Monday, March 12, 2012

Never at Old Trafford

Manchester United F.C. 2-0 WBA

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long gone are the days when a west bromwich albion side could travel to old trafford with every potential of a victory, and for a particularly competitive fixture that would regularly produce some of the best football played in the country at the time.

while the baggies have most certainly been one of the league's form teams over the last month, there isn't anyone on the planet who will find this final score-line as any kind of surprise.

wayne rooney scored from a javier hernandez cross in the 35th minute, and then again with 20 minutes left in the match on a penalty to give the scoreline its proper gloss. it was everything that you'd expect in 2012 AD.

the baggies, however, gave a good account of themselves overall and were quite obviously the better team in the early going.

keith andrews should have opened the scoring in the 5th minute when the baggies, pressing the ball deep in the manchester united half, created the opportunity for liam ridgewell to put in a cross that looked like it should have been a tap-in for the veteran mid-fielder, but was put just wide of david de gea's goal.

andrews came close again from a free-kick about 25 yards out, but his effort was this time put just wide of the inside post by a diving de gea who got down low to make the finger-tip save.

the turning point of the afternoon came early in the second-half, and with score still 1-0 to the home team, when peter odemwingie was denied what should have been a penalty. this might very well have given the baggies the impetus to go on and get some kind of result from their visit, but never materialized.

patrice evra clearly tripped the albion winger as he took the ball into the man. u. penalty area. along with anyone who saw it live and in replay on TV around the world, odemwingie had a pretty clear-cut case for being awarded a spot-kick and was instead left prostrate in the 18-yard box, wringing his head with his hands in disbelief at the lack of any decision and the signal from the ref to "play on". then again, unless it's an absolutely nailed-on red-card offence - and as the visiting team - you're never going to get a penalty decision like that going your way at old trafford. never. they don't call it the "theatre of dreams" for nothing.

typically, united took clinical advantage of the situation and immediately broke on the baggies, only to see javier hernandez' long range effort smack off the west brom goal-post.

in the final bit of play that ultimately lost the match for the baggies, keith andrews, having already forced ashley young deep to the bi-line, inexplicably bundled the united mid-fielder to the ground and conceded the penalty that would make the final score 2-0.

however, the ultimate dissapointment of the afternoon for west brom came in the 64th minute, when jonas olsson was dismissed for a second yellow card and will now sit out next week's game at wigan. the swedish defender was clearly upset with himself and was reported to have been somewhat moody with various members of the local press during the post game interviews.

this was otherwise a good performance by the baggies and the fact of the loss shouldn't affect their current form in the coming weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Trio of Victories!!!

WBA 1-0 Chelsea F.C.

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i left for england on the evening of february the 12th. the baggies had demolished wolves at the molineux (1-5) earlier in the day and i knew that this would go a long way towards banishing the ugly atmosphere that has been present at the hawthorns since the baggies' home loss to wigan on the 10th of december.

barring a series of unlikely disasters there will indeed be an unprecedented third consecutive season of PREMIER LEAGUE football at the hawthorns. of course, this brings up concerns over next year's goals and expectations; but for the moment, i'm just going to enjoy the glory and be grateful for the fact that my last visit of the season was a 4-0 victory over sunderland and the first home win since november 19th.

it has taken a decade to achieve, but i hope that chairman, jeremy peace, feels at least some vindication for his oft-criticized financial practices at the club. mr. peace has always understood that the organization needs to be balanced, and that incremental improvements over a long period of time are the only way that a club of the size and resource of west bromwich albion is going to get anywhere in terms of establishing itself as a top-flight side. i will countenance no more supporter criticism as to the chairman's perceived lack of ambition - it's simply not true.

personally, i think jeremy peace is a brilliant chairman, and one of the few people who's figured out a way to find long term success within the top 25 teams in the country. that is, when the baggies have been relegated, the set-up has been in place to keep most of the important players at the club and ensures that they can challenge for promotion. likewise, each time the albion have gone into a new season in the top-flight, it has always been an improved side on the previous campaign. i guarantee that jeremy peace has the greatest of ambitions for west bromwich albion football club. but in a culture where expectations have to be met instantly, the qualities of patience, prudence, careful management and intelligence are more vice than virtue.

jeremy peace talks to BBC Late Kick-Off (March 2010)

WBA 4-0 Sunderland A.F.C.

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in yet another season of exorcizing ghosts of top-flight fixtures past, the baggies have won three games on the spin for what is only the second time as a PREMIER LEAGUE side. more importantly, they beat chelsea - one of the biggest teams in the country - for the first time in 32 years.

the most significant thing about the baggies current string of results is that they've done it largely without chris brunt and shane long - perhaps their two best players.

however, peter odemwingie has found goal-scoring form where most pundits believed he wouldn't. marc-antoine fortune is unrecognisable to the player who was originally brought in as an emergency loan replacement for ishmael miller and ended up at celtic for the 2010-11 season before returning to the hawthorns. the french striker had recently spent some time on loan at doncaster rovers and has returned to B71 looking the very model of the modern centre-forward - a player transformed.

after a shaky start to the seaon, james morrison has been brilliant in his role as attacking mid-fielder; and last minute january signing, keith andrews, has been a revelation partnering youssouf mulumbu in the holding mid-field position and has scored goals against both wolves and sunderland.

the baggies have also looked good defensively as of late. two clean sheets back-to-back and 225 minutes of football (and counting) without having conceded a goal. the centre-halves have been outstanding. jonas olsson and gareth mcauley might be the best pair of defenders to ever play in a west brom jersey. certainly they are the best centre-halves since the days of john wile and alistair robertson, and both have added important goals to their heroic shot blocking and fearless tackling. ben foster hasn't seemed like he's actually had a lot to do in these few games, but has come up big when needed and his quick distribution of the ball has led directly to scoring opportunities and goals.

Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. 1-5 WBA

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black country derbies are always a bit of a drag for me. if i'm here in toronto, i am required to get up a 6 AM to catch what is usually a noon kick-off on the sunday; and if i'm in england, i have to travel to birmingham on the day before and take a hotel room for the night. last year i went to st. andrews to watch blues play sheffield wedneday in an FA CUP replay as a way of killing time on the eve of the big match; and this last october i went to watch walsall play preston in the league.

as i was travelling to england that night, waking up at 6 AM was less of a chore than usual and worth the effort ten times over.

this was quite an unbelievable game of football and one that the baggies really needed to win in order to change the mood at the hawthorns. it may have been the most important match of the current campaign; we will only know once the season is over. but just as wolves used their home victory over west brom last year as a spring-board to their successful run for survival, the baggies used this away win as a way to go back to the hawthorns with momentum and confidence and get the home support behind them as they begin the push for a mid-table finish.

it was also important to bring the home faithful onside and get them behind the manager. roy hodgson has been coming under a certain amount of attack in various online forums since the baggies loss to wigan kicked off a string of poor results at home. there has been criticism of everything from his age to his "negative" footballing tactics. these same tactics have come to be an important part of the baggies current form and the gaffer now looks like a footballing genius. his sometimes rigid defensive formations have become integral to how the baggies play - and will need to keep playing, in order to finish with the kind of season we had all hoped for (and perhaps expected) since the outset of the campaign.