Friday, December 7, 2012

WBA 0-1 Stoke City F.C.

match text commentary

the baggies and their supporters have come to expect precious little from their encounters with stoke city over the years. last year's corresponding fixture ended with a late goal by ryan shotton after gabriel tamas and ben foster got their signals crossed and failed to clear a ball at the edge of the 18 yard box. it was, of course, scored in injury time and was the only goal of the game.

however, there was some small reason that one might be a little more optimistic this year, as last year's reverse fixture actually went the way of the albion. a late free-kick by graham dorrans found its way through a maze of stoke defenders, as well as an unsighted asmir begovic to nestle in the back of the net and give the baggies their first win in 13 attempts against the potters. 2-1 to the albion.

surely, this would be the year that the hawthorns jinx would be dispelled!

however, as the match wore on and the disruptive nature of stoke's game imposed itself on the proceedings, the baggies were afforded almost nothing in the way of real scoring opportunities. the first half seemed like an endless parade of fouls - with city picking up 3 yellow cards - and there was no rythym to be found in any of the midfield play from either side. while the baggies did have the bulk of possession and registered 11 attempts on target (to stoke's 4), these were mostly scuffed shots and weak headers that proved little trouble for asmir begovic.

as with the previous home encounter with city, this match was lost on a defensive blunder. it was an uncharacteristic miscalculation by jonas olsson that lead to the potters' goal. tracking back to recover a long ball that had floated into the albion box, the swedish defender made a rare error in judgment. unsure of who might be behind him, he missed the opportunity to head the ball back to boaz myhill in the baggies' goal and took the play deep into the corner where he lost possession to pressure from kenwyne jones. the ball broke for an onrushing michael kightly who put in a low cross that was turned in by dean whitehead... 1-0 to the potters and that is how it would stay.

it's nothing we hadn't seen before.

the big talking point of the match - at least, from an albion perspective - was the fact that steve clarke had made 6 changes from the side that had turned in a truly abject performance a few days earlier at swansea. of course, there was much complaining on the local radio phone-in shows afterwards.

from a baggies point of view, it might seem unthinkable to leave the likes of morrison, brunt, ridgewell and odemwingie out of the side; but i think there was method in the gaffer's madness.

first off, there should be some acknowledgment of left-back, goran popov. he has made several starts this year and has slotted into the team quite seamlessly. while we know that ridgewell is a cultured player and shows both creativity and adventure in his attacking play, popov is probably the better choice anyway in a game against a side like stoke.

the same goes for steven reid, and it was certainly good to see him return to the starting eleven. again, he is probably the first choice right-back in a game that pits the baggies against the agricultural football practiced by tony pulis.

however, the choice to leave out brunt, morrison and odemwingie was perhaps more perplexing to the average punter. i mean, why does one leave out their best attacking midfielders for players that have not really gelled with the rest of the side yet?

there are a couple of good reasons that clarke might have done this: A) one does not need your most cultured players against a side like stoke city, and B) at some point in the future - and as the season wears on - the baggies will need the likes of dorrans and rosenberg to be integrated into the playing setup. so instead of running his best starting 11 into the ground (as often happens with the smaller clubs in the PREMIER LEAGUE), a fixture against the potters is a good opportunity to give the fringe players some game time. i imagine the gaffer figured that he could risk a disjointed performance now for two or three good performances later in the season.

with the exception of last year's win at the britannia stadium, this was typical of a west brom/stoke city encounter. now that it's over, we can all look forward to going to the emirates to play arsenal next weekend. i imagine that will suit us better and, funnily enough, we're more likely of getting a result there.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Too Much Too Soon?

Swansea City A.F.C. 3-1 WBA

match text commentary

just as with last year's visit to the liberty stadium, the baggies conceded 3 goals and turned in what was undoubtedly their worst performance to date - and that was just the first 10 minutes!

it was a hard reminder of how difficult life in the world's top league can be and has set down a real challenge to the team's character.

to be fair, it won't seem such a bad result if they can go back to the hawthorns and get a result from the game with stoke on saturday. however - and as west bromwich albion supporters - we all know not to expect too much from a game with stoke city. this is a historically hard fixture for the baggies, with the potters being one of west brom's true bogey sides.

this was only the baggies' fourth loss of the season and only their second truly poor performance, having lost 3-0 to fulham earlier in the season. in a funny way, this loss to the swans puts the earlier loss to the cottagers into a clearer perspective and looking back on their visit to the west london should be a real lesson for steve clarke.

it has been west brom's style to defend with the back four playing in a fairly deep position. for the most part, it has worked well for them and is an essential component in the successful counter-attacking play that the baggies have employed this season. however, it has shown to be vulnerable when playing against an in form attacking side - especially when playing possession through the midfield - and the gaffer was astute in abandoning this and pushing the back four up to hold a much higher line in the second half. but by then the damage was already done.

the baggies pulled a goal back just on half-time through the effort and skills of chris brunt and romelu lukaku. brunt delivered a good ball on a corner kick in the dying seconds of the first half which fell for lukaku to smash home. it was as simple as that.

to their credit, the baggies adjusted well enough and were the better side for most of the second-half, but without the luck of the bounce and a poor performance from peter odemwingie, the goal that they needed to get back in the game never materialized.

as poor as the baggies were for the first half, swansea's crisp, quick passing game deserves some credit. to be fair, the home side came out and played with a level of skill and intensity that was as good as any football that the PREMIER LEAGUE has produced this year.

