Monday, February 28, 2011

Tour of the Midlands and Black Country Derby

travelling from abroad to get to the first ever PREMIER LEAGUE black country derby provided some of the most ridiculous logistics and implementation of contingencies that i have ever encountered in making plans to travel and attend any function, anywhere and at any time in my life. but in the end... finally worth it, i think.

besides coming back for the baggies' derby with their biggest rivals, i also wanted to squeeze in a couple of additional matches to make up for the football i had missed at christmas.

first off, the match had been scheduled for the 18th of december, but - like almost all other fixtures in england that day - ran afoul of the unexpectedly bad weather. with FA CUP games still to be replayed, the match was initially rescheduled for february 22nd. however, we were all well aware that the west midlands police were going to request that the match be moved to a noon kick-off over the cup's 5th round weekend should both the baggies and wolves get knocked out of the competition prior to this. at the time of rescheduling, however, both teams were still involved.

the albion were promptly knocked out by their cup nemesis reading, who put them out of the competition both this year and last, while wolves survived through a draw with doncaster rovers. at this point, it was a matter of waiting for the results of the 4th round replays and subsequent draw for round five before making any definite travel plans.

i was already taking no chances and knew i had to be in the midlands - and within an hour of birmingham - if indeed the black country derby was going to be played on the saturday. in light of this, i planned a trip to stoke for port vale's friday night home game with bradford city. this would leave me well enough situated with enough time to get to the hawthorns for a noon kick-off should wolves lose their replay with doncaster. they did not.

i was now left waiting on the result from wolves 5th round home fixture with stoke city.

in the meantime, i had changed my plans to travel to stoke on the friday in favour of a night game at leicester with bristol city as the visitors.

wolves were then knocked out of the cup in a 1-0 loss to stoke city at the molineux. knowing that the west midlands police would take quick steps to change the date, i had to wait for the outcome of the cup draws set to be played on the 19th.

birmingham city, after their 3-2 win over coventry, were drawn in a home fixture against sheffield wednesday. i now knew that the west brom/wolves game wouldn't be moved to the saturday with a cup game at st. andrews on the same day.

i was now free to book my ticket with a departure date that would see me in london on the 16th and departing on the 23rd. this would mean travelling to the leicester on friday. i would then go to birmingham, anyway, for the FA CUP game at blues and then return for baggies/wolves match on the last night of my trip. but i had not figured on the fact that they might move the match to a sunday. which, of course, is what they did.

all the better! i was at the walkers stadium on friday, st. andrews on saturday - and after spending the night in birmingham, i was at the hawthorns, as planned, for a noon kick-off on the 20th of february.

Leicster City F.C. 2-1 Bristol City F.C.

i found leicester a very pleasant experience with a surprising gate of 29,000 on a friday night. while i have a suspicion that there are more than a few fair-weather fans who were there in support of the team's current success, i had not realized how big a club leicester city really is. in my short time in the city i encountered an extensive and serene university campus, a big modern rugby stadium, a large park named in honour of nelson mandela and an obviously lively downtown club scene - and most of this on my walk to the match from the hotel.

of course, among other players of note, i got a chance to see david james in goal for bristol city.

from the point of view of the neutral, this was a terrific match. after an early leicester goal by yakubu and bristol city equalizer, the bulk of the matched was played poised on a 1-1 scoreline. bristol city played a really top notch game, keeping it tight with a sound defensive formation and then exerting a high tempo attack with a really good spell of possession late on. tactically, and as the away team, they went for the win at the right time. the home team responded, though, with some late defending to preserve at least a draw, before substitute, martin waghorn, scored the winner in injury time. an excellent evening's entertainment and another positive advert for CHAMPIONSHIP football.

