Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aston Villa F.C. 1-1 WBA

match text commentary

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.

match text commentary

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

live text replay

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fulham F.C. 3-0 WBA

match text commentary

as i was distracted by planning yet another trip to england (including an excursion to the hawthorns on october 6th to see west brom play QPR) i've gotten several weeks behind on my blogging. also, there's really very little positive that can be said about this performance by the baggies - other than it was not quite as one sided a match as the result would indicate.

fulham found the albion defensive weaknesses by attacking down the flanks and taking advantage of the fullbacks through both pace and transitional positioning of the wide players in the albion back-line. the londoners also had the all important advantage of an in form dmitar berbatov in front of goal demonstrating that he is a top international striker. for the baggies, however, it was just one of those days that is best forgotten. their opponents on the day found enough in the early going and west brom never really had a chance to find form.

the real turning point of the game, though, was peter odemwingie being shown a red card in the 38th minute. at his point - and barring a miracle - the albion had irretrievably lost the plot. unfortunately, miracles are all but outlawed in the almighty, bloody PREMIER LEAGUE. while it was a stupid and cynical momentary lapse in judgement, it's worth remembering that the nigerian international very rarely loses it like this and he probably deserves some leeway in light of the fact that he almost single-handedly led the baggies to a 12th place finish in the league two years ago by virtue of 15 goals scored in the league.

after the first defeat of the current campaign, all the albion can do now is not let the loss affect them. steve clarke and his side must put it out of their minds and get on with thinking about the next league fixture, where taking all three points at home to reading would continue to lay the groundwork for what has been their otherwise fine form. winning at the hawthorns should be the baggies' main priority at the moment.

it's a measure of how far west brom have come these least three seasons that there isn't a sense of panic about the fact that odemwingie will not be available for the next three competetive fixtures. two seasons ago this would have been a genuine catastrophe and baggies supporters everywhere would have been left wondering where the goals would be coming from in the nigerian striker's absence. it's a no small indication as to how far the squad has come in terms of the depth of player personel since their promotion from the CHAMPIONSHIP and should be a real point of pride for all west brom supporters.