Thursday, September 29, 2011

WBA 0-0 Fulham F.C.

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the baggies haven't looked particularly good since ryan shotton nicked a last minute winner for stoke city at the hawthorns a few weeks ago. in retrospect, that moment seems to have shaken the baggies' confidence, and they don't look at all the team that put in two really solid performances against manchester united and chelsea at the start off the season.

likewise - and up until the moment of that disastrous goal, the baggies had had the better of the match with their nemesis club from staffordshire, and would have won had it not been for the goalkeeping of asmir begovic in the city goal. the stoke city keeper was in superb form, making two hugely important saves and solely deserving of the credit for the clean sheet which gave his team the opportunity to go on and snatch the late win in a match that had "0-0" written all over it.

the following two games - an ugly win at norwich city and a shameful 3-0 loss away to swansea - were particluarly undistinguished performances that left some pundits and supporters reaching for the panic button. the mainstream news media played on the hype that the albion had made its "worst ever" start to a premier league season (all six of them); the TV and radio pundits started to suggest that perhaps roy hodgson had "lost the plot"; while the gaffer's preference for a 4-4-2 attacking formation came under huge criticism in the online fan forums.

the team then gave a good away performance against everton in the league cup, only to see their efforts go to waste in a losing cause. with a 1-0 lead through a chris brunt penalty kick in the second-half, the albion again conceded a late goal - in the 88th minute - to everton defender, marouane fellaini, and forced the game into extra-time.

Everton F.C. 2-1 WBA

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from there - and much like their FA cup adventure against reading two seasons ago - the initiative had swung the way of the mersey-siders and toffees' captain, phil neville, scored the winner with 18 minutes of extra-time left. it was a scenario which should be all too familiar to any long-time albion supporter.

the gaffer admitted in the post match press conference that he had "experimented" with the team formation in the cup-tie at goodison park. no doubt, this was influenced as much by what was being written in the online supporters forums as anything else. these internet forums have, of course, been the main source of criticism of the tactical switch from last year's 4-5-1 system, as opposed to the 2 striker system that the gaffer has implemented this year.

based on what he saw of his squad in the cup game, hodgson took the idea a step further in the home fixture with fulham. he implemented a flexible 4-3-3 which had shane long leading the line, peter odemwingie in a wide position on the right-wing and jerome thomas on the left-wing. chris brunt, graham dorrans and somen tchoyi covered the midfield and joe mattock returned to the starting line-up at left-back after having had a strong run in the reserves. baggies new-comer billy jones was deployed at right-back, while gareth mcauley - who had impressed in his two previous performances - was again assigned to partner jonas olsson at centre-half.

while the mainstream media has put an ever increasing pressure on the game over the last 3 decades or so, it is the online forums and so-called "social media" that have cranked up the heat in the last few years. it is hard to imagine somehow that some crank of an unemployed ditch-digger from dudley can now have profound affect on decisions taken by a man who has master-minded world cup upsets and taken top continental sides (as well as over-achieving underdogs) to both UEFA and europa league finals. but then, a good performer knowing what his audience wants will more often than not try and give it to them.

however, part of the problem with listening to the voice of inspired, rambling amateurs is that they haven't always got the focus right. the biggest talking point among baggies fans this last few weeks has been the question of 4-5-1 versus 4-4-2. the subject has been talked to the point of distraction in endless post on sites like while the last few games have seen a west brom that has sacrificed some of their creativity in the mid-field - a quality the club is known for - and is primarily looking to keep things tight at the back and breaking on the counter attack, relying on the strikers to produce goals - the baggies have looked defensively more sound than they have in quite a while, and with two clean-sheets in the first six games they have already equalled their season's total of last year.

what the supporter/pundits have to remember is that it wasn't the formation that needlessly brought down swansea midfielder, joe allen, in the penalty area, giving swans their first goal and setting the tempo for a truly rotten performance. nor was it the formation that didn't come to collect a ball bouncing into his area, giving ryan shotten an open goal in which to score a last minute winner. neither did the formation needlessly lose the ball or give away free-kicks in dangerous areas. for the most part, the baggies' downfall thus far has been technical errors entirely creditable to individual players.

so, after a first half where it looked like the worst was coming true and memories of the ill-fated 2008-09 campaign started to flash through my head, the gaffer decided enough was enough and abandoned his bodged around 4-3-3 formation, moved odemwingie back in to a central position and the baggies looked far the better side in the second-half.

although the points total is still disappointing, a clean-sheet and chris brunt hitting the post four seconds into injury time was almost enough to make you think things are going to be OK.

when johnny giles took over as the club's first player-manager in 1975, the baggies were in the 2nd division and didn't get a result for the first 10 games. giles couldn't settle on a team - let alone tactic and formation - and by his own admission wasn't playing well himself. the baggies were promoted that year, and secured it with a famous victory on a second-half goal scored by tony brown away to oldham athletic on the last day of the season.

the baggies went in to the first division and finished 7th. johnny giles had laid the groundwork for the development of what would become one of the best sides in english football of the late 1970s under the leadership of ron atkinson. sometimes a bad start is just a bad start. this should be a good enough team to get over it and they have a gaffer who knows how to lead the way.

however, i fear that the opening two losses were much more detrimental to team confidence than any of us might have imagined they could have been. in these two games, the baggies had seen how good they are and know how well they should be playing, and at the minute everyone's trying too hard. odemwingie is looking too hard for the goal. paul scharner is making rash, over-active defensive decisions. brunt is too often searching in vain for the killer pass to put someone through on goal. graham dorrans doesn't seem to know where he fits in and nothing is really clicking yet with the possible exception of new boys shane long and gareth mcauley.