Birmingham City F.C. 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday F.C.

my first trip to blues was a bit of a disappointment. the fans of our local rivals are a rough and barbaric inner-city cousin to the evidently more cultured black country folk from up the road. i felt uncomfortable in supporting blues (something i wouldn't usually do), but in light of it not being a league match and birmingham city being the club from whom i had purchased my ticket, i felt obliged to exchange my navy for royal blue - just for a few hours, anyway.

while i did consider the initial option of purchasing my ticket from sheffield wednesday, i wouldn't travel with visiting supporters other than the albion (or brentford, for whom i have a soft spot) under any circumstance whatsoever. even travelling with the baggies can be a bit rowdy for my liking, and the visiting supporters section is never the best place to watch the match from.

i also felt a bit confined as i had a bored steward sitting at the end of the adjoining block of seats, so i refrained from taking my usual photo of the kick-off.

there was an unfriendly feeling about the place. from the ridiculously cramped little club shop, or a line-up for the toilet at half-time, to the stadium's dreary highway landscape surrounding, it was all curiously unwelcoming. it certainly ai' the hawthorns!!! while i have always admired blues website for its extensive media content and quality of its online ticket service, i found the place itself bleak and cold.

i was seated, however, next to a charming middle-aged woman who was an obviously enthusiatic blues supporter. we commented on the impressive display of the sheffield wednesday supporters. she pointed out a character known as "mr. tango", who was, of course some ridiculously over-weight yorkshireman invariably wearing no shirt and boldly leading the rowdy but good natured wednesday support in song, dance and general party spirit.

"brilliant. isn't he?" she asked rhetorically.

i was most uncomfortable with her friendly attentions and having to feign any real feelings for blues.

"it's nice to have an early goal for once," she beamed following the home side's opener in the first few minutes.

"yes," i said, nodding my head in an attempt to display my support.

i have to give her credit. she was the best of sports fans, acknowledging a good tackle on the part of the owls as well as the better efforts of her obviously beloved blues. she would unconcsiously clutch at my shoulder as a birmingham city break would develop or a long range shot would go whistling over the wednesday goal.

"megson's doin' 'is nut," she pointed out in regards to the owls' new manager.

sure enough, sitting on the opposite side of the field from the dugouts you could hear him loud and clear screaming at this players in utter frustration. he was indeed "doin' 'is nut".

while blues scored early on through new signing, obafemi martins, and eventually won the match 3-0, i was most impressed by the travelling wednesday support. they outsang, outdanced and outchanted the home supporters all day long, and numbering 5,000 in a gate which only saw a 14,000 total, they constituted no mean presence. even after going 3-nil down they just kept jumping up and down and singing:

always look on the bright side of life,
da-doo da-doo da-do da-doo

it was absolutely brilliant and i can only hope that baggies support would be so good if ever faced with the generally dire situation that sheffield wednesday find themselves in at the moment - and besides not playing very good football on the day.

the coolest thing about going to blues was that i got to see kevin phillips play, as he came on as substitute at the beginning of the second half. while the game was already over, i'm happy to have merely seen him run around the pitch a bit, perpetually strolling back from an offside position and helping to kill the game off for birmingham city as they continue their good cup form this year. here was a blues players i was happy to cheer for and would've liked to see score.

i was happy enough to hear the final whistle and caught a taxi back to new street station, where i picked up my bags from the left luggage service and walked across the street to the COMFORT INN.

WBA 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.

live text replay

i was up at 7.30 the next morning and aiming to catch a local train to the hawthorns at 10.30. i checked out of the hotel and again left my travelling bag and laptop at the left luggage service. with plenty of time to get there i meandered over to snow hill station and had a smoke before embarking for the trains.

as soon as i caught sight of the stadium i knew i was back in familiar territory. i smiled inwardly at the sense of belonging i experienced as the strangeness and cold feeling from having been at blues the day before dropped away. i was happy and confident of an albion victory. i had arrived.

i wasn't sure what to expect. i certainly hadn't seen any wolves supporters around the city centre or anywhere on the trains, and wasn't surprised to see that the gates for the visitors entrance at the smethwick end of the ground were closed and an unusually high police presence controlling the immediate area. without too much inspection or scrutiny of the situation i figured i'd walk round the long way and come in through the east stand parking lot.

the club shop was lively with action, there was a qeue at the ticket office, and a monstrous stretch limo was parked in front of reception. with the fact of a first ever PREMIER LEAGUE black country derby, both baggies and wolves desperately needing a result and roy hodgson making his debut in charge of west brom, it was certainly an auspicious and historic occassion.

it was evident, even without youssouf mulumbu in the side, that hodgson had done some tightening up of the back four and reset out how the midfield was going to defend. still, it was evident to most of us that gonzalo jara was still sitting way too far infield, allowing too much space for wolves' left-winger, matt jarvis, to go forward in.

