Monday, March 28, 2011

WBA 2-2 Arsenal F.C.

live text replay

quite incredibly, roy hodgson's west bromwich albion team came within fifteen minutes of doing the double over the arsenal, after winning at the emirates in september and holding them to a draw in this reverse fixture at the hawthorns.

there aren't too many teams in the PREMIER LEAGUE who can boast having taken 4-points from the arsenal in the course of a season. the baggies are now five games undefeated under hodgson, but despite the evident positives, the baggies are still looking for what-would-be only their second win under the new gaffer. they came close in this one, and only the gunners' superior skills and a little bit of luck saved them the point in the end.

the first noticable change that hodgson brought to the albion was to revise the playing shape from a strict 4-5-1 - which roberto di matteo started using at half-time in a match against newcastle united in last year's CHAMPIONSHIP and rarely deviated from after that - for a more defensive minded 4-4-2. this was revealed in the wolves game, with both marc-antoine fortune and peter odemwingie featured in the strikers positions. considering that the gaffer is bit more the tactician than your average manager, this was probably not altogether unexpected.

the surprise has been in the re-evaluation of certain members of the first team and how the personnel were being used. the most unexpected move, of course, has been the shrewd re-introduction of abdoulaye meite in partnering jonas olsson at centre-half. he has also been responsible for the rehabilitation of scott carson, who's playing has been much improved since his recent lay-off, and putting 30-year old irish international, steven reid, at right-back has been nothing short of a revelation. returning nicky shorey to starting left-back was long over-due, and his intelligent use of marek cech as a substitute in a defensive midfield position is obvious, but effective. the gaffer has even voiced an interest in the possibility of bringing ishmael miller back to the club. i'm even expecting simon cox to make a starting appearance soon.

hodgson knows what a player is capable of and never defers to popular or fashionable opinion about his footballers.

what hodgson has been able to do since coming to west brom is tighten up the defense, both at the back and in midfield, without detracting from the attacking flair for which the baggies are known. both youssouf mulumbu and paul scharner have scored goals recently, while players like james morrison and chris brunt are covering their defensive duties more constistently. the strike pairing of marc-antoine fortune with the high-scoring peter odemwingie always looks dangerous, especially when playing together on the break. playing in tandem with a big, strong centre-forward lends another dimension to odemwingie's game; as was clearly illustrated in the recent match with wolves.

despite the lack of wins, the baggies are definitely considered a form team at the moment and everyone knows the relatively high quality of football that they are currently playing.

while i think most albion fans were happy with the point, i was a little disappointed and thought the baggies were going to win this one. andre arshavin scored a goal of such quality that it was literally unstoppable, and the arsenal were lucky with the equalizer following a fortuitous cross which came banging back off scott carson's far post and robin van persie's slightest of touches being just enough to just edge the ball over the line past a wrong-footed abdoulaye meite.

other than the arshavin goal, however, the baggies were the better team all day and probably deserved the win. especially as they were down to 10-men and protecting a 1-0 lead for a full seven minutes of the first-half, with james morrison requiring four or five stitches in his head following a collision with an arsenal defender.

while i was absolutley elated with the last minute equalizer against wolves (especially as i was there), i was converseley and equally disappointed that the baggies didn't hang on and win this one. they had the better chances and dominated the game completely.

the baggies took the lead in the 3rd minute on a steven reid goal scored from a free-header on the first corner-kick of the game.

after throwing up a stern defensive performance in the first-half, which saw both james morrison and paul scharner recieving pretty bad head injuries (the latter having to come off at half-time), the baggies went 2-0 up on a dreadful mistake by manuel almunia. coming out of his area for a ball he should never have come for, and creating a mix-up with his defender, sebastien squillaci, the arsenal keeper left peter odemwingie an opportunity to take advantage and cleverly roll the ball into an open net.

with the baggies on an unbeaten run under roy hodgson, and with a resurgent liverpool coming to the hawthorns in two week's time, the baggies have their work cut out for them in keeping the gaffer's record intact.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Birmingham City F.C. 1-3 WBA

match text commentary

roy hodgson's first victory in charge of the albion extended the baggies current unbeaten streak to four games. while this was the all important win the albion have been looking for this last month or so - and further contributes to the baggies keeping themselves just one step ahead of dropping into the relegation places - it emphasizes that the baggies are stuck with some tough fixtures ahead and didn't take nearly enough points in their last three home games. one thing is for sure: they're going to have to take three-to-four points from their next three home games; and with those being arsenal, liverpool and chelsea, the baggies are going to have to come up with some serious heroics. however, it's been that kind of year and the albion have generally played well against top-ten opposition.