Sunderland A.F.C. 2-4 WBA

match text commentary

the baggies continued their habit of breaking age-old hoodoos - as well as posting what was their second away victory of the season - by winning four games on the spin for the first time since the inception of the PREMIER LEAGUE.

sunderland is a side that is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. they are fairly sound defensively - as one would expect from a martin o'neill side - and the counter-attacking gambit that the baggie have used to great effect since the beginning of the season was never going to work at the stadium of light. but with the black cats having trouble creating scoring opportunities - and an even tougher time finding goals - this is a fixture that one would fully expect the baggies to go looking for full-points from.

while zoltan gera initially put the albion in front just on the half-hour mark, it was shane long's persistence that gave them real control of this encounter. chasing down a ball that most players would've given up on, the irish striker took full advantage when simon mignolet was unable to control chris brunt's through ball that should've been no more than routine cover. but long followed up, challenged the belgian goalie and walked the ball into the sunderland net for the goal from which martin o'neill's side would never really recover.

romelu lukaku scored the third baggies' goal from the penalty spot after liam ridgewell was fouled in the box.

while sunderland did get back into the game with a late goal that put the scoreline at 3-2, their push forward to find the equalizer left them open at the back and marc antoine fortuné made no mistake when the opportunity to restore the two goal lead that west brom had held for long parts of the match opened up for him on another baggies' counter attack. with only simon mignolet to beat, the french striker deftly curled the ball in at the far post to give the score-line its proper gloss. it was no more than west brom deserved.

WBA 2-1 Chelsea F.C.

match text commentary

this was a fixture that you might have written off at the beginning of the season, but with the start that the albion have made in the league this year, they should be starting to believe that there's no such thing as "writing off" a game. i would never pretend that the baggies were the superior team on the day, or that there weren't periods - especially in the second-half - where chelsea weren't the better side and having the better of the play; but steve clarke is proving to be a masterful tactician, showing that he knows how and when to use his resources to best effect.

it's no secret that roy hodgson organized the baggies to be a very good defensive side. steve clarke has built on that foundation that has seen a more complete vision of football being played at the hawthorns, and tactics to deal with anything that the PREMIER LEAGUE can throw up. the baggies have now won this fixture two years running and deservedly so.

shane long put the baggies ahead just before the 10 minute mark, when james morrison played a perfect cross for the irish striker to head home in the 9th minute of the game. eden hazard equalized from a similar play just a little over 5 minutes before half-time on a ball played across the albion goal by cesar azpilicueta.

fernando torres was withdrawn before half-time, having looked listless and been largely ineffectual. especially when compared to the highly effective, hard-working and skilled play of shane long. daniel sturridge replaced torres and the chelsea attack improved a great deal. however, both the chelsea striker and winger, victor moses had crucial efforts thwarted by an in form boaz myhill, whose sharp shot-stopping has eased the problem of having ben foster out injured. a second late strike by sturridge flashed dramatically across the face of goal but went wide as the baggies held on for the win.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wigan Athletic F.C. 1-2 WBA

match text commentary

wigan has been somewhat of bogey team for the baggies this last couple of years. in fact, with victories over the likes of liverpool, arsenal, chelsea, aston villa and newcastle in the last couple of seasons - as well as knocking manchester city out of the LEAGUE CUP last year - the baggies hadn't beaten wigan since marc antoine fortuné's brace and chris brunt's penalty secured a 3-1 home victory on may 9th, 2009.

of course, the baggies were already relegated at that point of the campaign and wigan was wrapping up yet another season of consolidation with a solid mid-table finish.

it's all too easy to underestimate a team that consistently finishes in the bottom half of the league every year, and going into a fixture with a team like wigan athletic should never be taken lightly. on any given match-day they are as likely to beat you as anyone in the division. to make a point, the baggies have taken only 2 points from the last 4 league encounters with the latics. that's as many points as west brom have earned against manchester united in the same period of time.

managed by roberto martinez, wigan play an attractive style of football, with a focus on possession, and with an unusual tactical formation (3-5-2) that can be very difficult to play against through the midfield.

