushing ex-arsenal striker, nicklas bendtner. his shot took a deflection and left the already committed foster flailing and going the wrong way with no chance whatsoever of making a stop.

the equalizer came only minutes later through a nicklas bendtner cross which found ahmed elmohamady in front of goal. the egyptian had gotten in behind his marker and buried a hard, pacey header to make it 2-2.

roy hodgson should probably have put youssouf mulumbu on sessegnon, man-marked him out of the game and worked to deny him possession much higher up the pitch. the sunderland midfielder was brilliant whenever given a chance to run with the ball between the half-way line and baggies' penalty area.

while the baggies were probably the slightly better team over the first 45 minutes, they were decidedly second best after the break. in fact, nothing about the second-half was as good as the first, and both teams exhibited the desperate need not to lose more than either showed the desire to push on for the win. nonetheless, it was the black cats who had the better of the chances when, once again, sessegnon ran aggressively at the west brom back line before slipping a ball out to elmohamady on the right. the egyptian had a clear look at goal and a decent angle from which to shoot. but ben foster stood up, made himself big and positioned himself well to make a decisive save and maintain the score-line.

while the stadium of light crowd has, in no uncertain terms, made their disappointment clear, baggies fans are not too terribly happy about this year's campaign thus far either. perhaps it was the last season's 10th and 11th place finishes, respectively, creating yet more false dawns in the wasteland of dashed dreams and despair that is called the barclay's premier league?

there's no doubt that the gaffer has got the baggies defending much better as a team, and it has only been individual errors that have worked against them. however, the passing play through the midfield, as well as the the odemwingie/long strike partnership, hasn't really gelled yet. in truth, the two strikers together haven't looked anywhere near as dangerous as when long was partnered with somen tchoyi in the first two matches.

but it is odemwingie who hasn't clicked yet. while there have been moments when a ball coming over the top and the nigerian's pace against isolated defenders has looked dangerous, his decision making has been poor and is looking so hard to score that he is not seeing the play around him. in fact, with only a single pass completed between odemwingie and long in this match, a true "partnership" couldn't really be said to exist, as such.

so much has been said and written by TV and radio pundits, as well as posts in online fan forums, about "formation". there is endless opinion and lament concerning the abandonment of the successful 4-5-1 formation that roberto di matteo was forced to use when he had run out of fit strikers at half-time in an fa cup-tie with newcastle united. while they continued playing this way through the back end of last season, this year roy hodgson has reverted to a more conventional set up featuring two strikers.

what should be obvious from the nature of how the baggies have dropped points over the first seven games is that their lack of success has less to do with the formation than it does individual form. shane long got off the mark early. so far, he has been the best player on the team and has continued to improve over the first seven games. chris brunt looks to have come into form, being instrumental in the baggies' opening goal and having had a really good all-around performance against sunderland. stephen reid has grown into the right back spot and has definitely added strength to what was perhaps the side's weakest position. gareth mcauley has come into the first team and immediately proved a solid partner for jonas olsson in central defence. on the other hand, graham dorrans has created one or two exciting moments, but hasn't shown any of the charisma and creativity of which he is capable. james morrison has been wildly inconsistent, and the usually steady left-back, nicky shorey, has been responsible for several costly fundamental errors. as for the defensive midfield, youssouf mulumbu has played pretty well, paul scharner hasn't. in other words: individual form is all over the shop... never mind debating "formation"!

at this point, i would suggest that "selection" is where hodgson and his staff should be focussing their attentions. after all, it is only seven games into the schedule, and whatever the supporters feel, or what expectations have been created, after a solid mid-table finish last term, we've all got to remember that the goal is to place 17th or better in the league table on the final day of the season. period.

with so much attention having been paid to the acquisition of striker, shane long, and the retention of last year's goal-scoring leader, peter odemwingie, there has, no doubt, been pressure on the gaffer to play these two strikers together at the first opportunity. odemwingie was kept out of the side for the first two games due to a recurring ankle injury, and didn't get a start until the disastrous away loss to swansea city, having only come on briefly as a substitute late in the game against stoke city.

shane long is set to become the club's record signing through performance related contingencies in his contract, and the albion were forced to offer odemwingie substantial improvements to his existing deal with the club in order to ensure his stay at the hawthorns. however, it is only long that has impressed so far, having scored 3 goals already and his play continuing to improve; while odemwingie has struggled and despite netting the winner in west brom's solitary win, has been desperately out of form.

right now, the gaffer has to figure out how to inspire better, more assured performances from his charges and stick with his concept of making the albion a difficult side to break down with a solid spine from back to front. he also needs the goal-scorers in the team to step up and create more goal opportunities. chris brunt, graham dorrans, morrison and mulumbu need to be more adventurous in attack; and perhaps the gaffer needs to give simon cox a start alongside shane long up front.

4-5-1? 4-4-2?

forget about everything else and sort out your best footballers, mate.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

WBA 0-0 Fulham F.C.

match text commentary

the baggies haven't looked particularly good since ryan shotton nicked a last minute winner for stoke city at the hawthorns a few weeks ago. in retrospect, that moment seems to have shaken the baggies' confidence, and they don't look at all the team that put in two really solid performances against manchester united and chelsea at the start off the season.

likewise - and up until the moment of that disastrous goal, the baggies had had the better of the match with their nemesis club from staffordshire, and would have won had it not been for the goalkeeping of asmir begovic in the city goal. the stoke city keeper was in superb form, making two hugely important saves and solely deserving of the credit for the clean sheet which gave his team the opportunity to go on and snatch the late win in a match that had "0-0" written all over it.

the following two games - an ugly win at norwich city and a shameful 3-0 loss away to swansea - were particluarly undistinguished performances that left some pundits and supporters reaching for the panic button. the mainstream news media played on the hype that the albion had made its "worst ever" start to a premier league season (all six of them); the TV and radio pundits started to suggest that perhaps roy hodgson had "lost the plot"; while the gaffer's preference for a 4-4-2 attacking formation came under huge criticism in the online fan forums.

the team then gave a good away performance against everton in the league cup, only to see their efforts go to waste in a losing cause. with a 1-0 lead through a chris brunt penalty kick in the second-half, the albion again conceded a late goal - in the 88th minute - to everton defender, marouane fellaini, and forced the game into extra-time.

