The Diary

27 August 2008: Monkey-Business At Hartlepool As Strung-Up Baggies Defeated

I?m now sitting in our conservatory, and trying to put together my post-Hartlepool piece, not in the dead of night post-match, as is my usual wont, but quite literally, in the cold light of day. And boy, am I finding it hard to tranform suitably cogent and constructive thoughts into electronic form. It?s not for the want of inspiration, believe me, it?s just that I?m finding it somewhat difficult to do so without losing it completely.

I suppose I shouldn?t be too shocked by what happened last night; after all, ever since Albion first entered the League Cup, back in the early sixties, we?ve always exhibited a strong tendency to end up a laughing-stock courtesy smaller outfits wanting ? and getting ? their 15 minutes of back-page fame. You name the lower-league side, and you can bet anything you care to name that they?ve done us over at some stage or another. Even my other half?s ?other lot?, Hereford United, managed it back in the mid-nineties, when they were a mid-table basement-division side, a description which should suffice to demonstrate just how awful we were, back then.

Given that Mogga, a chap who seemingly worships daily at the altar of attacking football, had improved our progress in the competition immeasurably these past couple of seasons, you?d have expected something far more satisfying to materialise from within the bounds of Victoria Park, wouldn?t you? Especially in the light of last-season?s thrilling FA Cup run, where we were squishing outfits of similar size to last night?s opposition just for fun. And we really could have done with the win, which would have instilled some much-needed confidence into those shell-shocked Prem rookies out there.

As I explained the other night, none of us actually went, but what this column and ?Im Indoors did instead was stick the Sky Sports football news thingy on the old PC via our spanking-new TV widgery-gadget ? Virgin, our main TV provider, dropped it from their package a couple of seasons back, and we just don?t rate Setanta - and had Radio WM?s commentary on as well. Between that little lot, one way or another, we managed to cobble together a reasonable idea of what was going on. Not being able to literally see events on the pitch unfold, or game-plans develop (or not, in our case!) is always a bit of an handicap for the reluctant armchair supporter to get around, too, so that?s where one?s imagination comes into play, of course. Plus the nagging thought on my part that dropping ? and smashing - a plate forming part of our best (and comparatively new, The Noise had got it for us from Wedgwoods? factory shop only late last season!) dinner-service, that very same morning, was one of them there ?omen? thingies!

So much for the preamble, now for some hard thoughts. Come the appointed time, ?Im Indoors shifted his carcass to the conservatory, which houses one of our PC?s, while I remained in our living-room, where the dulcet tones of Don Goodman, in his by-now-familiar role as ?expert commentator? for WM, issued forth from our TV set. Confusing? Not really - our cable TV providers also chuck in access to more radio stations than you can shake a stick at.

No more furious twisting of dials or pushing of buttons in a frantic search of the electromagnetic spectrum for the right station, no impatient twiddling of external aerials to get rid of static, or the mush generated by poor reception ? just input the right channel number into the old remote, and away you go. Or should have done. For some reason or other last night, the electronics wouldn?t accede to our request, and it didn?t half take an awful lot of basic Anglo-Saxon, coupled with a terrifying amount of button-pressing, on the part of my other half to make it see things our way, finally!

On paper at least (or on electron, if you want to get really picky with me), our starting line-up sounded a pretty decent mix of squad players and first-team regulars. So it was Dean Kiely between the sticks, Hoefkens, Barnett, Koren, Greening, Brunt, and Bednar, of the ?old guard?, then, plus newbies Meite, Cech, Valero, and returnee Luke Moore up front with the aforementioned Bednar. A 4-4-2 jobbie, quite a change from the 4-5-1 jobbies seemingly preferred for Premier League action. On the bench? Pele, McDonald, Beattie, Carson, Martis, Dorrans, and Slusarski. And, waiting patiently in the wings, a contingent of nearly 400 or so travelling Baggies. Much respect, chaps and chapesses: anyone who feels sufficiently motivated to go to such lengths to follow their side for a midweek game held in such a distant place, will always be all right by me.

Listening isn?t quite the same as being there, never has been, never will be, but the main impression I gleaned from the first 90 minutes was of a visiting side enjoying most of the play (over the game?s entirety, Albion had 53% of the play, with Hartlepool only able to secure 47%), but proving quite unable to transform that superiority into goals. A microcosm of what happened in our opening Premier League brace, I suppose. And history was to repeat itself in another way; ghastly defending proved our undoing, starting with Hartlepool?s 62 minute opener.

I?m afraid Barnett had a lot to answer for, here. Being seemingly lucky not to give away a penalty just two minutes before (the home crowd could quite clearly be heard baying for blood following our lad?s goalmouth challenge on their lad Brown, but the ref wasn?t having any of it) you would have thought the let-off would prove to be a marvellous aid to subsequent concentration, wouldn?t you?

Not the case, sadly. With about 90 seconds on the clock following the resumption of play after the incident previously mentioned, Mister Barnett, in possession at the back again, decided to engage in an impromptu session of transcendental meditation, with the ?Oom Mantra? featuring quite prominently. Well, that?s what it seemed to me, at the time. Hartlepool certainly didn?t mess about; just like a guided missile locked on to its target, Hartlepool?s Liddle roared in, dispossessing The Distracted One in a flash, then crossing for his chum Porter, not believing his luck, no doubt, to poke home their opener.