there is something more confident and consistant about the albion since roy hodgson's arrival. even the the media pundits (like the BBC's, mark lawrenson, for example) who've never generally been too positive about the possibilities of an extended stay in the top-flight for the baggies - are now picking three or four other teams as more likely to face the drop this year. the general consensus - and the among the supporters as well - seems to be that this albion team will find a way to survive.

by the same token, it is generally agreed that wigan athletic are the only side that really look like they are indeed going down from amongst the other relegation battlers . the question is: who is going down with them? at the moment, the albion seem to have a firm grip on 16th-17th spot(s). it's quite likely that blackburn, aston villa and blackpool - along with the baggies, blues, wolves and west ham - will be fighting their way out of ending up in one of the other two relegation places come the final day of the season.

this was the baggies first "double" of the season, after having beaten blues by the same score back at the hawthorns in the middle of september.

to be fair, it was going to be a difficult day for a city team which had just won the LEAGUE CUP against the arsenal, in what must have been an absolute drain both physically and emotionally. while the score was nil-nil at the half, the baggies had looked the better of the two teams with the blues supplying little in the way of match highlights. the baggies have generally done well following scoreless first periods and by the time they had kicked-off for the second-half, they were tuned up and ready to play some dominating football.

the baggies went ahead on a goal by youssouf mulumbu scored within two minutes of the restart. the congolese midfielder played a pass to peter odemwingie, who had taken up a central position on the edge of the city penalty area. the nigerian international held the ball up long enough for mulumbu to get forward into the area, and taking the return ball on an overlapping run, finished superbly to give the albion a deserved lead. the next few days will tell, but it might have been a costly goal indeed, as mulumbu was simultaneously clattered by birmingham centre-half, liam ridgewell, and appeared to have taken a hard knock on the thigh.

however, and in typical fashion, blues pulled one back less than a minute later. lee bowyer, making a run down the right flank, gambled on a short-cross to the near post. birmingham city striker and chilean international, jean beausejour had gotten in behind the baggies' defenders and glanced the ball into the net past scott carson. while it is not uncommon to switch off for a moment following a goal celebration, beausejour's goal just reminded us again that the baggies still have moments of vulnrability at the back and seem committed to doing it the hard way.

however, besides reviving the squad through bringing unused and forgotten players back into the team and tightening up the shape of the back four, roy hodgson has instilled a bit of steel and confidence throughout the entire squad, and they took the lead again on 57 minutes through a typical james morrison goal. the albion midfielder took control of a cross from the right wing at the top of blues penalty area and taking a single touch to give himself room for the shot, blasted a perfectly placed strike past blues goalie, ben foster. he certainly doesn't score tap-ins and morrison has scored several similar goals this season, including west brom's first against manchester united at the hawthorns.

from here, the baggies never looked back.

while david bentley got the opportunity of two good long-range strikes, scott carson had them both covered, and it was only on a near miss by cameron jerome, which trickled just wide of the baggies' goal that blues ever looked dangerous coming forward. even kevin phillips coming off the bench as substitute could find nothing against his former club.

the baggies clinched the full three-points - and the first victory since their home fixture with blackpool - keeping, as they have been, just ahead of the drop-zone; and sending the newly crowned LEAGUE CUP champions into the bottom three ahead of only wigan, at this point.

paul scharner effectively finished the match off in the 71st minute as he sent a james morrison cross back across the face goal at the far-post sneaking the ball past blues goalie, ben foster, from an acute angle. the final score accurately reflected the trajectory of the game and the baggies fully deserved the win.

with an unfortunatley scheduled international break in three weeks time, and the possibility of their next league fixture falling prey to postponement pending the outcome of the upcoming FA CUP games, the baggies might not play again until april 2nd. we can only hope that manchester united puts arsenal out of the competition and the gunners will be at the hawthorns - as scheduled - in two weeks time. this will not only see the albion trying to extend their current unbeaten run, but will also give the baggies a timely opportunity at posting their second double of the season, having beaten the gunners at the emirates back in the late days of september.

as i said, west brom may have to secure their place in next season's PREMIER LEAGUE by doing it the hard way and taking points from the most difficult of their fixtures. however, and with roy hodgson now beginning to exert his influence on the team, they are exhuding a feeling of confidence and are playing like a side that is setting itself out for top-flight survival. i think they might just be capable of pulling it off.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stoke City F.C. 1-1 WBA

live text replay

there was no same day coverage of this match on TV in my part of the world, so i had to wait 36 hours before i had a chance to actually see this one. i did of course listen live on ALBION RADIO.