unfortunately, it just wasn't one of the classics that we'll be watching on video for years to come. both teams were cautious, given the occassion and the critical need for league points in an approaching relegation battle. the baggies first-half performance was again disjointed and uneven due to the lack of youssouf mulumbu in central midfield, but the baggies did produce a couple of good opportunites that required timely reactions from wolves goalie, wayne hennessy. jonas olsson came close on a chris brunt corner-kick but his effort was saved. paul scharner then put in a header that curled just wide of the visitors goal. all in all, it was wolves defenders who had the better of the first 20 minutes or so.

the old-gold went ahead, scoring through a free-kick some three or four yards outside the albion penalty area. the move was simplicity itself and taken straight from training ground routines on set-pieces. with two wolves players hanging over the ball and the baggies forming up a wall, jostling for good defensive positions and picking up their marks inside the box, the ball was played square to midfielder jamie o'hara who had peeled off the back of the wolves front line and moved out of the box to a high central position some 20-25 yards out.

it was a clever move and and o'hara's curling shot beat albion keeper, boaz myhill, and nestled firmly in the top right-hand corner. there wasn't much that could be done about it, and myhill was caught holding only a slightly higher position than would have been necessary to make the save. given the height and distance of the shot, however, questioning the welsh number two's positioning is speculative at best.

while the visitors section of the smethwick went wild, the rest of us groaned at a circumstance with which we are all too familiar. the baggies were a goal down with only about 5 minutes of the first-half left to play.

the albion thoroughly dominated the second-half but not before matt jarvis - who had the beating of gonzalo jara all day - came close to putting the old-gold up 2-0 when a miscued header by a back-tracking paul scharner fell perfectly for the wolves winger to score their second five minutes in to the second period. however, boaz myhill's quick reacton in coming out to cover the angles forced jarvis' shot wide of the albion goal.

the baggies then again came close as jonas olsson beat wayne hennessy only to see his effort cleared off the line by matt jarvis, making up for his miss from a few minutes earlier. wolves, it seemed, were riding their luck a bit and depended on the good form of their welsh international goalie.

after carlos vela was brought on, the baggies upped the tempo and kept attacking the stout wolves defence. the mexican winger forced hennessy into a top-notch save as his low, hard blast at goal deflected off the back of wolves defender, karl henry, which could have easily seen the baggies draw level. the move finally ended with an over-cooked cross from albion striker, marc-antoine fortune. time was just beginning to slip away with less than 15 minutes normal time left on the clock.

what looked to be the baggies' best chance of the match went begging when fortune found himself wrong-footed as the ball ran past him directly in front of a gaping wolves' goal. as the 90 minute mark approached, some of the less optimistic baggies supporters started to make their way from the ground. it just did not appear to be albion's day.

however, and with 4 minutes injury time to be played, the baggies kept pressing and finally equalized in dramatic fashion with almost 92 minutes gone on the clock. steven reid moved the ball forward into space and this helped to fashion a 12 yard effort from midfielder james morrison. the initial shot was saved but bobbled by hennessy and carlos vela picked up the rebound to equalize in the most dramatic of fashions.

the hawthorns went wild. the day was saved. i wondered why anybody leaves a football match with only a 1 goal difference before the final whistle, as i thought of the baggies support that had made an early exit only to miss the high drama at game's end.

there are some draws that feel like a loss and some that feel like a win. this one felt a bit like a win and everybody save the wolves supporters were definitely buoyed by the baggies earning a late draw in a match they might just as easily have won.

even at this early stage of his tenure, roy hodgson's influence could already be felt in the way that the baggies approached this game, and there will no doubt be several essential changes he will make in regards to the starting squad over the next few weeks. for his first match in charge, hodgson did ok.

while it wasn't the high that one gets from a definitive win, i was happy with the result and returned to the west country feeling fine. my short tour of the midlands had found its satisfying end.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

WBA 3-3 West Ham United

live text replay

this was unbelievable, and once again, a fascinating comparison of the differing and inherant qualities of football as audio commentary and football as TV content.

this match didn't get a first TV airing until 8 PM EST in the part of the world where i live. so i had been living with the result and my own experience of the match for several hours, as i had heard it on the ALBION RADIO before i actually saw it.