Infuriating? You can say that again, and not for the obvious reason, either. Early last season, I?d become pretty hacked off with Barnett?s seeming talent for causing defensive disaster whenever and wherever he played, and nobody was more delighted to find that as 2007-08 wore on, he?d seemingly calmed down a lot, and put that sort of sloppiness well behind him. A shame, then, to find that seeming improvement to be naught but a false dawn this time round.

Even more maddening was the fact that just before the first of the two game-defining events, the half-time introduction of Shergar to the fray, as replacement for Bednar (who was injured early on, so Mogga might have borne this in mind when weighing up the pros and cons of making the swap), had succeeded in putting the home side defence well and truly on the backpedal. They didn?t like his blistering pace, apparently, a fact that would have come as no surprise whatsoever to Hereford United supporters watching him during his short loan spell at Edgar Street last season. Six first-team goals in approximately a month isn?t bad going at any level.

And now he was doing the same thing to Hartlepool. In the space of twenty second-half minutes, sheer speed on his part had set up Moore and Koren respectively, the second a rebound after he?d almost hit the jackpot himself. On another occasion, it took sheer bravery on their part of their keeper to thwart Bednar, and not long after that, Moore was denied one, the shot blocked by a defender, with Koren?s attempt from the rebound seemingly ending up somewhere over the North Sea. And then came both their penalty shout and their goal.

With the clock ticking, and our lot unable to break down a home side who?d understandably put up the shutters, it seemed we were well and truly out on our ears. But just four minutes from the scheduled end of the game, salvation came, courtesy a spectacular-sounding Koren thunderbolt from the edge of the box, the culmination of quite an attacking spell from us. A bit harsh on ?Pools, who had grafted the whole length and breadth of the game, of course, but pleasing in the extreme for those who?d travelled all that way from West Bromwich.

When the additional thirty minutes got underway, it seemed that we?d use the time to grind down the home side, and ensure our passage to the next round that way. Penalties? I didn?t even want to go there! But all the indications were that spot-kicks wouldn?t be necessary; twice in the space of three minutes we managed to rattle their woodwork, courtesy Meite and Beattie, the latter being a scorcher from about 20 yards out. Even worse, Shergar, finding the goal at his mercy after getting the rebound from the Meite effort, completely screwed up his attempt to land the killer blow.

With so many copper-bottomed efforts incompetently spurned, you just knew we?d pay for it, in the end. And we did, and within a matter of a couple of minutes, too. Take one Hartlepool free-kick, add one pretty somnolent Baggies defence ? and what have you got? Yep, give the prize to the chap in the bondage trousers; with our lot seemingly wading through ice-cold treacle, the ball dropped to Foley, who screwed up the first attempt, but after getting the rebound, made no mistake.

By now, both of us were getting pretty ?radioactive?. And our tempers didn?t improve when we were denied in comic-book fashion, our equaliser denied by the ball hitting the post, whacking down onto the back of an opposition defender, then rolling harmlessly away. As Don Goodman commented, any other time, the ball would have hit his back and gone in ? but this wasn?t ?any other time?, this was us with our ?silly hats? on. And just to confirm my strong suspicions on that score, around a minute before the 15 minute break, Pools got another, a headed effort this time. Clearly ?game over?, and so it proved. The cats, fearing the worst, had already vacated our lounge, but they needn?t have worried. By then, both of us had become resigned to circumstances.

So, that?s us out of the League Cup, then. It might be for the best, I suppose, given we have other fish to fry at the moment. Like a certain Mister Megson, at the Reebok. There?s only a couple of survivors left of the side The Soup Dragon crafted ? Clem and later recruit Greening, I think ? but even if they were both thirsting for ginger-headed blood, I don?t suppose the others would consider that to be a priority. It?s points on the table that are.

The Chinese bloke we?re chasing, Zheng Zhi ? Charlton Athletic, his current club, seem to think he?ll be a Baggie within the next few days - may be a help: he can turn his hand to a striking role, should that prove necessary, apparently. Which, given the paucity of strikes coming from our ?regulars?, it sure as hell will. But more worrying still is the fact we still haven?t attracted ONE pukka striker to the club; with the clock running down fast to the closure of the transfer window, I find that disconcerting in the extreme. It?s Premier League Groundhog Day once more, Baggie people: 2002-03, 2004-05, 2005-06 ? here we go again.

COO, WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT? I?d always known that genetics could chuck some mighty strange quirks at the human race, but this one has to be the cotton? pickin? limit by a country mile. It appears that Usain Bolt, the Jamaican Olympic medalist who thrilled the nation by seemingly winning gold for fun, has a huge family in ? of all places ? Wolverhampton! Yep, genetics sure can be a peculiar thing at times ? and so too can improbable DNA mutations.

?BEEN THERE, DONE THAT? CORNER?. The groom and family who all wore Chelsea strips for their wedding, in Swindon ? the blushing bride wouldn?t play, apparently - and ended up with a couple of column inches in a national newspaper as a result. So you think that?s unusual, do you? Come up and see MY wedding piccies some time ? but be prepared to have your egos massively deflated. ?Im Indoors and this column did precisely the same thing, and more ? Albion-shirted bride, groom, best man, bridesmaids, with a reception at The Hawthorns in the evening, dress-code also Albion shirts ? just over 17 years ago. Had the ground been licensed to perform wedding ceremonies back then, that?s where we would have gone to tie the knot, and not the registry office. Oh, sorry, silly me, forgot to mention one other thing - the invites we put together ourselves, printed to look like a football programme!

 - Glynis Wright

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