the first worrying factor about travelling to play at the dw stadium is the exclusion of ben foster through injury. the baggies keeper was in obvious pain at home to southampton and was forced to kick with his wrong foot from early on in the game. boaz myhill came back into the starting line-up after a year on loan at birmingham city and seems to be a much improved player for the experience. the welsh international was sure handed, smartly positioned, quick to react and has the benefit of playing behind the best set of defenders the baggies have had in the last 30 years.

west brom took the lead with just half-an-hour gone through a goal by james morrison. it was pretty typical of the kind of goals that the baggies have been scoring lately with the scottish midfielder getting on the end of a chris brunt cross and heading in at the far post.

the baggies went two goals up with some direct play by billy jones. from a throw in, the right-back went straight at the box and cut towards the bi-line. james morrison let romelu lukaku's return ball run on for jones, who nutmegged ben watson and went straight for goal. the shot ultimately caromed off an unfortunate gary caldwell and past wigan goalie, ali al habsi at the near post. while it was credited as an own goal to the latics' defender, that shouldn't diminish jones' skill and vision in creating the opportunity.

however, the latics got themselves back in the game less than 2 minutes later on a goal by striker, arouna koné. the ivorian scored just before half-time on a ball played in into the albion box by jean beausejour. the chilean's low, hard drive flashed across the face of goal for koné to tap in at the far post.

the second half produced no goals, but a sterling performance by the baggies' defense - especially the surprising boaz myhill in goal - made sure of full points and the albion's rise in the league table continues.

there is no doubt that the baggies have been one of the form teams since day one of the season, but were still without an away win going into this match. this is just one indication of how difficult the PREMIER LEAGUE can be, and in that respect, this may have been a turning point that sees the baggies strengthen their position as a top side in the league.

Friday, November 16, 2012

WBA 2-0 Southampton F.C.

live text replay

the baggies did well in not letting the unfortunate results of the last two games - and the circumstances under which they came to pass - affect their confidence. a couple of last minute defeats can really demoralize a side - especially in the PREMIER LEAGUE - but the baggies, it seems, have been able to handle it.

while one cannot say that there is such a thing as an easy game in the top-flight, it was lucky that the baggies had a fixture that they could reasonably approach in a more workman-like manner than it might be going up against one of the country's bigger sides. west brom certainly didn't need anymore crushing reality checks; just the opportunity to go ahead and win a home fixture that they'd regularly be expected to win anyway.

i don't dislike saints - and they gave me great pleasure as a teenager in becoming one the few 2nd division sides to win an FA CUP, beating manchester united in 1976. but at this point in the club's history, i think that they probably came up a year or two early and they'll need a second run at it; much like the baggies had to do following the 2008-09 season.

while there is no doubt that ricky lambert is a talented striker and saints play a generally attractive style of football, they are light in almost all defensive positions and have had to make use of no less than three goalkeepers so far this season. it is no surprise that they've shipped 14 more goals than they've scored.

after the last two horrific dissapointments - at home to man. city and away to newcastle - which saw the baggies losing both fixtures after deserving at least a point from each, this was an important win and put the baggies back on track. indeed, losing to the toon and city under similar circumstances could very well have knocked belief out of the side, and this was a big test of the team's character and resilience.

in what has become a familiar sight this last few seasons at the hawthorns, the goals came by way of the club's top-scorer of two years ago, peter odemwingie. the nigerian striker set out his intentions fairly early. in the 19th minute - and making a run into a central position from the right wing - odemwingie nearly created a goal, as an off target, left-footed attempt was turned goalwards by a quick thinking zoltan gera who had gotten into a good position in the saints' penalty area. unfortunately, it all happened too fast for any real control and the ball went fizzing over saints' crossbar.

odemwingie came close again with just half-an-hour gone. southampton had a useful spell of possession that saw rickie lambert get a header on target, but the effort was tame and ben foster's astute gathering and distribution of the ball afforded the baggies an opportunity to break on the counter attack.

again, it was odemwingie advancing the ball with shane long and zoltan gera in support. with the saints' back four out of position, the albion striker found adequate space at the top of the 18-yard box to deliver a low, hard shot that just skipped inches wide of paulo gazzaniga's left-hand post.

the nigerian international finally made the breakthrough in the 35th minute. with the baggies starting to exert their superiority in possession, youssouf mulumbu played the ball back for odemwingie whose attempt on goal took just enough of a deflection off saints defender, maya yoshida, to end up in the back of the net. 1-0 to the baggies.

the game might have taken a different turn early in the second-half when jay rodriguez played a looping cross into the albion box that gareth mcauley was unable to clear. the ball eventually fell to rickie lambert whoses skill produced southampton's best opportunity of the match. taking the ball down in a central position near the penalty spot, the saints' striker turned and hit the ball on the half-volley only to see his effort come smacking back off ben foster's crossbar.

the baggies sealed the victory in the 59th minute as shane long broke down the left inside channel. the albion striker held the ball up well before delivering a perfect cross for an onrushing odemwingie to head past gazzaniga in the 6-yard box for the final scoreline.