i am always amazed that radio, or digital audio commentaries on the internet create an environment of more intense involvement on the part of the "user"; that is to say, the "viewer" or "listener". the drama is heightened, the mistakes more crucial, the experience more critical, the level of attention more immediately demanding in an audio environement. audio commentary, tending to be more diverse and playing to smaller, more specialized interests, is also, therefore, more inclined to be partisan. radio has always been the medium of propaganda.

television is a cool, detached, objective scanning of visual information. it is the medium of the short attention span and constant diversion. it also the medium of the mainstream and this creates an environment where the presentation tends to be non-partisan, non-judgmental and wholly less critical. it is also more concerned with entertainment rather than the straight dissemination of information and user involvement.

for example, i always feel better watching a TV replay of a disappointing result after having heard it first on the ALBION RADIO. where the baggies' biased commentary on the ALBION RADIO transmissions often has me hopping up and down at the injustice perpetrated by a referee, or a missed penalty kick, the televised match gives me an objective vantage point - and presented as such - with a chance to assess in a cool, detached manner what i've seen (or even what i think i've seen), finding both sympathy and condemnation therein.

any of those of us who thought that michael appleton - by virtue of his long-time involvment at the club as well as coaching badges and accreditations acquired - might make as good a manager as any number of other young candidates, were as naive as appy himself in thinking he might be able to do the job.

michael appleton's managerial debut was a painfully schizophrenic experience that ran the gamut from merciless attacking football to completely inept and gutless defending. it was so extreme that it took me several hours to figure out what had happened after having listened to it. by the time the game came on TV it was merely a confirmation of what i had imagined.

appleton picked more or less the same team that di matteo has been playing - and given the current injury situation - but his substitutions were absolutley ludicrous.

the baggies started off like a pack of hunting dogs unleashed. in what might later turn out to be the most significant moment of the match, graham dorrans opened his PREMIER LEAGUE scoring account inside of three minutes with an effort that just doesn't get any better. taking a pass into space from peter odemwingie, and a full 25-30 yards out, the young scottish international confidently struck an unstoppable ball past west ham keeper, robert green, burying it in the top corner of the net.

it was a spectacular start.

with barely seven minutes gone, it was then jerome thomas' turn to add to his season's tally. the albion winger took a ball which was layed back from marc-antoine fortune and attacking from the top corner of the box had a good enough angle to side-foot the ball past wayne hennessy in the wolves goal. the hawthorns was jumping and the albion were 2-0 up.

four minutes later, thomas, once again looking menacing at the end of a quick and incisive counter attack, looked to be have been pulled down by winston reid in the west ham box after having gone round goalkeeper, hennessy. however, play was waved on and the baggies once again look to be victim of a referee's reluctance to give a penalty which would necessitate a red-card.

peter odemwingie should have made it 3-0, as he was allowed a free-header on a graham dorrans' corner-kick, but unfortunately put the ball straight at wayne hennessy.

it was at this point, however, that the match began to change complexion.

youssouf mulumbu, arguably the baggies most important defensive player in the current team formation, was forced to come off due to a tightening hamstring. while it would still take some time before the woeful west ham defending started to close down better, carlton cole would have had a goal but for a questionable offside decision in the 23rd minute.

a certain justice was served in regards to the earlier non-call on the penalty appeal, when in the 31st minute, the baggies did go 3 goals up through a winston reid own-goal. the west ham defender completely midjudged another dorrans' corner-kick and directed the ball into an open net whilst coming from the back to defend it.

as good as the baggies attacking game was, the hammers' defending was every bit as bad. it was training ground looking stuff.

with a a 3 goal lead, and watching from the stands, roy hodgson must have been feeling like he'd walked into an absolute dream job, and that keeping this group of players in the PREMIER LEAGUE would be little problem once he got hands on the reigns.

the baggies even looked good defensively in the first-half. boaz myhill made a fantastic save from hammers' striker demba ba - after the hammers started to come back into the match a little - which bounced off the post and was ultimately cleared off the line by james morrison. the albion looked like tight, together and dangerous.

the second-half was a completely different story.

youssouf mulumbu's early exit began to reveal just how much of a turning point it had actually been.

