This is my first blog and I approach it with a slight sense of trepidation, I think I can speak for a lot of E&S regulars when I say that Jarrod Hill’s done a fantastic job over the last five years and will be an extremely difficult act to follow, writes our new West Brom blogger Warren Stephens.
I can only imagine this is how Dan Ashworth’s successor is going to feel, I just hope I can emulate Jarrod by unearthing a few more Claudio Yacobs rather than Tininhos!!I should probably introduce myself, my name’s Warren Stephens, I’m 31, I sit in the East Stand and the likelihood is that I’ll be extending Jarrod’s legacy by erring to the side of caution above expectant optimism. I’ve posted on the site for a number of years under the imaginative pseudonym ‘Warren’ so our paths may have crossed before.
What better/worse (can’t decide which) place to start than a local derby at Villa Park? The relevance of this derby amongst our supporters seems to depend largely on age and geographical location. Those old enough to remember top-flight rivalries with Villa in the early 80’s and beyond, and also anybody brought up in an area densely populated with Villa supporters, tend to regard this as a main derby. A majority probably cite a much more natural rivalry in terms of size and history with Wolves.
Personally I grew up in Great Barr in the 1980’s and am still haunted by the endless derision I was subjected to daily on the school playground by Villa counterparts, as such nothing would have given me greater pleasure than for us to have replicated last year’s victory there. Alas it wasn’t to be and a hard-fought 1-1 draw was probably a fair reflection on the balance of the game.
Villa supporters may like to refer back to 1982. Sorry that’s a mistake, I’ll start again. Villa supporters may like to refer back to the last 10-15 minutes of each half when they were undoubtedly in the ascendency, but the outstanding Shane Long’s early missed header, a penalty shout against Marc Albrighton, Long’s disallowed header and Romelu Lukaku hitting the woodwork late on are evidence to suggest Albion were always in the game and capable of snatching all three points. The players displayed a wilful determination to get a result, even after losing Chris Brunt and Billy Jones to first-half injuries, and it’s difficult to criticise any of them.
Sunday also saw a debut for our new Macedonian maestro Goran Popov. A couple of questionable balls across his back-four aside, I think it was quite an impressive debut, particularly given his lack of match-fitness. He was competitive, displayed a willingness to get forward- something that’s becoming an eminent feature of our full-backs under Steve Clarke, even if it occasionally means they leave space behind them- and he showed a couple of impressive moments of composure. He also played a couple of beautiful Beckham-esque cross-field passes in the second half and we can look forward to seeing more of him. Indeed I felt our entire back-four coped admirably with a barrage of set-pieces and crosses into our box, arguably until the equaliser itself.
We seemed to lose impetus late in the game when Lukaku came on for Long, the latter having run Villa’s back-four ragged, and we struggled thereafter to get the ball to stick in their half. However given Long’s work-rate prior to the substitution and Lukaku’s contribution from the bench over the season, I don’t think many can argue it wasn’t a logical substitution to make and I’m sure had we not made it and gone on to draw 1-1 anyway, many would’ve questioned why Lukaku wasn’t introduced.
The old adage reads that if you draw your away matches and win at home you’re doing okay and if we can get a positive result at home this weekend, the point at Villa can seem like a point gained rather than two relinquished from a winning position.
QPR are our visitors in a game that also signals the return of enigmatic striker Peter Odemwingie from suspension following his petulant kick at Craven Cottage a fortnight ago. From the exhilarating to the exasperating, few players at the club seem to polarise opinion in quite the way that Odemwingie does.
With Chris Brunt likely to be sidelined, Steve Clarke will have a decision to make about whether to bring Odemwingie back into the side or ask him to fight for his place back. I personally think the latter, particularly given the nature of his offence, but only those close to him will know what sort of mindset he is in. I would hope he feels a sense of debt to his team-mates and the fans and I certainly feel that if we can field a motivated Odemwingie (a big IF, obviously), he’s still a very dangerous player and a major asset to the club.
Our next opponents have encountered some disciplinary difficulties of their own in recent months. Our old friend Neil Warnock blamed players talking to his Chairman on Twitter for his sacking, one suggested culprit Joey Barton has since been farmed out on loan. They’ve brought in some big-name players, including a Real Madrid midfielder and a goalkeeper once described in Italy by Gianluca Pagliuca as ‘the best in the world’, he’d obviously not seen much of Ben Foster!!
Despite reportedly paying even the likes of Nedum Onouha money which would make mine and your eyes water, QPR remain submerged at the foot of the table after a difficult start. It certainly highlights that money can’t bring you love, and increases the satisfaction we can feel about the way our club is run in comparison.
Even so, despite their position, with the calibre of player QPR now possess, this game certainly supports the notion there are no easy games in the Premier League. They’re likely to start firing at some point, let’s just hope it’s not on Saturday, particularly as we have two difficult games after this weekend. However, after a positive start we should feel confident of a result.
In the immortal words of Jarrod Hill, Come on you Baggies!