A draw away in the Premier League is a good result, surely? At least that’s what I’ve tried to spend the last few days telling myself writes Warren Stephens.
It’s difficult, however, not to feel a huge sense of regret that Albion didn’t take all three points from Saturday’s game at Stoke City.
The history books now tell us that Albion have won only 2 and drawn 9 of our last 31 league meetings with the Potters, in matches played over 15 completed seasons since the late 1980’s, over which we’ve finished above them in those respective seasons more often than we haven’t – a quite ridiculous record.
There will be few greater opportunities to dispatch Delilah than there were last weekend. Morgan Amalfitano uncharacteristically mis-controlled when set free at the end of the first half and Stephane Sessegnon missed two absolutely glorious openings, the latter coming in the dying seconds of the game.
Sessegnon’s chances both reminded me of the sort you’d only get on the primary school playground – 6 yards out with the entire goal at your mercy – yet both were fantastically smothered by Asmir Begovic.
In Sessegnon’s defence, each of those opportunities was self-engineered to a degree and he continues to look a fantastic signing. Also, Begovic went on to claim the Man-of-the-Match award, which should tell you everything you need to know about the game.
Howard Webb denied Albion a stonewall penalty when he failed to spot serial-offender Charlie Adam’s blatant trip on Youssouf Mulumbu. Webb’s since apologised, which is a decent thing to do, although from our perspective it doesn’t change the outcome.
I generally think that Webb’s one of the better referees in the game, but also that he sometimes errs on the side of leniency in the interests of letting the game flow, which isn’t always advantageous when you’re playing away to a team of wrestlers.
Looking at the positives, I think Albion produced another solid performance that suggests we can continue to look upwards and not over our shoulder.
Our bench is as strong as it’s ever been on paper. I would question bringing on James Morrison in a wide position, as his natural inclination is to wander inside and Nicolas Anelka perhaps didn’t have the impact he might have when introduced, but let’s face it, they and Shane Long aren’t a bad trio of substitutes are they? I certainly think the depth of our squad will come to the fore as the season goes on.
Our back five/seven continue to look impressive, indeed only Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton have conceded less, which is a great credit to the players, Steve Clarke and his coaching staff for rectifying an area of concern in the closing months of last season.
It’s difficult, however, to decipher how much of Saturday’s shut-out was attributable to Albion’s defensive organisation and how much owed to Stoke’s mediocrity. They were certainly as ineffective as I remember seeing them.
In style, they slightly reminded me of Albion towards the end of Sir Gary Megson’s reign and under Bryan Robson, gradually trying to evolve from a functional team to a footballing one, arguably without all the necessary tools to do it. Too much, too soon? I’d definitely be concerned if we were to finish beneath them come May.
Speaking of former managers, Tony Mowbray was this week relieved of his duties as Middlesbrough manager after a disappointing sequence of results. My boss at work, a ‘Boro fan, has spent Monday mornings for the last two years telling me how well they played at the weekend, but that they conceded softly against the run of play, or couldn’t find the killer touch in front of goal. Sound familiar?
It was only four and a half years ago that we were donning Tony Mowbray masks at Ewood Park and begging him not to leave, how the face of our club has changed since then?
This isn’t a conceited slur in Mowbray’s direction, indeed I think most fans will forever cherish some of the football and memories from his reign, but you have to wonder where we’d be now had he not walked out when Celtic came knocking, and if he regrets that decision. It’s certainly difficult to imagine one of his teams going to Stoke and playing as we did on Saturday.
Next up for Albion are trips to Liverpool and Chelsea. We’re on a cracking run of form and have looked a really good side of late but in all honesty they’re two very difficult places to go.
A repeat of the last two years’ results at Anfield would be most welcome, but realistically a performance to match those we’ve seen of late and another fantastic away backing like that at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday is all that we can ask for, anything else is a bonus. Come on you Baggies!!