Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Satisfying End

Newcastle Utd F.C. 3-3 WBA

live text replay

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.

live text replay

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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 WBA

live text replay

after last week's win over their other great rival, aston villa, just about guaranteed PREMIER LEAGUE football at the hawthorns again next season, this was always going to be made all the tougher a fixture for it. it would be easy to make excuses for this one and even be somewhat cynical, but the baggies played poorly in the first half and conceded early goals on a pair of corner-kicks leaving them 2-0 down within the first half-an-hour. despite rallying and creating several good scoring chances in the second half, it was an insurmountable score-line and wolves' goalie, wayne hennesy, made several key saves that put the issue beyond doubt.

to be fair, the baggies were fielding a squad desperately depleted through injury (as well as paul scharner's single match suspension) and in no need of taking chances or any undue gambles. three key players needed for defending corner-kicks - a particular and conspicuous weakness for the baggies this season - were missing from the line-up, in the likes of paul scharner, chris brunt and steven reid. it almost felt like the fulham away game all over again.

while referee mike dean called a pretty fair game over-all, he was intent on awarding wolves everything in the first few minutes, and didn't look like he would be comfortable until they had a good crack at goal. a second of two fairly soft fouls on the edge of the albion penalty area saw scott carson at full stretch to palm away jamie o'hara's dangerous free-kick. it was on the resulting corner-kick that wolves took the lead.

steven hunt's delivery was well put into a dangerous area and the albion defenders were largely left watching as the ball broke for wolves' front-man, steven fletcher who duly smashed it past a flailing scott carson.

with less than half-an-hour gone, wolves again took advantage of the albion's poor defending on corner-kicks when a similar goal was scored by french midlfielder, adlene guedioura. again wolves lost their markers and terrorized the west brom goal with a largely unchallenged aerial assault which saw guedioura head the ball home for a two-goal lead.

a third goal early in the second-half through a technical error by abdoulaye meite put the game beyond the baggies despite getting a goal back through a peter odemwingie penalty which kicked off the threat of a west brom comeback. at the end of the day, though, it was wolves who both wanted and needed this game more than the baggies did.

i'm sure that roy hodgson learnt a few things about the character of some of his individual players today. abdoulaye meite mis-controlled a routine ball that allowed steven fletcher an easy opportunity to score wolves' third goal. on the back of his unfortunate own-goal against the villa, the technically gifted centre-back - who has otherwise been in sterling form since his re-introduction to the first team - is sometimes prone to mistakes of the most basic nature. likewise, somen tchoyi who is another technically good player, has no idea how to pass a football, and one has to hope he is able to create direct opportunities on goal otherwise his time on the ball can be largely wasted.

simon cox continued to impress and was unlucky not to score. the young striker, who has found a place as a starter in the first team since roy hodgson taking over, looked sure to score only to see his effort saved by a superb reaction from wayne hennessy. somen tchoyi also should have had a goal, but put his opportunity at a free header just inches over the crossbar; while jerome thomas, exhibiting a superb piece of individual skill, sent a screaming shot spinning skyward off the woodwork with an effort that had wayne hennesy well beaten.

it was a rare win for wolves in the black country derby who have been decidedly second-best in games with the albion over the last decade. they were due for the win, wanted it more and needed it to continue their bid for top-flight survival.

it's going to go down to last day. wolves are going to need at least one more win and hope results in other games go their way in order to survive. at the moment, they look like finishing ahead of west ham, wigan, blackpool and birmingham, but you never know what the last two matches will bring, and goal difference is looking like it might come into play in deciding the final relegation places.

i think we all probably want to see the black country derby again next year, and will be hoping that wolves survive for that very reason.

meanwhile, and in all likelihood, the baggies will go into the last day contesting an 11th or 12th place finish with newcastle united away at st. james park.