of the four competitive games that the baggies have played in the new season so far, this was the one that i feared most. everton had looked very good in beating manchester united on opening day and i despaired that getting a good result - even at home - might be a fixture too far.
but then, this is starting to look like a very good baggies side. so good, in fact, that they are performing much closer to the standards of albion teams of the 1960s and 70s than at any time since. the foundations for a good long run of top-flight league football has been established and we can only hope that improvements continue and the chairman and directors do not deviate from the present course.
nobody who was at wembley on may 30, 1993 - the day that the baggies started to pull themselves out of the mire of what was the worst period in the club's history - could've imagined that with promotion back to the newly christened FOOTBALL LEAGUE division one, followed by years of mid-table struggles against relegation and generally mediocre league performances, they would ever see the baggies competing successfully in the top-flight again.
while other clubs who have seen recent (and relative) success in the PREMIER LEAGUE and/or domestic cup competitions, have all too often been unable to avoid the increasingly common peril of "double relegation" (i.e. portsmouth, norwich city, charlton athletic, sheffield united, coventry city, etc.) before making their way back up, the baggies have flip-flopped ("yo-yoed") between the CHAMPIONSHIP and PREMIER LEAGUE always able to keep their core players while making steady, incremental improvements to the side. this year's top-flight campaign marks the first time in a decade that west brom have been in the same division for more than two years running.
it was another impressive display of all-round football by the baggies at home to a top-class everton side. where under the leadership of roy hodgson, west brom depended on the quality of their defending and counter-attack, steve clarke has them playing a more complete style that can both keep clean sheets and score goals.
the new gaffer has employed very different tactics between how he has his side play at home and how he sets them up for away matches. i'm sure that this will vary when considering the opposition in any particular fixture, but it does seem that he generally wants his team to establish its defensive shape first and let the game come to them through frustrating the opposition's attackers rather than have them force the issue. this was particularly true of the away fixture at tottenham, where spurs were allowed a massive advantage of possession throughout the first half, before the albion started to press and were easily the better team and well on top going into the final stages of the contest.
while steve clarke was quick to bring in the additional strikers that he saw as being essential to the albion's progression as a top flight side, claudio yacob has been a revelation in the holding midfield role. yacob's defending and distribution has not only been solid in itself, but has also improved the play of youssouf mulumbu, who has been in what is arguably the best form of his career since coming to the hawthorns. yacob's quality as a defender was clearly illustrated as the game approached the 17 minute mark and the argentine international went into a challenge with nikica jelavic in the baggies' penalty area.
while jelavic went over in the tackle quite dramatically, and the toffees were quick to appeal for a penalty, the replay showed that yacob had clearly gotten to the ball first. the ensuing clearance allowed the baggies to break in attack. however, marc antoine fortune's effort from the edge of the everton box, on a ball played back up the inside left channel from the dead-ball line by shane long, went well over the cross-bar. it was an incisive display of west brom's ability as a counter-attacking team.
everton had plenty of the ball throughout the first half-hour of the match and certainly had the beter of the possession. but it was the albion who created the first real effort on goal. with shane long finding space in the box through some slack marking on the part of the everton defenders, his powerful header from a liam ridgewell cross came smacking back off tim howard's crossbar.
the toffee's responed on the next possession as merouane fellaini was afforded a similar opportunity at the other end. the big belgian, however, wasn't able to get sufficiently underneath the cross and the ball looped inches over the bar at the far post. the toffee's created another good opportunity less than ten minutes later, as a well worked move down the right flank ended in a tame header by nikica jelavic from a steve naismith cross which was easily gathered up by ben foster. the visitor's would not see as good a chance at goal again until well into the second half.
james morrison has flourished in the first few games - continuing the fine form that he found last season - and has been key to the attacking link up play in midfield. the scottish international came close to scoring in the 44th minute with a stinging right foot shot from only 7 or 8 yards out; but a great reflex save from tim howard saw that the score-line remained 0-0 at the half.
as in their two previous league games, the baggies began to press the ball increasingly higher up the pitch, which began to create chances where the toffees had only been frustrated. the baggies finally went ahead in the 64th minute as shane long used his pace and strength to get the better of sylvain distin and get on the end of an inch perfect cross by peter odemwinge from deep down the outside left channel.
continuing to press in the everton half, the baggies created a shot for youssouf mulumbu from about 15 yard out that required a top class save from keeper, tim howard. but there was nothing the american could do on the ensuing corner, as gareth mcauley got on the end of an excellent chris brunt delivery to put the contest beyond question.
invariably there will be tougher tests and perhaps some leaner times for the albion as the season progresses. however, a good result in one game... there's always the possibility that it's just a "one-off". two good results and people start to pay attention. three good results and there's the possibility that you've really got a good side. going into this season, it's starting to look like west brom really are a good side.
league play resumes with the baggies away to fulham on the 15th.