following what quickly became a legendary half-time talk delivered by west ham captain, scott parker, the hammers came back from the break and within five minutes had their first goal. mark noble delivered a perfect chip ball into demba ba that backfooted the albion defenders, and was controlled and brought down well by the hammers' striker - albeit with a hint of handball - and finished for the away team's opening goal. even at this early point in a match that had heretofore been dominated by the baggies, there was an uneasy feeling that started to go round the hawthorns. every albion fan over the age of 15 remembered the famous 4-3 win at upton park which had seen the baggies down by the same 3 goals-to-nil margin at half-time and was won eventually by a lee hughes' goal.

again, it was a set piece that was the baggies' undoing on the second west ham goal. it came a mark noble free-kick that was floated across the albion penalty area, where a completely unmarked frederic piquionne headed back across goal for carlton cole to score the simplest of headers. a few minutes later, piquionne himself put a deftly crossed header off the bar and away for a goal kick. the baggies looked lucky to be hanging on.

not that they didn't create more chances themselves, but peter odemwingie was guilty of some weak finishes, especially two missed chances towards the end of the game. but more than anything it was michael appleton's ludicrous substitutions and decision to defend using a narrow formation, allowing the west ham wide players room to operate down the wings and ignite positive attacks that cost the baggies full points. it's no wonder that the albion central defenders were terrified and constantly caught backpeddling.

the final score in west ham's redemtion came in the 83rd minute from a shortly taken corner-kick that caught the baggies out. mark noble once again floated in a cross that was flicked on for demba ba to score the equalizer and his second of the game.

michael appleton, dean keily and anyone else who was temporarily elevated to a position of increased responsibilty for this match, as the club wait for monday and for roy hodgeson to take over, must have had a real learning experience and it was certainly was a baptism of fire.

roy hodgson has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of what he's got to work with, in a situation that cannot escape its parellel comparisons to the conditions of his taking over at fulham, where he was similarly brought in to rescue the team's PREMIER LEAGUE status following the sacking of lawrie sanchez.

it's not an impossible task, but hodgson has less time than he did at fulham, and a tough schedule to oversee. with his initial match in charge being the hawthorns leg of the black country derby, the baggies are running out of what would seem to be winnable matches with a trip to stoke city to follow and a local derby away to blues after that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Roberto di Matteo's Last Game

Manchester City F.C. 3-0 WBA

live text replay

it was all a bit of a surprise when RDM was originally given the newly created job of "head coach" upon tony mowbray's departure to manage celtic. at the time, his appointment seemed perplexing and certainly many doubted the managerial pedigree of the man whose only previous experience in management was to take mkdons to a LEAGUE 1 playoff spot the year before.

i was expecting someone more along the lines of derek mcinnes, or perhaps one of his contemporaries in the likes of john hughes. mcinnes had done well in scottish football management (much like TM before him) and had also been popular with the supporters from his days as an albion player. john hughes' name never came up.

di matteo, however, had an immediate and profound impact at the hawthorns, starting the 2009-10 CHAMPIONSHIP campaign with a 9 game unbeaten run, ultimately leading them to automatic promotion and a new points-total record for the club. he then saw the albion through its best start ever to a PREMIER LEAGUE season with a fair run of successful results - including a 3-2 win over the arsenal at the emirates and a hard-fought 2-2 draw at old trafford.

RDM won the supporters over to his cause by posting good results. but when the baggies went to bloomfield road in the beginning of november it all started to unravel. we all remember michael oliver's red-card decision (since rescinded) against pablo ibanez and gonzalo jara unable to control his temper seeing the baggies finish the match with 9-men and losing to the tangerines by a score of 2-1. this was followed by a listless performance in a home defeat to manchester city. nobody suspected at the time just how bad this was going to get, as the baggies have gone on to lose 13 out of their next 18 games and dropping 15 places in the league table.

this was also the point where we started to see the cracks and flaws in RDM's approach.

while there were hints of it last year, this season has demonstrated that the gaffer is not the best "man-manager" in the business, and makes it quite plain - as reflected in his team selections - how he feels about certain players. what is never clear is whether his issues with particular individuals are purely football related or personal in nature. everybody remembers how di matteo alienated robert koren, ultimately forcing him to leave the club.

