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after last week's heroic and highly entertaining match with blackpool, the baggies returned to their poor away form as rovers became the first team of the season to do the double over the albion. blackburn beat the baggies 3-1 in the reverse fixture at the hawthorns back in the dying days of december.
while making a good start and pressing rovers early on, the baggies best chances came much too early in the game to take full advantage, and in the end they were once again thwarted in their more enterprising moments of attack by the brilliant goalkeeping of paul robinson. the baggies showed the trouble they have with big physical teams who defend well, and for the first time this year, suffered for the absence of central midfielder, graham dorrans, following his return to form over the last month.
unlike their last away match at fulham, the albion started out the more aggressive and enterprising of the two teams. peter odemwingie found himself in a one-on-one with rover's keeper, robinson, within the first couple of minutes. the ex-england international came out well and aggresively cut down the angle to make the save.
the baggies' defensive mistakes aside, the real difference in the match (as it had been in december for the reverse fixture) was paul robinson, who continued his good form against the baggies with goal-saving stops from odemwingie, james morrison, chris brunt and jerome thomas. with 20 shots on target to the baggies' credit, robinson would seem a critical component in the success that rovers have enjoyed this year.
the importance of jonas olsson's return to the team was immeasurable as the baggies looked better at the back than they have for some time. for the first 40 minutes of the match they were very good defensively. especially after the first 20 minutes and blackburn began to really control things with a massive 70% possession for about 15 minutes in the middle of the first-half. after 40 minutes the two teams were on pretty equal footing and both looked to get into the dressing room on a 0-0 scoreline, which was probably to the baggies' tactical advantage.
however, a huge mistake by gabriel tamas created an own goal and - much as it had been against fulham - the baggies went in at the half 1-0 down. the goal came on 41 minutes with blackburn finding space down the albion left flank and the baggies' defenders out of position. the romanian centre-half was caught between tracking his man and defending the cross, and in meaning to give up the corner-kick, had lost where he was positioned and sent an unfortunate, powerful header past his own goalkeeper, boaz myhill.
as has been the case on more than several occassions this year, west brom were down by a goal that was the result of a momentary lapse in judgement on the part of a defensive player.
however, and citing their good record at coming from behind, one doesn't ever lose faith as an albion supporter as long as the scoreline is 1-0. however, a second goal without having first equalized and the baggies are in trouble, and that's just what happened less than a minute-and-a-half into the second period. it was another mistake by the baggies defenders, not closing down and giving the ball away in a dangerous position with the opposition capitalizing on the error.
rovers' canadian forward, david hoilett, took full advantage as the ball fell for him at the top of the box and blasted past boaz myhill from the edge of the penalty area to give the home-side a 2-0 advantage.
this was the kind of game that frustrates the albion in the most profound way. against other teams that play a more open style of football, the baggies seem to rise to the occasion and are a much more dangerous side - as they have consistantly shown this year - when playing the likes of arsenal, liverpool or manchester united than they are against bolton, blackburn or fulham. for all their good passing and possession, the baggies have resorted to playing a lot of long ball this year and actually rank amongst the top 3 premier league teams in terms of long balls attempted.
the real problem is that the team - after a good start to the season - has probably become a bit too predictable. ever since the end of first half of their home match with local rivals, birmingham city, where the baggies found themselves being badly outplayed in midfield, they have employed an ever more predictable 4-5-1 formation with peter odemwingie as the preferred lone striker. at this point in the year, all the top managers will have seen the baggies and know what they do.
keep west bromwich albion from pressing the ball high up the pitch and you will isolate odemwingie, effectively taking him out of the game. the formula is simple, if you can manage to make it work; and the good defensive teams are doing just that. this is the primary reason that the albion have resorted to using the long ball as a major tactic in their attacking game.
there was one real moment of contention in this match when a clear foul was committed against odemwingie on the edge of the blackburn penalty area. while the TV replay indicated that the ball was outside the area, both the defender and the albion striker were in the box when the infraction occurred, and to anyone watching it was a stonewall penalty. the referee, however, awarded a free-kick just outside the blackburn penalty area and the baggies were unable to capitalize and score the goal which would have seen them back in the match and chasing a draw for the last five minutes or so.
with all the genuine suprises in terms of results at the beginning of the season, the pundits were predicting that 40 points might be needed this year to avoid relegaton. but with wolves, west ham, wigan, birmingham city , west brom and fulham all hovering at the bottom of the table and not getting consistant results, this is looking less likely now than it was then; and, as per usual, 35-38 points will probably be enough to keep a team up this year.
as was the case last week against blackpool - and despite any managerial rhetoric - there are definitely games that the baggies will have to target, and results needed which will be a real test of character. with the next three home matches being wigan, west ham and wolves there's no getting away from the fact that the albion are facing an immediate series of challenges that will be characterized as "must win" situations with a mounting intensity from week to week. we can only hope that they've done the business and will be well past this when they face newcastle united at st. james park on the last day of the season.