the baggies showed in this particular match that their success thus far has been no fluke, and that this is a very, very well run club. every year for the past decade or so, the baggies have consistently improved season to season and shown the results of what a top-rate scouting system and good management can produce.

after years of criticism from supporters, chairman jeremy peace can take much of the credit for their current success. it is his faith in the idea that implementing a sound business model would lead to results both on and off the pitch that has served to reinstate the club as a top-level side. in an era when big-spending on big names and managing huge debt has been seen as the key to success, west bromwich albion have bucked the trend, managing their financial resource responsibly, learning from their mistakes and employing creativity and vision in hiring and recruitment.

while the season may be just less than a third of the way through, the baggies can start thinking about more than finishing in the top-half of the table and perhaps start setting their sights on european qualification.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Newcastle United F.C. 2-1 WBA

live text replay

if last week left west bromwich albion supporters dissapointed, then this must have been something more like complete and utter psychological devastation. i, myself, was left in a state of total disbelief, raging at an empty, chaotic universe devoid of god and meaning. unlike the loss to manchester city one week earlier, this was just cruel on the baggies.

as a supporter, there is generally one or two fixtures throughout the course of a season where the level of frustration is beyond what is reasonably endurable. two years ago, there was an away match to blackpool that was particularly frustrating to witness. last year, it was the home game against everton that was hard to swallow. but to have this happen two weeks running...

i'm at a loss...

due to the recent and relative fortunes of each club, west brom and newcastle have had some epic encounters during this last four seasons. both clubs (along with middlesbrough) were relegated at the end of 2008-09. while this was expected of the baggies, it took the toon by surprise; and where the albion and boro' were both expected to come straight back up again, united were tipped by some pundits for big troubles and eventual relegation to LEAGUE 1.

however, it was middesbrough who ran into problems in the second-tier, and the magpies won the division, setting new records along the way. west brom came up in the other automatic spot along with blackpool, who won promotion by virtue of the playoffs.

the two sides drew 1-1 at the hawthorns on opening day of the 2009-10 CHAMPIONSHIP season. this was a significant match for newcastle, as their current number one goalie, tim krul, made his senior debut for the club, coming on at half-time for an injured steve harper. the two sides then doubled up on the previous goal tally with a 2-2 stalemate at (as it was then) st. james' park, before the baggies knocked united out of the FA CUP at home by a score of 4-2 in the 4th round. it was in this last encounter that roberto di matteo, finding himself short on strikers, discovered the virtues of a 4-5-1 playing formation.

the next time they met, the albion won 3-1 at the hawthorns, and on the final day of the season somen tchoyi scored a famous hat-trick in the last ten minutes of the game to earn yet another draw with a final score of 3-3. this was the result which propelled the baggies to a creditable 11th place finish just ahead of the magpies in 12th.

last year, west brom went to st. james' park (now burdened with the ridiculous official name of ' Stadium') and came away with a surprise 3-2 win over an in form newcastle side. united returned the favour by coming to the hawthorns and beating the baggies 3-1.

as the two sides kicked off their fifth consecutive season of facing each other in league competition, the baggies have gotten off to a flying start while the toon have struggled a little with the added pressure of waging a EUROPA LEAGUE campaign. this has seen their domestic league form drop off from the pace that produced last year's excellent, surprise 5th place finish.

not since taking over as the head man at west brom have steve clarke's tactics been so transparent. having learned a valuable lesson against the league champions the week before, the baggies were content to let the home side have the bulk of possession and look to break on the counter.

while the toon did have more of the possession, their chances were limited. the first real scoring opportunity came in the 12th minute when a ball played in by shola ameobi found demba ba free at the far post. the newcastle striker, however, couldn't find the target and headed wide.

the magpies then had a couple of chances that developed from a low, hard drive hit from 30 yards out by defender, davide santon. the shot was on target and required a smart save from ben foster to turn it round his left hand post. while the ensuing corner produced a free header for shola ameobi, the ball came straight into the arms of the albion goalie who easily gathered coming off his line.

in the 25th minute, the baggies showed how dangerous they can be on the break. with newcastle having won another corner, gareth mccauley cleared and james morrison astutely set graham dorrans on a run and into a 3-on-2 counter attack along with peter odemwingie and romelu lukaku. the scottish international played the ball in perfectly for lukaku to take what was easily the best chance of the match to that point. however, tim krul was equal to the challenge and came out sharply to make a stunning save from the young belgian international.

demba ba put newcastle ahead with a trademark bit of strength and skill in the 35th mintue. taking advantage of a miscued header by gareth mccauley on a ball played into the albion box, the senagalese striker made no mistake in muscling his way forward, turning and smashing past ben foster on the volley for the opening goal of the game.

