The Diary

29 December 2008: Albion 2 Spurs 0 - The Great Escape Mark Two Begins Here?

So how was Christmas for you, then? Sleigh bells, carols, twinkly lights, Santa, even? At the very least, it can no longer be said, with proper justification, that festive seasonal Albion-watching merits the title ?boring?. By anyone?s lights, six points out of a possible nine ain?t bad at all. And, as far as this column?s concerned, an enthusiasm-reviver of great efficacy, given my distinctly doom-laden state of mind previously.

In case you?re wondering what happened to my usual stuff over the course of the last few days, the plain truth was that I simply couldn?t drum up the necessary effort to chronicle what I?d quite reasonably assumed to be a succession of additional nails banged into our metaphorical Premier League coffin.

Let?s face it, the bases were fully loaded well before the day of that Chelsea fixture, so it didn?t need the services of a clairvoyant to work out what the final outcome would be, did it? About as much chance of us beating Chelsea as that of the Queen being spotted swilling a succession of pints in our local over the road, the King Edward the 7th.

And in any case, multitudinous other seasonal demands overruled comment on a game I?d not even attended (well, with Stamford Bridge prices at 48 quid a pop, then coach/car/food/drink etc. expenses to find on top, doing a ?refusenik? didn?t really entail a great deal of mental effort on my part: a viewpoint clearly felt by many others, hence only 800 Baggies present in that away end on Boxing Day). So now you know why no postings.

At least our sterling efforts versus Spurs, yesterday, had the effect, upon this column, of an electric shock of savage voltage applied straight through both lugholes! Tantalising, isn?t it? From being complete and utter ?no-hopers?, just 14 or so days before, we?re now looking at a possible future scenario whereby all might not be lost after all. But let?s not count our chickens prematurely: two festive period home wins do not a successful revival make, just the slender hope of one. But at least it?s a start.

Now for yesterday?s Baggies-related events. In complete and utter contrast to the Stamford Bridge Boxing Day caper, this one against Spurs harboured far more realistic prospects of gleaning rich pickings, come the end of our 90-minute footie ration. Harry Redknapp?s Spurs, hovering dangerously near the drop zone, seemed to be talking themselves into a crisis, creating one that wasn?t really there, whereas we had sod-all to lose by going at ?em with everything we had. And, of course, overcoming the Londoners constituted a pretty stern test of our collective resolve to get out of this mess before the May axe swung for the final time.

And so it came to pass that a mere three days after Mary and Joseph?s Bethlehem gig, we found ourselves lolloping along the M5 northbound carriageway at a rate of knots, Hawthorns bound, once more. Traffic? What traffic? Whatever else contrived to affect our football club that afternoon, thanks to the insulating effect of three or four thick layers, plus my (zip now replaced by one much more user-friendly, thank goodness!) normal Albion bench coat, at least I wouldn?t get hypothermia, and given the ambient temperature was around 3 or so above freezing at the time, that was a distinct possibility, believe you me.

As for my other half, his cold-weather attire would have sufficed admirably, had it not been for his latest purchase, a particularly classy pair of denim jeans, lacking in one essential item ? a fly that zipped up, as opposed to buttoned up. The latter arrangement, while possessing considerable authenticity (denim clothing being de rigeur for early 1900?s Yank cattle-drovers and the like), badly lacked insulating properties, so what you had instead was an awfully nasty draught swirling around a very sensitive bit of anatomy indeed. Not recommended in temperatures like those of yesterday. Unless you aspire to become a ?Tiny Tim? impersonator, of course!

On entering the Hawthorns pub, finally, we found it to be very sparsely occupied indeed. Making most of the noise, was that big TV screen, the one that gave our ears such awful grief pre-Man City. But the air of serene solitude didn?t last; very soon we could hear a very familiar set of voices, rapidly rising to conversational crescendo, as they both passed the pub portals. High time to make sufficient room for The Noise And Daughter, then.

Again, no Bethany; now without a plaster cast, but still not sufficiently confident to mingle with matchday crowds. It?s easy to see why ? even having a limb in plaster for a short time has the effect of causing muscles to waste, which means that some find temporary difficulty walking once the cast?s been shed for good. But she?s getting there, gradually; as I pointed out to The Noise, the more she walks, the stronger her leg muscles become.

