Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WBA 3-0 Liverpool F.C.

match text commentary

the baggies kicked off their third consecutive PREMIER LEAGUE season by continuing their current rehabilitation as a top-flight side and breaking yet another long-time hoodoo. not having won an opening day fixture in the top division for several decades, west bromwich albion, at home and under the direction of their new head coach, steve clarke, demolished an average looking liverpool team by a deserved score of 3-0.

while the merseysiders looked dangerous and had the better of the play for the first twenty minutes - thanks to the attacking skill of luis suarez - they were otherwise shut down by clarke's new-look albion side. along with the superbly disciplined back four and a sophisticated defensive game that the team learned under roy hodgson, the new gaffer has brought a CHAMPIONS LEAGUE attacking style to the club.

with five top-flight strikers now in the first-team squad, places in the starting team are going to be hard won this year. while simon cox and somen tchoyi have moved on, the baggies have retained shane long, peter odemwingie and marc-antoine fortune with midfielder, zoltan gera, returning from a season long injury. to their attacking options they have added swedish international, markus rosenberg - who was not yet fit to play on saturday; and teenage striker, romelu lukaku, who most decidedly was.

the 19 year-old belgian international, who is on season long loan at the hawthorns from chelsea, immediately made an impression and displayed his top-flight pedigree with the third and final goal for the albion after coming on as a 68th minute substitute for shane long.

the real surprise was that steve clarke started the match with a an adventurous and flexible 4-2-1-3 formation. the forward line saw gera moved into an advanced position on the left, odemwingie on the right and long at centre-forward. james morrison sat behind them as attacking midfielder with youssouf mulumbu and claudio yacob in the defensive holding positions. stephen reid has recovered from injury and was started at right-back, while liam ridgewell has nailed down the left-back spot since his arrival from blues last year. despite much speculation, jonas olsson has returned, and the swedish international has been paired up again with gareth mcauley at centre-half. together they are as good a set of central defenders as has been at the club since the 1970s.

while i say that this formation was "adventurous", it did make me think, well how ELSE do you play football at a big club like liverpool or chelsea?!? the answer, of course, was obvious. steve clarke has a long history of being associated with top clubs and it looks, at the moment, like he is going to be a top manager. he may even be someone who would be able to acheive what the average albion supporter hasn't been able to imagine possible since the days of cyrille regis and tony brown. but then, it's probably a bit premature to project top-four finishes and CHAMPIONS LEAGUE nights returning to the hawthorns just yet.

however - and in the quest to revive the traditional spirit of west bromwich albion - this is the best balance that the baggies have had between quality and depth in the side for years, and a cup run wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility.

what was different about this performance compared to other results acheived against the big clubs over the last two seasons, was just how dominant the baggies were in both attack and defence. last year's win over chelsea at the hawthorns, for example, was a deteremined defensive display that totally shut down the london club's top scorers, allowing centre-half gareth mcauley to nick a late winner from a chris brunt corner to give west brom a long overdue victory over the blues.

against liverpool, however, the baggies were the better team all day long and in every aspect. despite some good passing in the middle of the park, and several good chances that fell to luis suarez inside the first half-hour, it was zoltan gera who got the baggies' season started with a goal that resulted from a james morrison corner in the 42nd minute. martin skrtel's clearance fell to gera just beyond the edge of the reds' penalty area, and needing a single touch to bring it under control, the hungarian international blasted a 20-25 yard screamer past a helpless pepe reina in the liverpool goal.

the baggies led 1-0 at the half.

the albion totally dominated the second period as shane long went on to win two penalties in the space of a few minutes. through on goal in the 57th minute, and with only reina to beat, the young irish striker felt a desperate and beaten daniel agger dig an elbow into his back. he went over in the box and won the decision which also saw the liverpool defender red-carded. however, long's effort was as poor a penalty as one is likely to see at this level of football and was an easy save for the liverpool keeper. it was only moments later that long won a second penalty and a chance to make ammends for the earlier missed opportunity.

chasing down the play in the liverpool penalty area, long used his pace and skill to get in behind the reds' defenders - and coming from the blind-side - took the ball from martin skrtel. skrtel then unwittingly gave away the second spot-kick when long was tripped up as he muscled himself into position between skrtel and the ball.

despite a debate amongst the west brom forwards as to who would take the kick, the responsibility fell to peter odemwingie. this time there was no mistake as the nigerian international buried a ferocious effort in the corner of the net beyond reina's reach just inside his right-hand post.

newcomer, romelu lukaku, came on as a 68th minute substitute for shane long, made an immediate impact as an incisive baggies' counter-attack saw the teenage striker put james morrison in with a gilt-edged scoring opportunity. with only pepe reina to beat, morrison curled his effort just wide of the far post when he really should have scored.