Everton F.C. 2-1 WBA

match text commentary

from there - and much like their FA cup adventure against reading two seasons ago - the initiative had swung the way of the mersey-siders and toffees' captain, phil neville, scored the winner with 18 minutes of extra-time left. it was a scenario which should be all too familiar to any long-time albion supporter.

the gaffer admitted in the post match press conference that he had "experimented" with the team formation in the cup-tie at goodison park. no doubt, this was influenced as much by what was being written in the online supporters forums as anything else. these internet forums have, of course, been the main source of criticism of the tactical switch from last year's 4-5-1 system, as opposed to the 2 striker system that the gaffer has implemented this year.

based on what he saw of his squad in the cup game, hodgson took the idea a step further in the home fixture with fulham. he implemented a flexible 4-3-3 which had shane long leading the line, peter odemwingie in a wide position on the right-wing and jerome thomas on the left-wing. chris brunt, graham dorrans and somen tchoyi covered the midfield and joe mattock returned to the starting line-up at left-back after having had a strong run in the reserves. baggies new-comer billy jones was deployed at right-back, while gareth mcauley - who had impressed in his two previous performances - was again assigned to partner jonas olsson at centre-half.

while the mainstream media has put an ever increasing pressure on the game over the last 3 decades or so, it is the online forums and so-called "social media" that have cranked up the heat in the last few years. it is hard to imagine somehow that some crank of an unemployed ditch-digger from dudley can now have profound affect on decisions taken by a man who has master-minded world cup upsets and taken top continental sides (as well as over-achieving underdogs) to both UEFA and europa league finals. but then, a good performer knowing what his audience wants will more often than not try and give it to them.

however, part of the problem with listening to the voice of inspired, rambling amateurs is that they haven't always got the focus right. the biggest talking point among baggies fans this last few weeks has been the question of 4-5-1 versus 4-4-2. the subject has been talked to the point of distraction in endless post on sites like while the last few games have seen a west brom that has sacrificed some of their creativity in the mid-field - a quality the club is known for - and is primarily looking to keep things tight at the back and breaking on the counter attack, relying on the strikers to produce goals - the baggies have looked defensively more sound than they have in quite a while, and with two clean-sheets in the first six games they have already equalled their season's total of last year.

what the supporter/pundits have to remember is that it wasn't the formation that needlessly brought down swansea midfielder, joe allen, in the penalty area, giving swans their first goal and setting the tempo for a truly rotten performance. nor was it the formation that didn't come to collect a ball bouncing into his area, giving ryan shotten an open goal in which to score a last minute winner. neither did the formation needlessly lose the ball or give away free-kicks in dangerous areas. for the most part, the baggies' downfall thus far has been technical errors entirely creditable to individual players.

so, after a first half where it looked like the worst was coming true and memories of the ill-fated 2008-09 campaign started to flash through my head, the gaffer decided enough was enough and abandoned his bodged around 4-3-3 formation, moved odemwingie back in to a central position and the baggies looked far the better side in the second-half.

although the points total is still disappointing, a clean-sheet and chris brunt hitting the post four seconds into injury time was almost enough to make you think things are going to be OK.

when johnny giles took over as the club's first player-manager in 1975, the baggies were in the 2nd division and didn't get a result for the first 10 games. giles couldn't settle on a team - let alone tactic and formation - and by his own admission wasn't playing well himself. the baggies were promoted that year, and secured it with a famous victory on a second-half goal scored by tony brown away to oldham athletic on the last day of the season.

the baggies went in to the first division and finished 7th. johnny giles had laid the groundwork for the development of what would become one of the best sides in english football of the late 1970s under the leadership of ron atkinson. sometimes a bad start is just a bad start. this should be a good enough team to get over it and they have a gaffer who knows how to lead the way.

however, i fear that the opening two losses were much more detrimental to team confidence than any of us might have imagined they could have been. in these two games, the baggies had seen how good they are and know how well they should be playing, and at the minute everyone's trying too hard. odemwingie is looking too hard for the goal. paul scharner is making rash, over-active defensive decisions. brunt is too often searching in vain for the killer pass to put someone through on goal. graham dorrans doesn't seem to know where he fits in and nothing is really clicking yet with the possible exception of new boys shane long and gareth mcauley.

right now, they just have to learn to relax and play a more complete style of football within the parameters that hodgson has set. creatively, they might need to change it up a little bit sometimes. while the long ball tactic they've adopted has worked up to a point, they also need to play through the midfield and make use of the considerable individual talents there.

if the strikers aren't scoring, look to set up chances for the other natural goal scorers in the side - namely chris brunt and graham dorrans. let's have nickey shorey taking a free-kick once in a while. he's got a good shot over a dead-ball and is more than capable of delivering a long range scorcher from the set-piece. if odemwingie is looking stiff, put somen tchoyi on as a striker - and let's maybe see simon cox have a run in the team. in short, the club need to be just a little bit more fearless and show more of a sense of their natural creativity, resource and adventure... and for god's sake - they need to RELAX!!!