Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baggies boing boinged - but only just

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 West Brom

If at the start of the season you'd have told me that we wouldn't register our second league win of the season until most of the country was experiencing flurries of snow, I'd have been very, very worried indeed. The situation is hardly ideal as it is, but at least we're talking about the tail end of October rather than the post-Christmas period, and the overwhelming sensation at the final whistle was one of immense relief.

JFK made three changes to the team which lost to the Stigs of the Dump on Saturday, only one of which was enforced. Nicky Butt missed out through injury, the captain's armband passing to Shay Given, while Sebastian Bassong and Geremi dropped to the bench, the latter rather unluckily given his excellent assists in the recent games against Everton and the Mackems. In came Jose Enrique, Jonas Gutierrez and ASBO.

While in the first half the former gave a textbook display of a left-footer who should never, ever use their right, Spidey was a livewire and ASBO it was who gave us a thoroughly deserved lead in the ninth minute. We'd already gone close twice when Shola Ameobi just about kept himself onside to receive a pass inside the penalty area, nudge the ball beyond his marker Ryan Donk and tumble gratefully over the Dutchman's clumsy challenge. Aided by Scott Carson's unconventional decision to position himself two thirds of the way across the goal, ASBO dispatched the spot kick with aplomb and ran to the crowd in fist-pumping exuberance. Shame the badge he was patting on his shirt was imaginary - it's in the middle, Joey, not on the left hand side. Did I feel dirty celebrating the goal? Yes. But I still celebrated.

For the remainder of the first period we seemed content to play like the away side, allowing the Baggies bagfuls of possession in front of us but trusting that they lacked any cutting edge - which they did, except for one hairy moment when Robert Koren slid a through-ball in for ex-Smoggie James Morrison, whose shot brought a fine save from the stand-in skipper between our sticks.

While Gutierrez was purposeful and direct on one flank, Damien Duff was no less so on the other, and Ameobi was busy reprising his first half display at the Stadium of Shite, holding the ball up to bring teammates (most often Obafemi Martins) into play and continually finding valuable space on our left. He missed an opportunity and then set up an even better one for Habib Beye to squander before our Senegalese full back made amends with the assist for Martins's simple close-range header which doubled our lead three minutes before the interval. Happy birthday Oba.

So it was an unfamiliar position we found ourselves in at the break - 2-0 up, having had a deficit to claw back in each of the last nine games. That we (and JFK, presumably) didn't know quite how to approach the second half was obvious. West Brom again had the greater share of possession, but now they suddenly looked dangerous rather than just mock-menacing, just as two of our main threats Ameobi and Gutierrez faded.

Key was Tony Mowbray's introduction of Ismael Miller - it took the pacy former Man City striker all of 11 minutes to make a real mark on the game, collecting Koren's through-ball as Fabricio Coloccini floundered, rounding Given and slotting into the empty net. Miller went on to give our back four many more problems than his colleagues had in the previous hour. Had the Baggies gone into the fixture with a little more confidence themselves, Mowbray might have started with Miller in a 4-4-2 formation that would have tested our mettle - so thanks to Man Utd and Hull for dishing out thrashings which ensured the visitors approached the game with caution.

Duff continued to give his marker Gianni Zuiverloon a torrid evening, and Xisco came on for Martins to cock up a promising attack, but otherwise it was all West Brom - so when Mike Dean finally blew his whistle there was a collective puff of the cheeks before the significance of the win sank in and the grins spread. Up to 15th - until tonight, at least.

But lest we should get carried away - and, given that for 45 minutes tonight a poor side had our backs very firmly against the wall on our own territory, we really shouldn't - this means very little if we then lose on Monday night. Let's just hope the next confrontation with West Midlanders at St James's Park has the same outcome - though I could do without the same frayed nerves.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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