at the other end - and in the 39th minute - lukaku had a similar opportunity to his earlier effort as youssouf mulumbu's through ball put the albion striker in behind the united defense, but was again foiled by krul's excellent anticipation and positioning in the newcastle goal.

with newcastle still leading at half-time, the game took a change of course in the second period. the toon, having played a EUROPA LEAGUE fixture at home to brugge on thursday began to look tired and the albion took control of the match and finally equalized in the 55th minute.

from a quickly played baggies free-kick, lukaku knocked the ball back for zoltan gera who made a short run to the outside at the top of the united area before looping in a perfect cross for lukaku in behind the newcastle back-line to head in at the far post, leaving krul no chance of a save.

as the match progressed, the baggies looked the more likely to push on and find a winner, but were beaten in the end by a somewhat flukey goal deep into injury time.

with time running out and newcastle given the opportunity for a final attack, the baggies made the fatal mistake of allowing hatem ben arfa to bring the ball across the half-way line, cut inside and make a 40-yard diagonal run deep into the west brom half. while a challenge eventually came in from james morrison, the ball ran for sammy ameobi to have a shot from just beyond the edge of the box. with foster moving into a covering position to see the shot wide, the ball took a deflection off papiss cissé, changed direction and with the albion goalie wrong footed and stranded, bounced into an open net.

as with the game against manchester city, west brom side played better in the second-half and deserved at least a point from each game. there was a lesson to be learned from the manchester city encounter; but not here. this was just plain old cosmic spite.

Monday, November 5, 2012

WBA 1-2 Manchester City F.C.

live text replay

i wasn't giving too much thought as to a projected result for this fixture; but then, neither i was being too hopeful of much either. of course, with the good start that the baggies have had on the season, i wasn't ruling out any possibility. after all, we held the current champions to a 0-0 draw at the hawthorns on new year's day. but if the average albion supporter was forced to think about it- and being honest with themselves - then losing this one by one or two goals would probably seem the most likely outcome.

while this match did indeed end up with a reasonable looking score-line, it happened in such a way that west brom supporters will be unlikely to feel this level of dissapointment with the result of any fixture for rest of the season.

on the up side, this game was a testament to the quality of steve clarke's tactics. knowing that the only way to get a result would be to play a defensively sound game and look for opportunity on the counter-attack, that is exactly how the gaffer set the side out to play.

to be fair, manchester city aren't always playing thier best stuff these days and can get distracted with the kind of personalities that a high level of individual talent will bring in a side where a lot of money has been spent. still, the baggies defended well, and when they got the opportunity they looked dangerous.

after a good start by both teams - and city showing that they can knock the ball about and create chances for themselves - a break by the baggies in the 22nd minute created a dramatic turning point.

with vincent kompany trying to walk the ball out of his own half, the city captain clumsily gave it away to youssouf mulumbu on the half-way line. the ball rolled free for james morrison who spotted shane long in an advanced position and found the striker with a low hard ball downfield. long had taken the pass and just gotten in behind the last defender, james milner. the sky blues midfielder brought long down in a central position about 5 yards outside of the city penalty area. there was no doubt as to an appropriate action and referee, mark clattenburg, immediately held up a red card. the champions would now have to play for well over an hour with ten men.

this was the point at which one dared to imagine that the baggies might keep their unbeaten home record intact.

still, it was hard for the baggies to deal with the individual skill present in the city line-up. in the 40th minute, city striker, mario balotelli showed off some genuine world class play. attacking with the ball and making a fine run down the left-wing, the italian striker left no less than three west brom defenders in his wake before cutting back inside from the bi-line and testing ben foster with a right footed shot from only a few yards out.

after a first half which saw few real chances created by either side, manchester city started the second period dominating the possession and looked ever threatening, even down to ten men. ben foster was forced to make a good save from carlos tevez, and yaya toure wasted their best opportunity of the match as he headed well over the bar following a tevez free-kick.

the deadlock was finally broken as shane long put the baggies ahead in the 67th minute. on a rare albion foray into the city half, peter odemwingie played a hard, low drive into the box that city failed to deal with. the ball ran through and long timed his run perfectly, getting in behind the sky blues' defenders to re-direct the ball past a rooted and helpless joe hart. what would be a magnificent victory for the baggies was beginning to look more than just a possibility at this point.

however, playing against manchester city these days is rather like playing a classic brazilian team. even down to ten men this is a side where individual talent can appear and exert itself at any given moment.

with less than 15 minutes left and time running out, roberto mancini looked to his bench for an answer. edin dzeko came on in exchange for gareth barry in the 78th minute and had an immediate impact.

zoltan gera fouled gael clichy as he made a run down the left-wing. with an excellent delivery on the ensuing free-kick, ben foster made a rare error in judgment as he came rushing off his line in an effort to punch the ball away. however, with city attackers piling into the box, the baggies keeper got nowhere near it and dzeko's header was hard and on target. the score was level with a little over 10 minutes left to play.

