A home fixture against bottom of the league, we’d not conceded at home, they were yet to win, writes West Brom blogger Warren Stephens.
QPR hadn’t in fact won at The Hawthorns in the top flight since 1985. Even Mark Lawrenson and Stan Collymore predicted comfortable home victories. What could possibly go wrong?
Well thankfully nothing did. I must admit I’d fully subscribed to the idea that this was something of a banana skin, that things were progressing too well and the Steve Clarke Express could grind to a shuddering halt at any moment. It may well still do but perhaps this team, this squad in fact, is made of sterner stuff.
Certainly for the vast majority of Albion’s Premiership life, we’ve been bestowed the title of unfashionable underdog. Even during the relative success of the last two seasons, victories seem to come along in the more unexpected places - Villa Park, The Britannia Stadium, Anfield, The Emirates - and winnable home fixtures have often become a source of frustration.
Unfamiliar as it may feel, perhaps it’s a sign of how far we’ve progressed that no longer do we automatically assume underdog status, that even those outside the West Midlands boundary are beginning to talk of a Fortress Hawthorns and that with 14 points from 7 games, the phrase ‘relegation dogfight’ may well be confined to the distant past, unless of course coined sympathetically in the ear of a Villa-supporting friend over a pint!
This is all of course an assumption, tougher times will undoubtedly come and our situation could still horribly worsen until we reach the magical 40-point barrier, but in the meantime, despite some tough upcoming fixtures, most Albion fans can feel a warm satisfaction about our current predicament.
We came shooting out of the blocks on Saturday and for the second time in five days, QPR found themselves 2-0 down early in the game. As statuesque as their defending often was, to attribute our advantage to this alone would be hugely discrediting the fantastic Shane Long, whose sheer energy, presence and pace caused them all manner of problems along with the enterprising James Morrison and Zoltan Gera.
Indeed, for the second time in a week we seemed to relinquish some level of control in the game by taking Shane Long off. Romelu Lukaku seems to thrive with a bit of company around him when he can turn defenders around and run at them, perhaps something we’ll see more of when chasing the game rather than protecting a lead and leaving him slightly isolated.
Albion displayed some patches of beautiful intricate interplay intertwined with a few moments of mediocrity. However even during the latter our Congolese-Argentine contingent of Mulumbu and Yacob always make it so difficult for teams to play through us, the talented Adel Taarabt eventually assuming a wide role and a word also for Gareth McAuley, who I thought was excellent in his epic physical duel with Bobby Zamora. One disappointment was Markus Rosenberg when he came on but in his defence he was filling in a role behind the main striker that probably doesn’t come naturally to him, he undoubtedly needs more match-sharpness.
Taarabt-inspired QPR had their moments, none more so than the last kick of the game, but fortunately Jose Bosingwa took aim for Albion’s supporters rather than our goal-nets and I think we probably just about deserved the three points. One notable statistic I’ve since read is that QPR’s second goalscorer, Esteban Granero, reportedly cost more in transfer fees than the entire Albion XI on the pitch at the time. I suspect the current market value of many of our players is somewhat higher than their original cost after the start we’ve enjoyed.
This weekend sees an international break and the mouth-watering prospect of England hosting San Marino. I say that sarcastically of course, yet I feel I shouldn’t. I’m English, my family are English, I’ve always lived in England and I vociferously support England in any sporting competition, yet I look towards this weekend with a tinge of disappointment as I secretly crave a return to Fortress Hawthorns.
Is it because Albion are flying at the moment and that England continually disappoint in major football tournaments? Is it a feeling of disaffection with some of the highest-paid players who represent us at international level or maybe a reflection of the standard of opposition we face this weekend? I can’t work out if it’s any or many of the above.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d take enormous pleasure in spending the summer of 2014 in Rio de Janeiro watching Andy Carroll baffle the Brazilians with his box of tricks, but I sometimes ask myself England to win the World Cup or Albion to win the Premier League/FA Cup, which would mean more, and I always arrive at the same answer: Albion, every time. So where do you stand on the Albion/England debate?