A point for Albion against the in-form league leaders, yet it could have been so much more writes West Brom blogger Warren Stephens.
Had Nicolas Anelka not spurned two second-half chances with the game poised at 1-0, we might even be talking about six points against Manchester United and Arsenal, a scenario almost unthinkable just a fortnight ago. As it was we registered four, which is still a hugely impressive return.
I’d speculate that most Baggies would’ve been fairly content with a point before the game, the tinge of regret amongst the home faithful upon hearing the full-time whistle of a pulsating game, is probably indicative of just how impressive this rejuvenated Albion side has looked since the transfer window slammed shut.
Our success in recent seasons has arguably been largely attributable to a solid spine of the team, a spine that arguably lost its way towards the back end of last season when we suffered injuries and played a little too candidly, conceding too many goals in the process. On Sunday, as it was the previous week, that spine was as strong as it’s ever been.
Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob were imperious in the engine room, restricting the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mezut Ozil to supporting roles in Sunday’s script. Indeed Jack Wilshere barely had time to apply his Nicotine patch such was Albion’s tenacity. Yacob looked back to his inimitable best, he certainly excels in games where the onus is on us to break the play up. Either he or Mulumbu could have easily walked away with the Man of the Match award.
There is, however, more to this Albion side than a spine. Our play’s looked inventive and the way we kept the ball on Sunday would’ve made it difficult for any unsuspecting neutral to decide which of the two sides cost more than seven times the other in transfer fees.
Another really pleasing aspect for me on Sunday was the atmosphere at the game, it was like the Hawthorns of old with noise reverberating around the stadium and the supporters right behind the players. Even the East Stand made an audible contribution to a couple of songs!
Expectation amongst some supporters arguably usurped its rightful place after last year’s blistering start and whilst team-supporter relationships are obviously a two-way street, it’s probably taken a while for many fans to rediscover their glowing affection for this side, or at least to display it so vociferously at matches.
Whilst there’s a real sense of optimism going forward, I think it’s worth remembering that we aren’t going to play as well every week as we have in the last fortnight, but these times are probably close to as good as it gets for a club like ours in the greed league and I think this Manager and these players probably deserve more support like they got against Arsenal.
As it’s turned out, the international break’s probably arrived at an unfortunate time with Stoke City, Liverpool and Chelsea on the horizon. We could’ve done with carrying some of the momentum we’ve built-up into those games.
Instead we get the distraction of two England World Cup qualifiers and an opportunity for us to qualify for Brazil 2014. Jack Wilshere took time out this week from rolling around the Hawthorns turf to spark a national debate by suggesting players shouldn’t adopt a flag on convenience when choosing which country they represent at international level.
I must admit that I’m inclined to agree with him, in the sense that you should probably only represent the nation you feel a sense of belonging to, whether that be through being born and bred somewhere, or in the probable case of Saido Berahino, having consciously spent most of your life there. It’s what makes international football unique and is arguably something we need to protect.
This did set me thinking about the Albion though. We all support a team to which we feel a strong attachment, whether that be through family roots, a sense of local identity or some other obscure reason.
On Sunday Albion fielded nine different nationalities if we assume James Morrison is actually Scottish and not from Middlesbrough. We have squad members from as far and wide as Uruguay, Benin and Macedonia. It’s all a far cry from the days of an all-English Albion XI, even further to the days of an all-West Midland Albion XI.
It’s undoubtedly positive to see home-grown talent graduate into the first-team and also to maintain that sense of attachment between players and supporter, but if those players are willing to run through brick walls for the cause and bring the club success, does it matter where they’re from? I’m not sure, Sunday’s result certainly meant as much as any before it.