while a draw wouldn't be a bad result against the league champions, the baggies had it in their minds that this was still a winnable fixture and with their numerical superiority - along with their own late substitution of romelu lukaku coming on for shane long - the baggies were now inspired to go forward in search of a winner.

with the play becoming a frantic end to end struggle, the baggies broke well from a manchester city corner kick with lukaku only just unable to get to the tap-in from james morrison's cross. then in injury time, the big belgian forward came close with a spectacular bicycle kick that was turned over smartly by joe hart for a west brom corner-kick.

in like fashion, city was able to break following the albion corner and alexander kolarov picked out sergio aguero in a one-on-one situation with albion right-back, gabriel tamas. with both micha richards and dzeko breaking through the middle, aguero slotted the pass perfectly in behind the trailing baggies defenders and the bosnian striker fired home past a diving ben foster.

however, west brom weren't finished yet. with 2:30 of stoppage time still left to play the albion mounted one final attack. lukaku, showing excellent skill on the ball cut his way through three city defenders to get into the sky blues' penalty area, before playing a one-two pass with jonas olsson who cut to the bi-line, pulled the ball back for the charging lukaku whose goal-bound shot got past joe hart but was cleared off the line by gael clichy as the champions held on for an unlikely victory.

while this performance established that west bromwich albion's success in the league so far has been thoroughly deserved, it was a fixture that was lost in a moment of high-spirited naivete and should be a real lesson for baggies boss, steve clarke.

while the albion probably deserved at least a point and the dissapointment of losing all three in such dramatic fashion was hard to swallow, there were many positives to be taken from this game. after this, the baggies should have the confidence to bounce back, knowing that there are games where they won't play near this well and still get a result.

in this regard, it was strange consolation that the quality of football played in the second-half would have been unimaginable not so long ago. chairman jeremy peace - and the excellent work of dan ashworth, et al. - has taken the club back to a level not seen here since the 1970s. any success that the baggies achieve, at this point, will have been well earned and sometimes at the expense of a hard lesson.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


match text commentary

my first visit to the hawthorns of the season started out as well as could be hoped. james morrison scored in the 5th minute to give the baggies a lead that would prove unassailable on the afternoon. taking a short pass from youssouf mulumbu just inside rangers' half, shane long broke down the right wing and delivered a perfect cross for morrison to head home from directly in front of goal, leaving QPR goalie, julio cesar, with absolutely no chance.

things just got better as morrison then turned provider. with the baggies gaining possession through pressing the ball in the rangers' half, a series of short passes found the scottish international breaking down the right wing. while his cross was initially cut out by anton ferdinand, the QPR defender was turned awkwardly and unable to control the ball as it rolled out for zoltan gera to smash home from 10 yards out. at this point, the baggies were looking confident and well on course for their 4th straight home win of the season with less than half-an-hour gone.

while they had none of the cohesion or confidence of the baggies - and with nothing really on at that moment - QPR got back into the game with just a little over ten minutes left in the first-half. from a long ball played into the albion box by esteban granero, adel taarabt scored through a wonderful bit of individual skill. taking the ball down with his chest, the rangers' winger turned and hit a screamer on the volley to score what was the first goal that the albion had conceded at home this season.

rangers seemed to have the momentum at the beginning of the second-half with taarabt looking their most dangerous player. the morroccan winger created a good chance in the first minute of the period as he robbed the ball from the feet of baggies right-back, gabriel tamas, but was forced to shoot from too acute an angle and his effort saved by a diving ben foster. taarabt consistently found space down the left flank, but good team defending by the baggies cut out any ball played into a central position and taarabt saw his best efforts come to nothing.

shots by jose bosingwa and granero went flying over the west brom crossbar, while a 30-yard effort by morrison at the other end curled just inches wide of the far post.

with a little over 10 minutes left in the game youssouf mulumbu scored his first of the season for what would eventually prove the winning goal. what was without a doubt the most incisive passing move of the game shredded the QPR defence, leaving the congolese midfielder alone in front of goal to slot the ball neatly home on a cut back from deep down the inside right channel by gonzalo jara reyes to make it 3-1.

but while QPR have yet to gel as a team, they have spent a lot of money in the off season and there is considerable individual talent in the side. with 1:42 seconds of a 4 minute injury time played, granero scored a second rangers goal, again, without any build-up or obvious threat. neatly controlling a short pass in on the edge of the baggies' penalty area, the spanish midfielder turned deftly and looped a stunning strike into the top corner of the net past a rooted ben foster.

rangers made it a tense ending on a late corner kick that the albion failed to deal with properly and the ball fell to bosingwa in a good position. but the portuguese right-back blasted it over the crossbar as the final whistle went with almost 5 minutes added time played. the miss was no more than justice served and the baggies ran out 3-2 winners.