it was also pretty obvious that he had no use for roman bednar in the PREMIER LEAGUE, and i'm not sure how well his attitude towards the czech striker went over with the supporters. bednar was always a popular player at the hawthorns and even keeping him on the bench was a good tactical decision in that his presence lent a positive energy to the atmosphere. you could always get a little excitment out of the hawthorns' crowd merely by sending him out to warm-up along the touchline.

why hasn't he been playing nicky shorey?

i don't think that there's an albion fan who hasn't asked themselves this particular question in the last two months.

and with a defence that has literally fallen apart over the last three months, why has he kept the same full-backs in the team week after week and leaves pablo ibanez on the bench in favour of paul scharner?

this culminated in the truly bizarre starting line-up against manchester city that put marc-antoine fortune on the right-wing and simon cox in central midfield. this all smacked of a man desperately clutching at straws. and it is this fact that gives the game away. di matteo has probably been at odds with the board and structure of the club for some time longer than had heretofore been suspected.

the news leaking out of the hawthorns today would seem to indicate that the situation between di matteo and the board has been strained since before christmas, and that he had also lost the confidence of the players at this point.

this was evident in the wholly gutless, inept performance by the baggies at eastlands, losing 3-0 to manchester city.

i never imagined that i would like him personally, or that he was someone who i'd want to know, but he did a great job with the baggies in the CHAMPIONSHIP and he certainly had my enthusiastic support last year. the baggies' famous win at arsenal under his leadership will remain his personal legacy in west bromwich albion folklore for the post PREMIER LEAGUE era. he has achieved something positive in his time at the club, and leaves them an improved team since his arrival.

i can safely say that sam allardyce will not be coming the hawthorns. it is potentially too divisive an appointement. i imagine that they will go after roy hodgson first. after what he was able to do at fulham, he's probably more than equipped to meet a similar challenge now at west brom. and the timing is good with the baggies still not having dropped into the bottom three - yet.

the next few days and weeks will tell the tale, but jeremy peace and the board have taken a tremendous gamble and put their integrity on the line as choosing this particular moment in time in which to part company with di matteo and his staff. if the baggies stay up, they'll have made a brilliant managerial decision. by the same token, they will have failed and be personally responsible if the baggies poor form persists and an inevitable relegation battle is unsuccessful.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

WBA 2-2 Wigan Athletic F.C.

live text replay

as i often do in the case of delayed TV broadcast of a match, i listened to this one live on ALBION RADIO, then was able to watch the game on SETANTA SPORTS CANADA almost immediately following its conclusion. i was once again struck how different the two media are. an entertaining game on TV is not always so engaging as audio commentary.

technically, this was a pretty poor game of football. while both the baggies and latics have been lauded for their good football, expansive passing games and enterprising strikers, they are both defensively poor. while the baggies just edged this one (in fact, they could have won this match 6 times over in the last 15 minutes) they still did not get the result they really deserved and set-pieces were once again their undoing.

roberto di matteo has finally realized that his team must play with a certain amount of abandon from the outset, and his re-jigging of tactics paid off early on as peter odemwingie, the club's top goal-scorer on the year, put the albion uncharacteristically ahead in the 5th minute. while there were also one or two shakey moments at the back early on, the gaffer deserves credit for inspiring the team to play in a manner with which the baggies will have to approach home games for the rest of the season, regardless of the opposition.

for the next 20 minutes the baggies looked to be in full control of the match and created a truly buoyant atmosphere at the hawthorns. a solid defensive performance would see this one out and maybe even create the possibility of more goals if they could stretch wigan sufficiently as the match wore on and the latics would increasingly need to chase the game. however, and much as they had done in the 2008-09 season, they simply could not hang on to an early lead.

youssouf mulumbu, once again, gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area at the top of the box and the latics took full advantage as charles n'zogbia equalized in the 20th minute. both the momentum of the game and the atmosphere of the hawthorns changed drastically, as wigan went on to claim a huge majority of the possession as well as a second goal before half-time.

in almost a mirror image of the first latics' goal, gonzalo jara gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box just minutes before half-time, and ben watson stepped up to take. the wigan midfielder, who was at the hawthorns on loan towards the end of last season, put the ball right through the box past everyone, including a static west brom defence, four on-rushing wigan attackers and a largely unsighted and highly distracted boaz myhill in the albion goal.

