WBA 1-2 Arsenal F.C.
as the season draws to a close, and we head into the last six games of the current campaign, there's one real goal (beyond the stated target of reaching a 50 point tally in the league) that the baggies can aspire to: that is to finish the season in 8th place. they have occupied this spot in the table for a number of weeks now and if they can maintain their form and take the necessary points available from their remaining fixtures, that is almost certainly where they will finish.
it may sound somewhat absurd to say so, but for a side like west bromwich albion, this would actually be a more significant accomplishment than winning the league would be for a club like manchester united, where claiming the premiership title has become an annual expectation.
at this particular moment in time, this is about as well as the baggies could do in the almighty, bloody PREMIER LEAGUE. to be fair, there are really no teams that currently sit ahead of the baggies in the table that don't belong there (i.e. liverpool, everton, tottenham etc.); and, with their status as a relatively new arrival to the top-flight, their present gate revenues, merchandising, budget, and the quality of players that are available to a club of their size, to finish anywhere in the top half of the table is, in all practical terms, a remarkable achievement.
West Ham Utd. 3-1 WBA
match text commentary
west brom will finish their season fighting to stay ahead of swansea city, and establish themselves as the top "second grade" team in the country. in light of the relatively poor form of some of the larger (and richer) clubs like newcastle, aston villa and sunderland, that is what an 8th place finish in the league would represent this year.
in fact, the recent loss to a ten-man arsenal side probably ended the chance of overtaking liverpool (in 7th), as well as a missed opportunity at widening the gap between themselves and swansea, who sit 9th in the table. from their performance in the second-half - and their absolute battering of the north londoners for the last half-hour - the baggies should probably have won this by at least a goal. but, as my mother observed on a visit to twerton park after the first 15 minutes of a bath city home game:
"i should think a goal is jolly hard to get!"
it is one of the hard facts of football, and a goal is sometimes just too jolly hard to get!
while the baggies put in a good performance, and worked hard to press home their numerical advantage at home to the gunners, they were really quite poor in their previous fixture away to west ham. in fact, the match at upton park was one of only a handful of truly weak performances on the season, and a game where west brom really showed almost nothing in the way of quality football until the last ten minutes. graham dorrans' penalty brought the team to life, and some good attacking in the last few minutes saw the baggies create a couple of scoring opportunities that might have seen the game turn. however, poor marking on set plays and the hammers' peculiarly skilful long-ball game was beyond the baggies on the day.
Stoke City F.C. 0-0 WBA
match text commentary
one of a couple of things that has stood out this season is the lack of success that the baggies have had against the london sides. indeed, while they did manage the double over QPR, west brom have only taken 5 additional points of a possible 30 on offer against teams from the capital. the other big let down has been the lack of quality - on all counts - of the local derbies.
both fixtures with the villa have seemed rather listless - especially when you compare these games with the atmosphere of the baggies/wolves matches of the last few years - and despite of the fact that both sides scored twice in the match at the hawthorns, it still never found the kind of intensity that you'd hope for in one of the oldest and most historically significant derby matches in world football. meanwhile, both games with stoke city - which once counted as a "staffordshire derby" - have been an absolute joke.
tony pulis, who seems to me an absolutely joyless man - as well as a ruthless and unpleasant manager - appears to favour a brand of football that features 9 defenders with a solitary striker and bypasses the idea of a midfield altogether.
in fact, late on in their most recent match against the baggies - a dreary 0-0 draw at the britannia stadium - a long, rather aimless clearance by one of the potters' defenders that went into touch had my brother and i in hysterics. it was a bit of play that rather looked more like a fly-half kicking for field position than something you would expect in a game of association football. stoke, who have found relative success over the last few seasons in the top-flight, play some of the most miserably dull football i've ever seen.
WBA 2-1 Swansea City A.F.C.
despite the baggies' continuing incremental improvement every year for the last decade, it will still require several more seasons - with an increase in stadium capacity and some scrupulously intelligent use of TV revenues - before the albion will be able to harbour any serious aspirations of european qualification or have a big enough squad for a successful cup run. even then, the opportunities will be fleeting.
as long as the current structure of the PREMIER LEAGUE persists, a side like west brom will, in effect, be starting each season in the top-flight from scratch. by this, i mean, they will perpetually need to scramble every summer to sign indispensable players on an annual basis. where would we have been this last few seasons without peter odemwingie or romelu lukaku? the latter being a loan signing from chelsea; and odemwingie, a goal scoring talent who was surprisingly unpopular with his home fans as a top-flight player in russia. without these kind of signings, the team would run the risk of not having a consistently competitive PREMIER LEAGUE squad.
at the end of the day, aiming for the all important "40 point" cushion, hanging on to the core of the team (in the likes of players like olsson, mcauley, brunt, morrison, long and mulumbu), acquiring important loan signings, maintaining inventive and cosmopolitan scouting networks, as well as rebuilding and/or expansion of the west stand (or so i've read), are all going to have to remain the primary focus points for the club over the next few years.
Chelsea F.C. 1-0 WBA
we know that this year is already a success, insofar as relegation/survival hasn't been a concern at any point of the current campaign - and while things have been a bit more inconsistent in the second-half of the season, the first couple of months gave us all some hope, if not expectation, of a long stay in the top-flight and perhaps, one day even playing again in europe.
we have to remember, the baggies were on the verge of going top of the league when they ran smack into a run of poor results, starting with the away fixture against swansea at the end of november.
it was really too good to be true, and it had to end somewhere. since then, results and performance have been just a bit patchy. however, west brom have been consistent enough in picking up needed points at crucial moments and haven't lost any ground since settling in around 7th or 8th place. as long they keep on getting the required results - and while they can't quite catch liverpool anymore - the baggies will stay ahead of swansea in the battle for 8th, and have earned the right to call themselves "the best of the rest" in england's top-flight for the 2012-13 season.