Madam? She was full of the teenage joys of being at her place of work on Christmas Day ? but on the other side of the counter, for a change. Rather than spend the day with either lot of in-laws, they?d booked the entire family group in at Carly?s place of daily labour instead. Hell, that must have been a challenge of monumental proportions for any waitress, trying to cut through all the swathes of Lewis non-stop chatter, so as to come up with some semblance of an order from their table.

As for Carly?s vehicle, the one she?s supposed to be learning to drive in, I now gather it?s being put to alternative use; that of general meeting-place for all her social circle. Apparently, what they do is rev the engine a bit to titivate all the bits uinder the bonnet, turn the heating on, then natter away to their heart?s content. Proper lessons are still to be organized, apparently. Now tell me again, please ? precisely what are cars meant to do?

The conversation then widened to embrace the numerous rumours flying around the place regarding transfer possibilities, come the New Year. The Noise is currently rooting for The Arse?s Jay Simpson to make tracks up the M1 to our place, which would be quite splendiferous, were it to happen. The lad?s theory is that clubs of similar status should be beating a path to our door in a bid to offload their fringe players for a loan spell; given Mogga?s overriding ethos of attractive, entertaining football, how could they lose?

We were also wondering whether or not Mogga might play ball with Sheffield Wednesday, given they badly want to retain the services of an on-loan Slusarski. As the word on the streets seems to be one of ?sell to buy?, right now, a successful transaction would free up at least some cash for bigger captures on our part. One major source of mutual depression on our table ? The Fart had arrived by then ? was that of Villa?s currently rampant form, not to mention that of their manager, Martin O?Neill, who seems to have imbibed from a golden chalice, of late. With their speed on the flanks, we were in universal agreement that the day would most likely end in tears.

After hobnobbing with the residents of Anorak Corner at some length, on our way to our normal turnstile, we happened to bump into the former Stroller-turned-players-entrance-steward I?d mentioned before. And well brassed off he was, the reason being what he, among others, regarded as a virtual throwing in of the towel by Mogga before the Chelsea game even took place.

Well, that?s how the lad interpreted our team changes prior to the start. And he was probably right, given that those rested were our key performers ? ?Disgusting? was his summation of what came to be, but given the poor away attendance (800), others, myself included, might have felt the decision to be a pragmatic one, and voted with their feet. The lack of public transport to the Hawthorns and Chelsea?s pricing system might have had something to do with it as well!

But back to the game?? As both sides exited the players tunnel, one individual in particular suddenly swam into my field of vision, and wearing a Spurs shirt numbered 32. Now comes the difficulty: how the hell do you describe someone possessing a hairstyle like the one he?d got? For starters, had I not known better, I would have sworn blind that Mr. Benoit Assou-Ekotto (that?s his full name, honest!) laboured under the affliction commonly known as ?water on the brain?, or in medic-speak, hydrocephalus.

You think I?m joking? Such was the sheer width of the thing, it had the curious effect of throwing his head completely out of proportion with the rest of his body, an optical illusion not helped by the wearer?s seeming predilection for blonde highlights, strewn in apparently festive tinsel fashion, all around the base. Anyone else would have been rushing to sue their stylist, if only for offences contrary to good style and fashion discipline.

Or is it just that in certain areas of London, even the merest smidgen of a ?celebrity clientelle? immediately confers quasi-star status upon the pee-taking (but now very wealthy indeed, thank you very much!) crimper concerned? But we Black Country fashion-illiterates still ended up having the last laugh, as will be shown shortly. One thing did surprise me, though: the surprising number of away supporters in the Smethwick. Given the time of year, and what their regulars might have perceived to be unattractive opposition, I would have thought their numbers to be markedly reduced, but not so, it would seem.

