Another week and another win. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sound modest whilst writing these blogs.
Another week and another win. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sound modest whilst writing these blogs. What a fantastic three points we brought back down the M6 from Wigan on Saturday and what a fantastic time to be a Baggie at the moment, writes Warren Stephens.
I often feel Wigan are somewhat belittled by media and fans across the country. So often I hear many of our supporters confidently predict we’ll go to the DW Stadium and beat them, yet prior to Saturday we’d managed it once in six attempts. Everton, Stoke and West Ham have all dropped points there this season, so it’s certainly an excellent result in the grand scheme of things.
In truth I don’t feel we played fantastically well but it’s becoming quite a feature of this side that even when we’re not in the ascendency, we’re fundamentally quite solid and difficult to play through.
That’s in large part of course to the fabulous foursome of Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley, Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob. In my lifetime I can’t recall such an unshakable foundation to an Albion side. Perhaps the closest to that, though arguably inferior in quality, was the Gary Megson side that contained Darren Moore, Phil Gilchrist, Larus Sigurdsson, Derek McInnes and Andy Johnson. That side went on to change the course of Albion’s history, we can only hope this side can do too.
To the game itself and Steve Clarke switched to a 4-4-2 system, something we’ve not seen yet under his stewardship and a move he admitted was to generate more presence against Wigan’s back three. I didn’t think that Romelu Lukaku had a good enough game to particularly justify his selection, but his sheer presence alone will have undoubtedly helped Shane Long alongside him.
I personally feel that we seem to have a better control over games playing 4-2-3-1 but Clarke probably deserves credit for having the guile, flexibility and bravery to change his system when he felt it was required.
There were also recalls for James Morrison and Chris Brunt. A couple of years ago I used to think that if Morrison could shoot, he’d be worth millions. Well he certainly knows where the net is at the moment and his evolution from the raw young talent Tony Mowbray acquired five years ago has been a pleasure to watch. As for Brunt, I’ll leave you the eloquent words of the friend I was sat next to at the game: “I’m not sure why he’s back in the side to be honest”…….just as he swung over the most sumptuous cross that Mozza devoured at the back post!
It would be an injustice not to mention the contributions of Boaz Myhill, Billy Jones and Liam Ridgewell. Myhill’s performance was faultless and will increase his confidence and also the confidence of the back four in him. With uncertainty lingering over Ben Foster’s fitness, that was certainly a welcome boost.
Jones and Ridgewell have a thankless task getting up and down the flanks and both were excellent. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Ridgewell, who’s proving a stout signing. It was massively pleasing for Billy Jones too to get his first goal for the club. He attracted some criticism earlier in the season, but is a willing battler and has proved he’s capable of being a top performer at this level.
This weekend sees the visit of European Champions and Premier League title rivals Chelsea (tongue firmly in cheek, obviously). It’s a game that Albion can afford the luxury of entering without any great amount of expectation. It also signals the return of former manager Roberto Di Matteo and assistant Eddie Newton.
Di Matteo left Albion after a barren spell of 3 wins in 18 games, a run that left us hovering precariously above the Premier League trap door and hideously out of form. Even so, he remained popular amongst fans and whilst we’ve since gone on to bigger and better things (as has he), I still hold fond memories of his reign.
He certainly left us in a better place than when he took over, achieving promotion at the first attempt, and games such as the 5-1 win at Middlesbrough, the 3-2 promotion party at Doncaster, the remarkable 3-2 win at Arsenal and the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford will live long in the memory.
Unfortunately by the end of his reign- a 4-0 hammering away at Manchester City- he looked a lost soul and his sacking, whilst something of a shock to many at the time, now looks an astute call by Jeremy Peace.
I’m sure then that most Albion fans raised a wry smile when Di Matteo went on to become an FA Cup and Champions League winner and genuinely wish him well, but come 4.50pm on Saturday I rather hope he looks like he did after that sorry defeat at the Etihad Stadium than he did in Munich back in May. Come on you Baggies!!