i was lucky enough to get back to new street station in time to catch the 5:42 train travelling back in the direction of bristol. somewhere between cheltenham and bristol parkway, i looked out the window at a darkening, deep red, clouded sunset. between the sky, the comfort of the train speeding along and the fresh memory of a baggies victory, i experienced a moment of sublime contentment. it had been another perfect day at the hawthorns.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aston Villa F.C. 1-1 WBA

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as one of the oldest and most significant derbies in english football, there is always much local anticipation for this fixture. however, with both clubs having travelled quite a different trajectory over the last 30 years, it never quite achieves the intensity of either the second-city derby (villa v blues) or the black country derby (west brom v wolves), and has become more a measure of each club's respective status than anything else.

after a mutually mediocre spell of form in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that saw aston villa relegated to the 3rd division and the baggies stuck for several seasons in the 2nd tier, both sides were finishing top 5 in the league by the end of the decade. the villa, of course, won the league in 1980-81, followed by a historic EUROPEAN CUP final victory over bayern munich the following year. the baggies managed a 3rd place league finish in 1978-79 and were knocked out of the UEFA CUP on a late goal by red star belgrade in the 2nd leg of the quarter-final.

while neither side have ever reached these same dizzying heights since, the villa did manage to win a couple of LEAGUE CUP titles in the 1990s, and in becoming founding members of the PREMIER LEAGUE in 1992-93 were runners-up to manchester united in its inaugural season.

that same year, the baggies found themselves clawing their way out of the 3rd division (recently renamed FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION 2) through a play-off final against port vale. this was followed, however, by a decade of struggle, avoiding relegation and consolidating mediocrity as a mid-table side in the 2nd tier.

while aston villa are one of only 7 clubs to have played in every season of the PREMIER LEAGUE, west brom did not manage to qualify for the top-flight again until 2002-03. it would take the baggies another decade before the possibility of competing in the PREMIER LEAGUE on a consistent basis would again materialize.

when the baggies defeated their closest geographical rivals at villa park in october of last year by a score of 2-1, it was three decades since the black country side had claimed a 1-0 victory in an away fixture of the LEAGUE CUP on january 19th, 1982.

the albion have actually dominated this fixture following 2008-09 when they lost both league matches by a score of 2-1 and were relegated again after a single season. but in 2110-11, following an early own goal on a scuffed clearance by albion defender, abdoulaye meite, the baggies fought back to beat the villa 2-1 at the hawthorns.

with albion's victory at villa park last year, the two other most recent occasions that these sides have met have produced draws. there was a decidedly lacklustre 0-0 result at the hawthorns towards the end of last season, and the villa avoided losing at home to the albion for a second season running through darren bent's late equalizer in this year's villa park encounter.

after going in at the break without either side having found the breakthrough, shane long put the visitors ahead in the 52nd minute after having a goal called back for off-side only a couple of minutes before. james morrison, breaking down the right flank, put in a perfect low cross that turned the villa defence inside out and left long to run onto a tap-in in the 6-yard box.

while it was honours even on the score-sheet, the baggies came away from this particular encounter more the worse for wear. club captain, chris brunt, pulled up with a hamstring injury and was replaced by graham dorrans in the 39th minute. while albion's trouble with the right-back position continued as billy jones came off with a knee injury just before the half, replaced by romanian defender, gabriel tamas.

the two sides will meet again at the hawthorns in january.

Friday, October 26, 2012

WBA 1-2 Liverpool F.C.

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while gabriel tamas' goal in the 3rd minute gave every indication that the baggies would progress easily enough to the next round of the LEAGUE CUP against what was unquestionably the least experienced line-up that liverpool has ever fielded in senior level competition, nuri sahin's superb individual effort in the 16th minute set the stage for what seemed, in the end, a surprising comeback.

here in canada, the state of broadcast football (TV and radio) changes yearly. this year, while there is expanded coverage of the english top-flight as well as the UEFA and EUROPA leagues, there is no more coverage of any other domestic league football; and with the apparent demise of EUROWORLD SPORTS, i have seen no english language broadcasts of LIGUE 1 either.

the cup competitions have traditionally changed broadcaster from year to year. for example, in 2005-06, the FA CUP was shown exclusively on FOX SPORTSWORLD CANADA; and another year, it was exclusive to TSN (canadian ESPN affiliate). SETANTA SPORTS (now taken over by SPORTSNET) even used have a weekly BLUE SQUARE PREMIER LEAGUE match!!! but the LEAGUE CUP doesn't seem to get any coverage here until the quarter-finals.

because it was impossible to get any west bromwich albion radio broadcasts streamed online in north america, since 2009-10 i have subscribed to ALBION PLAYER, a service that supplies live audio commentary of all west brom matches and posts video highlights, as well as news items and interviews in video format. most clubs in both the PREMIER LEAGUE and FOOTBALL LEAGUE provide the service, and transmissions for all matches from the CHAMPIONSHIP down are available through signing in to a single site. for the PREMIER LEAGUE games you have to be signed in to a specific club website. however, the subscription allows for access to all participating club sites and it is only the really big clubs who ignore the service altogether or run their own subscription schemes unique to the club's official site.