with albion continuing to press, a scuffed clearance fell to liam ridgewell, who looped in a perfect cross for lukaku to head home into an empty net at the far post.

while there wasn't a weak performance in the albion side, it was defensive midfielder, claudio yacob, that walked away with the man-of-the-match award. the argentinian was near perfect in his distribution. not only was he winning balls in the centre of the park, but completed a stunning 98% of his passes attempted.

however, the real star of the match was new albion boss, steve clarke. he looked cool, calm, composed and every bit the PREMIER LEAGUE manager. his team selection, as well as the confident manner in which he had the baggies playing, showed him to be possessed of a top footballing brain. his assured presence in leadership was evident and he appeared more than ready for a job he has clearly been preparing for for quite some time.

if this performance was any indication of things to come, then the baggies might just have made that crucial step up to the next level and are on their way to another successful year in the almighty, bloody PREMIER LEAGUE.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Not Worth the Price of Success

with the reports this morning that the FA is now going to offer dan ashworth the opportunity to take over as the national team's technical director, as a west bromwich albion supporter i have to wonder, is intelligent and prudent management leading to modest success as a PREMIER LEAGUE club worth it?

in these days where supporters want it all and expect it NOW; and where club owners are by-and-large egotistacal gamblers who understand little about the business of football and are willing to incurr huge debts and invest large parts of their personal fortunes in buying their way into the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, i would suggest perhaps "not". at least for the albion, anyway.

when jeremy peace took over as the major share-holder in the company that owns west bromwich albion, you might have asked, "will we ever play in the PREMIER LEAGUE?"

the answer would have been that it was "highly unlikely". however, through the virtues of patience, prudence, hard work and intelligence, the baggies have become a mid-table PREMIER LEAGUE club who might have a shot at winning one of the two major cup competitions sometime in the next 5-10 years. while this took almost a decade to achieve, including the restructuring of west brom's management set-up, and actually running the club at a profit, it seems to have served as little more than a development scheme for improving the resources of the english national team and providing valuable experience towards managing a winning side to the FA CUP and UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE title.

after 18 months in charge of the baggies, head-coach roy hodgson was offered the job with the english national team with no other serious contenders in sight. as a supporter, you can't imagine what a massive disappointment this was. it reminded me how - and as one of the best teams in the country - it seemed like the baggies used to unwittingly develop players for the big cosmopolitan sides, leaving them only extremely limited periods of time in which to achieve any major successes.

for example, after being scouted by the albion while playing for leyton orient, and just one full season with the baggies, laurie cunningham was bought by real madrid. manchester united swooped in and took not only bryan robson, but the player who had ostensibly been brought in to replace him as well, remi moses. as if that isn't bad enough, they also took one of our brightest (and decidedly most flambuoyant) managers in the likes of ron atkinson. man. u. went on to become one of the dominant forces in english football while the albion sank into nearly two decades of mediocrity. this sad state of affairs reached its all-time low with the team being relegated to the 3rd division at twerton park on a spring afternoon in the mid-1980s.

1978-79 was the only time since the mid-1950s that an albion side was good enough to win the league, and they only had the one opportunity.

between 1978 and 1982, west bromwich albion had just missed out on a EUROPEAN CUP semi-final as well as runners-up spot in the league by a single goal in each competition respectively. they also lost two FA CUP semi-finals in the space of 4 years. barring a play-off win that took them back into the first division (now called the FOOTBALL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP) in 1993, there would be no estimable success for the albion again until jeremy peace took over the club as a full-time venture.

mr. peace is not the typical businessman turned football chairman. first and foremost, he does not have a large enough personal worth to invest in the club that it would make any difference, and is therefore forced to either seek outside investment or run the club at a profit. this is a fact that is not always clearly understood by those among the albion supporters who largely characterize him as a tight-fisted and miserly so-and-so. of course, he would be much more immediately popular if he sent the club into unsustainable debt and got arrested for money-laundering, but all his years in investment banking (among other things) taught him to be far too responsible about business to win popularity contests. while a personal fortune of £40 million might seem a lot of money, in top-flight football it would only buy you one andy carroll, a reserve team goalie and a couple of aging impact players before going broke.

football has become ruthless and it seems that when you create something of worth - regardless of what it cost or the time it took - it becomes all the more expensive to hang onto. and no matter what you think of him, jeremy peace has created something worth hanging onto.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Strange Case of Simon Cox

despite the fact that it wasn't much of performance, i was at the hawthorns when simon cox got his first league start for the baggies in a home match with plymouth argyle. the week before, he had scored the winning goal in extra-time in a LEAGUE CUP fixture with rotherham united - his first goal for the club - and that had won him the right to start, partnering roman bednar in a conventional 4-4-2 set up - still the preferred formation for most english clubs at the time.

