match text commentary
the baggies and their supporters have come to expect precious little from their encounters with stoke city over the years. last year's corresponding fixture ended with a late goal by ryan shotton after gabriel tamas and ben foster got their signals crossed and failed to clear a ball at the edge of the 18 yard box. it was, of course, scored in injury time and was the only goal of the game.
however, there was some small reason that one might be a little more optimistic this year, as last year's reverse fixture actually went the way of the albion. a late free-kick by graham dorrans found its way through a maze of stoke defenders, as well as an unsighted asmir begovic to nestle in the back of the net and give the baggies their first win in 13 attempts against the potters. 2-1 to the albion.
surely, this would be the year that the hawthorns jinx would be dispelled!
however, as the match wore on and the disruptive nature of stoke's game imposed itself on the proceedings, the baggies were afforded almost nothing in the way of real scoring opportunities. the first half seemed like an endless parade of fouls - with city picking up 3 yellow cards - and there was no rythym to be found in any of the midfield play from either side. while the baggies did have the bulk of possession and registered 11 attempts on target (to stoke's 4), these were mostly scuffed shots and weak headers that proved little trouble for asmir begovic.
as with the previous home encounter with city, this match was lost on a defensive blunder. it was an uncharacteristic miscalculation by jonas olsson that lead to the potters' goal. tracking back to recover a long ball that had floated into the albion box, the swedish defender made a rare error in judgment. unsure of who might be behind him, he missed the opportunity to head the ball back to boaz myhill in the baggies' goal and took the play deep into the corner where he lost possession to pressure from kenwyne jones. the ball broke for an onrushing michael kightly who put in a low cross that was turned in by dean whitehead... 1-0 to the potters and that is how it would stay.
it's nothing we hadn't seen before.
the big talking point of the match - at least, from an albion perspective - was the fact that steve clarke had made 6 changes from the side that had turned in a truly abject performance a few days earlier at swansea. of course, there was much complaining on the local radio phone-in shows afterwards.
from a baggies point of view, it might seem unthinkable to leave the likes of morrison, brunt, ridgewell and odemwingie out of the side; but i think there was method in the gaffer's madness.
first off, there should be some acknowledgment of left-back, goran popov. he has made several starts this year and has slotted into the team quite seamlessly. while we know that ridgewell is a cultured player and shows both creativity and adventure in his attacking play, popov is probably the better choice anyway in a game against a side like stoke.
the same goes for steven reid, and it was certainly good to see him return to the starting eleven. again, he is probably the first choice right-back in a game that pits the baggies against the agricultural football practiced by tony pulis.
however, the choice to leave out brunt, morrison and odemwingie was perhaps more perplexing to the average punter. i mean, why does one leave out their best attacking midfielders for players that have not really gelled with the rest of the side yet?
there are a couple of good reasons that clarke might have done this: A) one does not need your most cultured players against a side like stoke city, and B) at some point in the future - and as the season wears on - the baggies will need the likes of dorrans and rosenberg to be integrated into the playing setup. so instead of running his best starting 11 into the ground (as often happens with the smaller clubs in the PREMIER LEAGUE), a fixture against the potters is a good opportunity to give the fringe players some game time. i imagine the gaffer figured that he could risk a disjointed performance now for two or three good performances later in the season.
with the exception of last year's win at the britannia stadium, this was typical of a west brom/stoke city encounter. now that it's over, we can all look forward to going to the emirates to play arsenal next weekend. i imagine that will suit us better and, funnily enough, we're more likely of getting a result there.