Friday, December 7, 2012

WBA 0-1 Stoke City F.C.

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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Too Much Too Soon?

Swansea City A.F.C. 3-1 WBA

match text commentary

just as with last year's visit to the liberty stadium, the baggies conceded 3 goals and turned in what was undoubtedly their worst performance to date - and that was just the first 10 minutes!

it was a hard reminder of how difficult life in the world's top league can be and has set down a real challenge to the team's character.

to be fair, it won't seem such a bad result if they can go back to the hawthorns and get a result from the game with stoke on saturday. however - and as west bromwich albion supporters - we all know not to expect too much from a game with stoke city. this is a historically hard fixture for the baggies, with the potters being one of west brom's true bogey sides.

this was only the baggies' fourth loss of the season and only their second truly poor performance, having lost 3-0 to fulham earlier in the season. in a funny way, this loss to the swans puts the earlier loss to the cottagers into a clearer perspective and looking back on their visit to the west london should be a real lesson for steve clarke.

it has been west brom's style to defend with the back four playing in a fairly deep position. for the most part, it has worked well for them and is an essential component in the successful counter-attacking play that the baggies have employed this season. however, it has shown to be vulnerable when playing against an in form attacking side - especially when playing possession through the midfield - and the gaffer was astute in abandoning this and pushing the back four up to hold a much higher line in the second half. but by then the damage was already done.

the baggies pulled a goal back just on half-time through the effort and skills of chris brunt and romelu lukaku. brunt delivered a good ball on a corner kick in the dying seconds of the first half which fell for lukaku to smash home. it was as simple as that.

to their credit, the baggies adjusted well enough and were the better side for most of the second-half, but without the luck of the bounce and a poor performance from peter odemwingie, the goal that they needed to get back in the game never materialized.

as poor as the baggies were for the first half, swansea's crisp, quick passing game deserves some credit. to be fair, the home side came out and played with a level of skill and intensity that was as good as any football that the PREMIER LEAGUE has produced this year.

Sunderland A.F.C. 2-4 WBA

match text commentary

the baggies continued their habit of breaking age-old hoodoos - as well as posting what was their second away victory of the season - by winning four games on the spin for the first time since the inception of the PREMIER LEAGUE.

sunderland is a side that is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. they are fairly sound defensively - as one would expect from a martin o'neill side - and the counter-attacking gambit that the baggie have used to great effect since the beginning of the season was never going to work at the stadium of light. but with the black cats having trouble creating scoring opportunities - and an even tougher time finding goals - this is a fixture that one would fully expect the baggies to go looking for full-points from.

while zoltan gera initially put the albion in front just on the half-hour mark, it was shane long's persistence that gave them real control of this encounter. chasing down a ball that most players would've given up on, the irish striker took full advantage when simon mignolet was unable to control chris brunt's through ball that should've been no more than routine cover. but long followed up, challenged the belgian goalie and walked the ball into the sunderland net for the goal from which martin o'neill's side would never really recover.

romelu lukaku scored the third baggies' goal from the penalty spot after liam ridgewell was fouled in the box.

while sunderland did get back into the game with a late goal that put the scoreline at 3-2, their push forward to find the equalizer left them open at the back and marc antoine fortuné made no mistake when the opportunity to restore the two goal lead that west brom had held for long parts of the match opened up for him on another baggies' counter attack. with only simon mignolet to beat, the french striker deftly curled the ball in at the far post to give the score-line its proper gloss. it was no more than west brom deserved.

WBA 2-1 Chelsea F.C.

match text commentary

this was a fixture that you might have written off at the beginning of the season, but with the start that the albion have made in the league this year, they should be starting to believe that there's no such thing as "writing off" a game. i would never pretend that the baggies were the superior team on the day, or that there weren't periods - especially in the second-half - where chelsea weren't the better side and having the better of the play; but steve clarke is proving to be a masterful tactician, showing that he knows how and when to use his resources to best effect.

it's no secret that roy hodgson organized the baggies to be a very good defensive side. steve clarke has built on that foundation that has seen a more complete vision of football being played at the hawthorns, and tactics to deal with anything that the PREMIER LEAGUE can throw up. the baggies have now won this fixture two years running and deservedly so.

shane long put the baggies ahead just before the 10 minute mark, when james morrison played a perfect cross for the irish striker to head home in the 9th minute of the game. eden hazard equalized from a similar play just a little over 5 minutes before half-time on a ball played across the albion goal by cesar azpilicueta.

fernando torres was withdrawn before half-time, having looked listless and been largely ineffectual. especially when compared to the highly effective, hard-working and skilled play of shane long. daniel sturridge replaced torres and the chelsea attack improved a great deal. however, both the chelsea striker and winger, victor moses had crucial efforts thwarted by an in form boaz myhill, whose sharp shot-stopping has eased the problem of having ben foster out injured. a second late strike by sturridge flashed dramatically across the face of goal but went wide as the baggies held on for the win.