West Bromwich Albion fans enjoyed so many wonders at The Hawthorns on Saturday.
Beating the European Champions, nestling a deserved fourth in the Premier League, a brand of football that continues to blend delightful craft with magnificent defence, deputies Boaz Myhill and Gabriel Tamas brilliantly stepping out of the shadows, Youssouf Mulumbu, beautifully-created goals, thinking ‘Thank God we’ve got Long and not Torres’ . . . on and on it went.
But perhaps nothing ignited The Hawthorns more than that Peter Odemwingie run. No, not the dart into the area which enabled the club’s most successful striker of the Premier League age to score his wonderful 50th-minute headed winner.
The Baggies fans who were there will know the one I mean. Because when you’ve got Odemwingie sprinting back 70, 80 metres at full pelt just to shut down an opposition attack, well, you know you’re on to something special.
And Albion are on to something special, of that there can surely be no doubt. There is no slight intended of Odemwingie, Albion’s best match-winner since The Bomber hung up his boots, in highlighting his relish for the ‘dirty work.’
He is a princely goalscorer but he does prefer to be taking the ball in the other direction.
However, it says everything about what is unfolding within the dressing room that even he has been caught up in the spirit of the moment. And even with so much to cheer them, Albion fans were roused like never before to see Odemwingie display such application mid-way through the second half and The Hawthorns went on to play its own part in helping their team over the finish line for this landmark defeat of Chelsea.
The Baggies are well positioned to push on for a finish in the top eight, maybe the top six. That is as much as can be said for now. Or, as Clarke put it: “Our job is to stay level, keep our feet on the ground and think only of the next game . . . but if the fans want to dream, then why not?”
But this is huge territory for a club which was down on its knees as the new Millennium arrived. Broken, spent, buckling at the knees.
Now they have beaten one of the oligarch projects of the new age while – and this was particularly amusing on hearing about a supposed weaker Chelsea selection – missing core figures Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley and Romelu Lukaku.
So full marks to Tamas, an Albion signing by Chelsea boss Robbie Di Matteo lest we forget, for stepping into his favoured position alongside Jonas Olsson, and giving a faultless performance of intense concentration to cope with so much movement and menace from the stellar cast his team impressively contained.
Chelsea would still have won the game, however, were it not for Myhill’s first major performance for the club. That, again, comes with no slight intended but is a nod to the mental demands of stepping on to such a challenging stage after long, long periods of understudy.
Myhill’s three saves from Daniel Sturridge were one of the features of the day and the confidence he took from his stand-out display was writ large all over him by the end of the game.
Albion’s ability to absorb the opposition’s phases of dominance is one of this team’s great virtues. Another is their ability to enjoy their own control and create goals of the highest quality.
That’s what we saw yet again. The disguised pass by Zoltan Gera, which so wrong-footed Chelsea’s defence in the 10th minute, must not be overlooked; nor the quality of cross it gave James Morrison time to deliver. But Shane Long’s diving header at the far post was the crowning moment of a wonderful first goal.
The winner was even better and said everything about Albion’s cohesion, composure and capacity to sting on the counter. Emerging from defence, Olsson picked out Morrison with the key pass which sent him accelerating forward.
This time Long moved out wide and after an exchange of passes, involving Morrison and Odemwingie, delivered another of those precision crosses devoured by the Nigerian.
A great goal for great days.
By Martin Swain