Monday, September 10, 2012

WBA 2-0 Everton F.C.

match text commentary

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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Yeovil Town F.C. 2-4 WBA

match text commentary

with no TV, or even video highights (at the time of writing), this was old fashioned cup football listened to through a radio broadcast (also streamed live on the internet) and seen only in some action photography on the club websites and in the mainstream press.

it was a great reminder that when the modern day, life and death factors of league football, with its concerns of promotion/relegation, seasons tickets sales, investment finances, sponsorship revenues, as well as big TV and media revenues are not a primary focus, football can still actually be fun - even in a major competition.

and that's exactly what we got as the baggies travelled to perrenial lower-league over-achievers, yeovil town, in the second round of this year's LEAGUE CUP.

steve clarke made no less than ten changes to the side that had drawn away to tottenham on the weekend, with shane long the only player to maintain his place in the starting 11.

true to form - and in ironic fashion - the somerset club went ahead in the 14th minute through a goal by ex-baggie, reuben reid. having won a free kick in the albion half, a good delivery by edward upson offered reid the chance to take advantage of some slack marking by craig dawson and gabriel tamas and head the glovers into the lead, much to the delight of the home support. however, it was still much too early in the day to entertain any notions of a major upset.

this, of course, made for a tense 25 minutes before chris brunt, making his first start since being injured last year, scored one of the best goals of his career. the baggies' captain hit a screamer from a full 40 yards out that sailed into yeovil goal to draw the albion level.

within minutes shane long, jockeying to keep his place as a starter for this coming saturday, netted the first of a brace that he would score on the night, in injury time just before the half. i wondered why i had ever been worried about anything at all.

but this game had some bite left in it yet. within three minutes of the re-start, reuben reid scored the second of his brace and quite worryingly we were level again and i was uneasily forced to recall west brom's second-round fixture of three years ago, when rotherham united took them into extra-time. it was simon cox' first competitive goal that won that particular tie by a score of 4-3.

the contest had once again grown tense as boaz myhill needed to make a couple of really good saves, again from reuben reid, to keep his side in the match. finally, in the 73rd minute, new signing, yassine el ghanassy, scored his first goal for the club to put the baggies ahead to stay.

approaching the 81st minute, shane long smacked a shot from 15 yards out that flew into the top left hand corner of marek stech's goal and registered a solid win after some shakey defending throughout on the part of the baggies.

still and all it was good fun and all the more enjoyable as the albion have changed the format of their online radio streams for this season. albion player, the subscription service that provides live audio streams and video highlights through the club website, are picking up the free radio broadcasts featuring tom ross and club legend, tony "bomber" brown, for the away matches this year. dave bowler and john dunn will otherwise be back with albion radio still providing the commentary for home games.

the baggies are drawn at home to liverpool for the next round.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tottenham Hotspur F.C. 1-1 WBA

match text commentary

the baggies couldn't have hoped for a better start to steve clarke's reign at the hawthorns than with a massive home win over liverpool followed by an away draw at white hart lane. even more than the results, it is the manner in which the albion have performed in their first two league fixtures that is really impressive.

after making 200 appearances in his native scotland with current SPL side, st. mirren, head coach, steve clarke, joined chelsea in 1987. he played at stamford bridge for the next 11 years, making 421 appearances starting in the humble twighlight of the old FOOTBALL LEAGUE divisions one and two. going into coaching, he learned his trade in the big money environment of international TV football and the almighty PREMIER LEAGUE.

as one of english football's pre-eminent insiders - and having literally grown up working at the likes of newcastle, chelsea, west ham and liverpool - clarke has had a career steeped in the culture of big club football and the traditions of being in a winning side.

this is perhaps the most important quality that the gaffer has brought with him to the hawthorns.

his acumen as a tactician has been singularly important in starting the season off with two good results. at home, the gaffer set his side out in a flexible 4-2-1-3 formation that limited liverpool to 20-30 minutes worth of good football at the outset of the first-half before the albion got on top and took them apart.

away to spurs however, the gaffer employed a more conservative 4-5-1 formation, which gave tottenham a massive edge in possession but allowed for precious little in the way of creating any real scoring opportunities.

having played to a 0-0 score-line going in at the half, the baggies had successfully frustrated the tottenham attack and created a mounting sense of tension amongst the spurs' supporters that would only put added pressure on the home side as the afternoon wore on.

in the second half, the baggies were well on top of the play, and as the match progressed they fully looked the better side. going into the last half hour - and led by their attacking players - west brom aggressively pressed the ball in advanced positions to increasingly greater effect. despite tottenham's first-half dominance, the baggies had weathered the storm and it was now the visitors who looked the more likely to get off the mark with graham dorrans and marc antoine fortune having had the best scoring chances of the afternoon.

however, and from a spurs' corner in the 73rd minute, benoit assou-ekotto gathered a gareth mcauley clearance well beyond the edge of the albion penalty area. while his attempt on goal would otherwise have been saved by ben foster, it took an unfortunate deflection off graham dorrans and skidded into the far corner of ben foster's goal. the baggies' keeper was left flat-footed with no chance to react, and his side were truly unlucky to have gone behind.

one of the more positive characterisitics of west brom team over the last few years has been a resilience that has seen them take points through goals scored in the last fifteen minutes of the match on numerous occassions. applying relentless pressure following the tottenham goal, the baggies found a late equalizer through the determined play of james morrison.

with spurs coming under pressure and needing to do some last ditch defending as west brom flooded the spurs' penalty area in a continuous wave of attack, the ball was cleared off the line by william gallas and bobbled around dangerously in the goal area before it finally fell kindly for james morrison who side-footed home from 10 yards out to put the baggies level in the 90th minute. it was no more than they deserved.

when steve clarke first arrived at the hawthorns he found a team that was really well drilled defensively, they had just bought a top class goalie and were just a couple of strikers short of playing consistently winning football in the PREMIER LEAGUE. knowing he would need more goals from his side, clarke added swedish international, markus rosenberg and chelsea's teenage stiker, romelu lukaku, who came to the hawthorns on season long loan.

steve clarke's tactics and strategies have been in evidence since the season kicked off, and he has set out a side that is committed to a style of play that promises much in going towards improving on roy hodgson's legacy. he's a proper old scots professor who doesn't know a lot about consolidation, mediocrity or playing losing football.