right now, they just have to learn to relax and play a more complete style of football within the parameters that hodgson has set. creatively, they might need to change it up a little bit sometimes. while the long ball tactic they've adopted has worked up to a point, they also need to play through the midfield and make use of the considerable individual talents there.

if the strikers aren't scoring, look to set up chances for the other natural goal scorers in the side - namely chris brunt and graham dorrans. let's have nickey shorey taking a free-kick once in a while. he's got a good shot over a dead-ball and is more than capable of delivering a long range scorcher from the set-piece. if odemwingie is looking stiff, put somen tchoyi on as a striker - and let's maybe see simon cox have a run in the team. in short, the club need to be just a little bit more fearless and show more of a sense of their natural creativity, resource and adventure... and for god's sake - they need to RELAX!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Swansea City A.F.C 3-0 WBA

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while i don't want to take anything away from what was a wonderfully free flowing and cavalier performance by swans, this was otherwise total crap... not worth writing about, other than to say that baggies fans deserve better than this. this was so bad that i almost wished i supported blues... if you can imagine that?!?!

in fact, i don't think i can remember a performance this bad - not even crystal palace at home in the championship two years ago was quite as bad!

this year, birmingham city are selling jerseys with the option of not having the advertising logo on it, and (for team player audio/video service subscribers) they have much more extensive video content, including "classic matches" and video tributes to club heroes in the archives. oh yeah, and city also have an online ticketing system that allows you to print tickets at home... all pretty cool stuff that i wish was available on the albion website.

still... albion 'til i die! but nothing to be proud of today...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Norwich City F.C. 0-1 WBA

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it was unusual to be sure. although i have seen the baggies win ugly matches, making use of egregious tactical transgressions before, i still thought that this was out of character for a roy hodgson side. still, it's clear that the gaffer favours a consciously more defensive style of play away from home, and, for better or worse, his tactics won out on the day.

peter odemwingie - and like shane long had against chelsea - put the baggies ahead in the first few minutes. they played the rest of the match as a rear-guard action with plenty of physical aggression on both sides.

the winning goal came in the 2nd minute, and developed from a long ball sent in by nicky shorey on the half-way line. the delivery was just beyond norwich defender, ritchie de laet, who was hopelessly turned and trying desperately to head the ball away from the albion striker, peter odemwingie. but the nigerian pounced, having the pace to beat de laet and cleverly directed his effort past the goalie with a deft flick of his left boot.

the baggies then gave norwich city the bulk of possession, defended their lead and remained set up to break on the counter attack. it quickly showed that this might not have been the greatest idea, as the canaries first - and perhaps best - chance of the match came in the 8th minute.

grant holt and andrew surman linked up with a well-worked give and go passing move that split the albion defence and allowed a low hard cross from surman to come in at the baggies' 6-yard box. in the end, it was only a matter of inches as holt put the ball just wide of the goal at the near post.

however, aside from a good shot at the edge of the albion penalty area by midfielder, elliot bennett, there was very little to test ben foster in the albion goal. the gaffer's tactical game came off and the baggies were finally up and running with their first points of the season.

while the canaries had the better part of the possession in the match overall, there was no doubt as to who was creating the better chances and controlling the game. peter odemwingie, along with strike partner shane long, was getting into space up front and moving the baggies into dangerous counter attack positions all day. graham dorrans fashioned a chance from nothing when a 20 yard strike came booming back off the post, having norwich goalie, declan rudd, well beaten; and the young keeper needed to be sharp on several occasions to prevent the baggies from going 2 goals up.

by contrast, ben foster was hardly bothered at all and had a fairly quiet afternoon.

there were two talking points of note. first, the albion were awarded what was shown to be in the video replays a rather "soft" penalty. stephen reid got on the end of a long cross in the canaries penalty area. with norwich striker, steve morison, on his back, trying to make the challenge, reid went down and won the decision for the albion.

it was probably justice served though, as graham dorrans, the usual albion penalty taker, had just come out of the game, peter odemwingie stepped up to take and rudd made a good save on what was ultimately a mediocre effort. the nigerian's strike was well on target, but his placement was poor. the canaries' goalie had guessed direction correctly and the save was simple, solid and athletic. still, it seems, the baggies continue to struggle occassionally with spot kicks.

the point of real controversy in this match was an apparent foul by gabriel tamas - presumably in retaliation for an earlier incident - in which he elbowed norwich substitute, james vaughn full on in the face in the west brom penalty area.

while it was well disguised by the romanian centre-half and looked like incidental contact at first glance - with a norwich player suddenly and spontaneously going down in the box well away from the ball - and for little apparent reason. however, under closer scrutiny it looked pretty bad, and from the evidence of the video replays tamas will probably be charged by the FA. it was a stupid foul and the baggies were lucky to get away with it and hang on for all 3-points.

with clear precedent for this kind of disciplinary action, it's a fair bet that tamas will be charged retroactively with "violent conduct" and forced to accept a 3 game ban. even though he has the support of his manager and club, that is largely a rhetorical exercise, and all concerned know that it is never a good idea to contest an FA disciplinary charge and risk possible extension of the ban.

the baggies have already played better and lost this year and i shall hope future performances are of a higher quality than this. however, it was significant that they kept a clean sheet and were able to protect a lead over the better part of 90 minutes. more importantly it showed that even on an off day, this particular albion side is capable of winning through adhering to specified tactics and keeping it tight at the back. while the canaries held the balance of possession they rarely looked like scoring, and the less frequent forays in attack by the baggies were creating the only real chances of the match.

it wasn't pretty, and at times was down-right nasty, but the win gets the season under way after a rough start; and today, that seems good enough.