however, while i did listen to this match live on the ALBION PLAYER, no video highlights were offered on the site. i did eventually find a 9 minute video posted in several places on the internet.

with gates for both major cup competitions severely down at the top-clubs - and in these days of the season ticket culture - with increased importance placed on success in the league, i would have thought that perhaps international TV revenues would help the situation out. this doesn't, however, seem to be the case. apparently, the TV markets here in north america have even less interest in broadcasting games from the LEAGUE CUP competition than the general football attending public has for actually going to watch them live at the stadium.

due to the good start that the baggies have had in the league this season - and the fact that the opposition was one of the country's biggest clubs - they did attract a gate of 21,164 for this particular fixture. this is 4 or 5 thousand more than one might expect for a cup game at this stage of the competition. however - and despite steve clarke's stated goal of a cup run for the albion this year - the team folded in the second-half. despite being the stronger side, it seemed that as the game wore on the baggies were taking it all a bit for granted and a much anticipated second goal never materialized. ultimately it seemed that their hearts just weren't in it and a really cohesive passing move by the reds set up the winning goal for nuri sahin in the 83rd minute.

WBA 1-0 Reading F.C

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with peter odemwingie's moment of madness in the away fixture to fulham, which saw the nigerian striker shown a red card and incurring the standard three match ban, the baggies once again showed the strength of depth in the current squad. deferring to the time honoured practice of not starting key players against their old clubs, romelu lukaku was preferred as the lone striker over the in form shane long and the remarkably improved marc-antoine fortune.

the royals have been a bit of a bogey team for the baggies over the last few seasons: knocking them out of the FA CUP two years running, as well as splitting the points with them in their league fixtures - both home and away - during the promotion season of 2009-10. despite both of their recent and respective histories of top-flight promotions (and due to their subsequent relegations) this was the first time the two sides had ever faced each other in the PREMIER LEAGUE.

while the baggies have had their best start in the top-flight in three decades, the royals have not been so lucky. despite playing some good football going forward, reading haven't been so good defensively and are yet to record their first victory in the league. they arrived at the hawthorns with only a single point - claimed in their opening day fixture, a 1-1 draw at home to stoke city - to show for their first five games.

while there was the possibility that west brom could go top of the league with a win, reading were pretty much guaranteed that a loss would leave them sitting bottom of the table.

to their credit, the royals held out for 70 minutes in a match in which they were clearly clearly second best. james morrison continued his recent fine form coming close on a couple of occasions inside the first half-hour.

in the 8th minute, reading keeper, alex mccarthy, was forced into a diving, finger-tip save as west brom's scottish international found himself with enough room to move into space and set up a shot from the edge of the penalty area. in the 28th minute, morrison again created an even better opportunity through some good inter-passing with zoltan gera in the reading box, but dragged his shot just wide of the far post.

in the dying moments of the first-half, on loan striker, romalu lukaku, saw the first of several good chances as he got in behind the reading defenders to recieve a well placed ball from morrison as he was bearing down on the reading 6-yard box. however, his first touch was heavy and was only able to win the corner. the ensuing delivery by chris brunt was headed onto the post by jonas olsson as the baggies began to turn the screw and looked the more likely of the two sides.

james morrison had yet another good opportunity to score in the 55th minute. alex pearce's clearance from a chris brunt ball looped into the area fell straight to morrison, whose first time volley forced another sharp save from the alex mccarthy. it was the midfielder's best effort of the afternoon.

to be fair, it was not a particularly great game of football and there wasn't a lot between the two sides with scoring opportunities repeatedly lost or wasted and west brom having the better of what chances there were. the one notable exception being gareth mccleary's attempt at the spectacular with a powerful and accurate bicycle kick early on in the game. fortunately it was hit straight at a sure handed ben foster and proved no troble for the baggies. the royals really only had one other obvious opportunity, when substitute, robson-kanu, headed over foster's cross-bar in the final minutes.

the winning goal was scored by romalu lukaku in the 70th minute. steve clarke made two substutions and changed the attacking formation to include two strikers. with shane long replacing james morrison and graham dorrans coming on for zoltan gera the gaffer's tactics paid immediate dividends.

from a baggies free-kick launched forward by ben foster, chris brunt initiated an albion attack on the reading penalty area. the final move came from a ball played into the box by dorrans. long won the header to knock down for lukaku, and the young belgian showed his patience and skill, pushing the ball onto his favoured left foot and slotting home from the top of the area.

in the end, though, and the simple truth of the matter is that the baggies are now in the habit of winning and getting results no matter what the circumstance. they are winning games on average performances as well as those in which they are playing their best football. and that is the hallmark of a top side.