it wasn't a great debut and he was substituted early on in the second-half after a less than memorable performance. it was not a particularly good time for strikers at the club, and most of the goals were coming for an attack-minded mid-field. graham dorrans and chris brunt, respectively, were the side's leading scorers that season. in this particular match, it was shelton martis who scored the first goal for the baggies, equalizing after going 0-1 behind on an early goal by jamie mackie. even more unusual was marek cech's brace (his only two goals ever for the club) that won the game for the baggies by a score of 3-1.

nontheless, i can always claim to a have seen simon cox' league debut for west bromwich albion.

cox was in and out of the first team that year. he had been targeted by the club when tony mowbray was still the gaffer - presumably to help fill the void left by the previous season's departure of kevin phillips for birmingham city - and i think that he would have gotten more time in the side had mowbray remained at the hawthorns. but it was never to be. when TM moved on to take over at his old club, celtic, roberto di matteo came in as the first man to hold the newly created title of "head coach". despite cox being RDM's first signing for the baggies, even luke moore - possibly the least popular individual ever to play in the navy-and-white stripes - was often a preferred starter to the young man who, the year before and playing for swindon town - had been the FOOTBALL LEAGUE's joint top scorer with 29 goals in LEAGUE 1.

under di matteo and with west brom chasing promotion, cox managed 34 appearances and 10 goals in both league and cup competitions. he still found it hard to break into the first team as a regular starter. however, as an intelligent young man he must have reasoned that his best bet was stay at the hawthorns, with a club where the attitude and atmosphere was positive and who were definitely a side "on the up" - and wait for his opportunity. as a professional footballer he was certainly aware that he could have done a lot worse.

back in the PREMIER LEAGUE for the 2010-11 season, the baggies did well over the first three months, and had been as high as 4th in the league table at on point. however, cox was restricted to only a handful of appearances as a substitute and only getting to start in the LEAGUE CUP. after scoring 3 goals in 2 games, he finally earned himself the right to be included in the starting 11 for a league match away to blackpool. luck did not favour the young striker, though, as he was strategically withdrawn in the 12th minute when pablo ibanez was red-carded.

when results started to elude the baggies, and they went on a long winless streak that started in november (with the blackpool game) and went through into the new year, di matteo's time was up and roy hodgson took over for the last 13 weeks of the season.

this heralded a complete turnaround for the club, and with only two losses in their final 13 fixtures, they finished a comfortable 11th in the standings.

still, nothing much changed for simon cox. although he was very often in the side as a substitute. this led to his first PREMIER LEAGUE goal in a match away to tottenham. he scored what was west bromwich albion's goal of the season as the baggies snatched a late equalizer at white hart lane, putting the team on 40 points and virtually guaranteed their survival in the top-flight.

however, things still didn't get any better for cox during the 2011-12 season. he still could not break into the first team, and when he did get a start he was used almost exclusively as a utility player to make up the numbers when the side was hit with injuries. this meant that he was often played out of position on either the right wing or as a central midfielder, fulfilling the necessary and rudimentary defensive duties that were required of him.

even his usual exploits in the cup competitions, where he scored a hat-trick against cardiff, could not guarantee him the opportunity to get a start in the league.

while cox supplies an above average effort and work-rate, his real talent will never be found on the training pitch. he's not particularly tough, big or pacey. what he does have, though, is a sense for scoring goals. he hits 25 yard screamers, gets on the end of crosses - both on the floor and in the air, and knows where to be to get the tap-in on scuffed shots and loose balls in the box. at a time when teams are playing more and more with a single striker and a five-man midfield, cox is a bit of throw back who is all too easily over-looked and possibly under-rated.

a little surprisingly, the baggies recently picked up the final year option on cox' contract, creating the possibility that he would be at the hawthorns for at least one more year. but with a £2 million offer from blackburn rovers, it appeared earlier this week that cox was on his way to find full-time football in the CHAMPIONSHIP. however, this was quickly scuttled by apparent political problems at the lancashire club. while it seemed that manager, steve kean was anxious to bring cox to the club, his efforts have been undermined by the board who aren't interested.

since then, PREMIER LEAGUE side, swansea city, have emerged as the most likely contenders to sign him, although the rumour-mill also has him linked with interest from charlton athletic, leeds united, middlesbrough and scottish giants, celtic. at this point, any move that gets him a run of full-time football would still be a good move for him and the aspirations he harbours in regards to continuing his international career with the republic of ireland.

i have always liked cox and thought he would have been a bit more valued by the baggies than he has been. a year in the CHAMPIONSHIP would probably be the ideal move for him at the moment. but then who knows? a visionary top-flight side (like swansea) might find some success with him as well. whatever happens, i hope he finds a good club that will at least give him a chance and possibly reveal his potential.

more than anything, i hope he finds the luck which has eluded him since leaving swindon town.