there isn't a baggies supporter alive who would expect to come away from a match at the britannia stadium with any more than what they got; and this was absolutely the best performance against a stoke city team in the last few years.

tony pulis, besides appearing to be one of the least likable personalities in english football, has discovered a formula for survival in the PREMIER LEAGUE which is generally within the means of resources available to a large community based club like stoke city. it doesn't do much for football - in fact, it' a kind of "anti"-football - but it does manage to procure top-flight survival and the lucrative television contract which goes along with it. after all, this is the real goal for any team who will never compete for anything more than a mid-table finish in the league. the TV money is everything!

stoke city f.c. - one of the 12 original FOOTBALL LEAGUE teams - play a tough, defensive game that would be more generously characterized as "hard" and are unusually reliant on dead-ball situations from which to fashion scoring opportunities. in fact, they have become known in the last few years for their use of the long throw-in as a primary weapon of attack, utilizing the talents of their throw-in specialist, rory delap. tony pulis' main tactic is to slow everything down and protracted possession is relatively unimportant. they are a much physically bigger team than average and it seems at times like they're playing with five centre-halfs. while being a solidly based defensive side, they are long-time proponents of the single striker formation and are most effective on the counter-attack. they also have a very good goalie.

whatever the individual and/or collective merits of these two sides, this match was painfully average, but might have caught the interest of the neutral or passing television viewer as it was a close game with a low score. but in an exclusively audio medium it would have held no interest whatsoever. there were dismally long gaps in the commentary in which dave bowler and chris dunn were simple running out of things to say. i mean, how many times can you have a laugh over rory delap taking the better part of a minute to wipe down a ball and get on with a simple throw-in? stoke city used up so time at every stoppage that the match never really seemed to get going. the ALBION RADIO was lost for words. it would seem that the potters' general tactic is to drag the opposition's game down and instigate a kind of battle of atrition in which they themselves look to just "nick it" in the end. this would seem to be a general outline of any stoke city game plan.

i could be argued that it's been a successful and relatively quick consolidation as a competitive PREMIER LEAUGE club for the potters, but you'd be hard-pressed to find much positive to say about their football.

the TV was much better than it was as audio transmission, but there's no getting away from it: this was by-and-large a dull game.

roy hodgson made some bold and, i thought, intelligent changes to the side which he had put out against wolves. first and foremost was the return of scott carson as the starting goalie. seeing as how there is little to choose between him and boaz myhill, it was probably the right thing to do in regards to carson's rehabilitation after having his confidence evaporate following a string of poor performances.

but the big surprise on the day was the return to the team of abdoulaye meite, one of the albion's forgotten men. while he did the job when he was asked to in contributing to last year's promotion campaign, he had been largely over-looked as "unsuitable" to play in the PREMIER LEAGUE and was not a particular fan favourite. hodgson, however, remembered that meite was indeed an experienced top-flight centre-half who had not only seen a couple of patchy periods where his confidence was shot, but had also played some very good football at this level during the course of his career.

the baggies looked much better all around for the changes. meite was the best partner that jonas olsson has had all year; and another partnership, that of youssouf mulumbu and paul scharner has definitely begun to gel in the midfield holding positions.

as it had been against wolves, it was the predatory instincts of carlos vela that saved this one late on for the albion. he has proved an instant hero at the hawthorns and given meaning to the idea of west brom being a team who plays with intention for the full 90 minutes.

the important thing at the end of the day is that the baggies got a result and have started a small run of games unbeaten. however, if the albion are to survive, this was the signal that they're going to do it the hard way... theoretically, at least. after three straight home draws against wigan, west ham, and wolves, it will be arsenal, chelsea and liverpool who will be visiting the hawthorns next, and the baggies will have to target at least one win from this set of home fixtures.

in the meantime, it is a trip down the road to st. andrews next, and another chance for the baggies to do their first double of the season over local rivals birmingham city.

i'm glad that roy hodgson's taken over and i think he's in for the long-haul. he's brought back meite and shown interest in the progress that ishamel miller is looking to make at QPR. these are players that i think roberto di matteo had just about discounted outright, so i think that hodgson already may see more potential in his resources than the previous gaffer did. let's hope he can use them to the desired effect.