Newcastle Utd F.C. 3-3 WBA
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in my blog of august 8th of last year, i stated that i no-less-than expected a mid-table finish from the baggies in their upcoming premiership campaign. in the end - and by the grace of somen tchoyi - my prediction happily came true. instead of finishing a respectable 14th in the table (as it well looked they might), west bromwich albion completed doubles over sunderland and everton in the final few weeks of the season before securing this all important single point against the toon to claim a final league standing of 11th.
this is certainly beyond what anyone (i actually predicted 9th...) had expected, and was something that the supporters by-and-large would have felt was a few years overdue. with the pre-season prognostications by pundits of every stripe and stature almost unanimously picking the baggies to finish 19th - one place above what was predicted for blackpool - the season can only be judged to have been a massive success.
while i can feel a certain amount of vindication as to my unwavering faith in the team, it didn't happen quite how i had expected it would; and i certainly had not counted on the phenomenon that was peter odemwingie. the nigerian international scored 15 goals and his efforts can be counted as directly attributable for 27 of the club's total points this season. the baggies were still hardly a model defensive team, and there were variously problems with full-backs, centre-halves and goalies. so it was really the nigerian's scoring ability, more than any other single factor, that made the albion a competitive proposition in the top-flight this year.
on the management side, the accomplishment of a solid mid-table finish was as much the work of roberto di matteo as it was of both roy hodgson and jeremy peace. i don't really know what happened, or why specifically (and other than the obvious answer of "results") the club decided to change managers? especially as there has always been a tradition of sticking with the present gaffer during a PREMIER LEAGUE campaign at the hawthorns. so the circumstances under which the baggies succeeded was essentially roy hodgson leading roberto di matteo's 25 man squad to PREMIER LEAGUE respectability.
whatever the case, the decision to bring in a new regime, while being unpopular at the time of di matteo's sacking, was celebrated the moment that we learned that the job had been given to roy hodgson. it was a better fit than anyone could have anticipated or hoped for. the new gaffer turned it around completely and went on to lead the baggies through an eight game unbeaten run, and posted only two losses in their last twelve matches.
absolutely everyone knew what he had done at fulham, and west brom was much the same kind of assignment: take a club in danger of relegation and keep them in the division. we'll see what next year brings and will be better able to assess whatever is achieved relative to what the gaffer accomplished in his time at craven cottage. but this was a more compact, emphatic and decidedly less dramatic survival campaign than the final day heroics at fulham required three years ago.
the baggies had clinched survival against sunderland , really, and their victory at home to everton, as well as the ridiculous and sublime last day efforts of somen tchoyi to rescue a point away to newcastle, were relaxed and ultimately entertaining matches that earned west brom their 11th place finish.
WBA 1-0 Everton F.C.
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after their best season in over thirty years, and their place in next year's PREMIER LEAGUE competition cemented, the baggies posted their third "double" of the year on the strength of their second clean-sheet of the campaign.
yuossouf mulumbu, no doubt buoyed by his selection as albion's "player of the year" - added to his scoring account with his 9th goal of the season with less than 10 minutes gone in the game.
while this was a decidedly better defensive effort on the part of both teams than had been in the reverse fixture - which ended a 4-1 win to the baggies - everton didn't take their chances and west brom managed to hold out for a clean-sheet to bookend their season's home fixtures with two 1-nil victories over sunderland and newcastle respectively.
the real surprise in the last two games was, without a doubt, somen tchoyi's spectacular second-half hat-trick against the toon on the final day.
the cameroon international has scored several goals earlier in the season and certainly can look dangerous going forward, but his tactical play as winger has always been in question and he has been the butt of more than a few jokes and subject to hard criticisms on the ALBION RADIO commentaries; and, judging by what has been written about him on various websites and fan forums, the supporters' opinion of him was generally pretty negative as well.
"i'm trying to figure out what position tchoyi's playing?"
"i'm not quite sure that he knows!"
followed by a quick round of laughter.
"he likes to run with the ball does old somen," the commentator adds, chuckling to himself, "he's just not too keen on passing it!"
while i have to admit, tchoyi had been uneven as a winger, despite looking a danger going forward and scoring several good goals when given the opportunity. however - and i'm unsure how anyone missed it - the cameroon international is a natural centre-forward. i had had my suspicions, but as to how good he can be, i was surprised and thought that albion may have found one of their missing strikers for next season.
no doubt, hodgson will bring in some of his own players, especially defenders and a goalie. i imagine that would be the boss's first order of business. you're always looking for strikers anyway, and the big job of the summer will be to keep hold of peter odemwingie. i think the gaffer also might have ishmael miller and simon cox in his plans for next year; so, we may have a few surprises yet, as well a search for another right-winger.
we will also have the return of graham dorrans to look forward to. while it was testament as to the general footballing talent in the side that the all-important attacking central midfield position was played so effectively by a rotating, patchwork crew of wingers and strikers. having the young scottish international back in the side will see a boost in quality to the albion's attack, and should supply a few more goals from central midfield. dorrans' ability to score from both open play and set pieces is well know to the baggies faithful but still a fairly unknown quantity in the PREMIER LEAGUE.
with part of the first team - including odemwingie - having gone home already, and the baggies 3-0 down early in the second-half thanks to an out of character own-goal by jonas olsson, tchoyi single-handedly got the baggies back in the match with two goals in ten minutes. the baggies were left with 20 minutes in which to find the equalizer and perhaps even go on to win the game.
when a speculative ball came looping into the newcastle penalty area, rolling harmlessly through and heading for touch, ishmael miller used his pace and wit to keep the ball in play with a smart back-heel to jonas olsson who dinked a in short cross for tchoyi to calmly head home the albion's 3rd goal.
in a way it summed up the baggies' season and was in keeping with old club traditions: if you can score enough goals, you'll do ok. after all, you're only as good as your strikers.