this was a real let-down and it was visible throughout the albion team that confidence is rather fragile at the moment. there was also some tension amongst the albion fans themselves, as one baggies supporter was spotted arguing and throwing punches with another in the birmingham road end. it all cooled down pretty quickly and served as some small diversion and temporary amusement for the stewards, as well as being clear evidence of the frustration that is setting in at the hawthorns these days. supporting the baggies is strictly for adults and an experience that should be reserved only for those who can handle it.

while a lack of defensive quality on TV very often makes for entertaining football, on radio or as audio commentary it is tragic and dull. i believe that this is due to the intrinsic critical nature of audio commentary which tends to be pretty unforgiving on the mistakes and negatives, as well as creating an intense involvement on the part of the listener. after all, radio always was the "hot" medium as far as marshall mcluhan was concerned. whereas television offers us a more generous version of the action through its impartial, neutral, cool and detached point of view.

with time slipping away in the second half, the baggies again showed their character and sense of purpose as they battled on and came back into the match following marc-antoine fortune's inclusion. the french striker was called into action when simon cox was forced off with a minor injury.

both fortune and chris brunt hit the post within a space of two minutes as the albion built the momentum to find the equalizer. this finally came in the last 15 minutes as the baggies relentless pressure on the wigan goal finally paid off and fortune sneaked in a header from a ball dinked in across the face of goal by jerome thomas. the baggies were level in a match that neither side could afford to lose.

the baggies kept pressing for the winner and only a top-class save from ali al-habsi in the wigan goal preserved the draw for the latics. a screaming header from paul scharner off an albion corner-kick looked every inch a goal until the latics' keeper stunning reflex save pushed the ball over the bar. in the end - and despite a some good aggressive attacking play by charles n'zogbia - the baggies could and and should have won this one.

these two teams are very similar in that they are dedicated to the principals of playing football in the right way. they want to entertain their supporters and maintain a competitive place amongst the top 25 teams in the country. while simple enough in its conception, it's not half as easy as it sounds.

wigan have managed to make a go of it, although every year since their inaugural seasonin the top-flight - where an early run of form carried them through to a 10th place finish - the PREMIER LEAGUE has been a struggle and fighting off relegation is now a yearly ritual. i don't know much about the structure of the club, but from seeing the way they play football i imagine they are pretty well run organization who have their supporters' best interest at heart. especially as wigan has never been noted for its football and is still widely percieved as a rugby league stronghold.

while the baggies have yet to compete in the top-flight for more than two years consecutively, they are superbly run organization that has developed a management formula - and appropriate to a club of its size - that will continue to secure the baggies a place in the country's top 25 teams; thus, always - and likewise - able to compete for a place in the PREMIER LEAGUE.

the significance of this, is that it is careful not to follow the trend we've seen develop over the last 10 years, where clubs will qualify for the PREMIER LEAGUE and overspend in a desperate attempt to retain their top-flight status, only to fall into financial problems and drop two divisions within a couple of years. the list of clubs who've suffered this fate grows annually. five or six years ago, charlton athletic were touted as the model of how a community based club might achieve consolidation in the top-flight... just check out where they are now! this will never happen to the baggies.

they'll always be an albion!!! at least as long as jeremy peace is the chairman.

however, the sad truth is that there is no reward for being a well run club with a mandate to play football in the "right way". manchester united can afford to play a style of football - and presented in such a way that people would want to watch - that is not a viable way for the bigger community based teams to play. if wigan, west ham, wolves or west brom go 2-0 down in the first-half of a match with any other team in the PREMIER LEAGUE, it is very unlikely they will able to come back sufficiently to get a result. the best they could expect is perhaps a draw, and that would require a rare and exceptional performance. on the other hand, manchester united would routinely go on to win 3-2 as many as four times out of five.

apparently, you have to have a more or less unlimited budget to play good, attractive and exciting football in the context of the top-flight. any attempt to do so without this type of financial resource is suicidal in respect to the PREMIER LEAGUE. survival is achieved either through gambling with the very existance of your club, or playing completely negative football. this is why the top-flight is populated by mid-table perennials like blackburn, bolton, stoke and fulham, who are always happy enough to get away with a draw or nicking a late winner in a 1-0.

wigan have to be happier about this point than the baggies as the two look to be amongst the six or seven teams that threaten to get sucked into a relegation battle as the season enters its final phase.