Team changes and all stations west? No great surprise to see those of the usual suspects available, up and running again for this one; as I said earlier, there?s a time to deploy the heavy armour, and yet another to leave it safely back behind the line. And, we also had personnel out for reasons such as suspension and injury. So, it was with all that in mind we saw the return of Messrs. Cech, Barnett, Valero and Moore and Bednar in a straight swap for the suspended Robbo, and Meite, Koren, Beattie and Kim, the latter two relegated to the bench. By way of contrast, Harry Redknapp made but two changes to his line-up, Jenas and Woodgate swapping with Huddlestone and King.

What with the bitter cold, enthusiastic noises coming from both sets of supporters, and everything, the atmosphere was certainly a salutary reminder of how Christmas games used to be; the only thing lacking was a pitch that bore more resemblance to that of a newly-ploughed field than the pristine green swarth of a top-flight outfit, but we?ve come a mighty long way since then, haven?t we, children?

So, away we went, then ? to a start I can only describe as ?sluggish?, as if the majority of Mogga?s merry men had partaken of a stiffish dose of Mogadon prior to leaving the dressing-room. Even John Homer was late getting to his seat; some pre-match comment undertaken for a commercial radio station being the cause of the delay, apparently. Or had he swigged from the same soporific bottle as his blue-and-white striped favourites, I wondered?

Another descriptor you might want to apply to the opening minutes of this fixture is ?cagey? ? and when you look at the League positions of both sides prior to kick-off (Albion rock-bottom and five points adrift from safety, and Spurs fifth from bottom) you rapidly begin to appreciate why. Our first meaningful goal attempt didn?t happen until about 7 minutes had elapsed, and another 7 were to pass before we gave the opposition more than a little worry, courtesy a Valero free-kick taken quite near the edge of the danger-zone.

Scenting blood, the Smethwick then burst into a lusty rendition of ?We Are Albion, Say We Are Albion!?

Said I, wearily: ?Well, SOMEONE?S got to be?.?

As for the visitors, finding themselves somewhat taken aback by our commitment to the cause, they clearly decided to ?Out-Stoke-City? us. Result? Some pretty rough tackles, leavened by as neat a bit of time-wasting and gamesmanship as you?d find conducted by the true masters of those ink-black Potteries arts. In short, Pulis would have loved it ? which is more than can be said for the conduct of his ?main man? at West Ham yesterday! Well, I ask you, Fuller sent off for thumping his own team captain. How so typically ?Stoke City?; in fact, you might want to regard such incidents as their ?signature dish?.

Now where was I? Oh, yeah?. As I said, they?d now reverted to Pulis-type tactics, hence the award of a free-kick that would have earned the perpetrator an immediate BAFTA, had any of the adjudicators been at yesterday?s game. As you?d expect, a great curtain of red mist suddenly descended in front of John eyes, hence his quick-fire, earth-shattering comment of ?Bluddy Tanner! (the ref) ? Fahnd ?im in a cowin? pudden, day thay??

But the highlight of what had been, until then, an affair heavily tinged with fear, had to be the red-carding of the aforementioned Benoit Assou-Ekotto, all three of them, for a nasty challenge on our lad Zuiverloon. Watching the incident on Match of The Day that evening, I did wonder whether the dismissal was a justifiable one - but hey! I?ll take my luck from whatever source it chooses to manifest itself, even one with a coiffure as weird as THAT! My suspicions are that the charge-sheet will include the phrase ?dubious hairdressing? somewhere, and given the startling effect it had on me, I wouldn?t have blamed Mr. Tanner in the slightest!

With our somewhat disproportioned chum finally gone, you would have thought we?d manage to press home the numerical advantage ? but we didn?t. Spurs, although depleted in numbers, were still doing their level best to spoil our day; as I said before, you don?t have to be a Tony Pulis to play it like Stoke.

A particularly exasperating variation upon this unsavoury theme consisted of having one bloke fall down as if shot whenever we tried to make rapid progress on the flanks ? and the ref fell for it every time. On came their physio, and within seconds, yet another miracle cure was enacted! With a success rate like that, perhaps the NHS could have found gainful employment for the guy.

And so we proceed to the second half ? and within a couple of minutes of the restart, only a piece of top-notch custodial work by Gomez prevented Chris Brunt appending his name to an absolute scorcher of a free-kick. Just minutes later, Zuiverloon was to see the Spurs keeper deal with his effort in similar fashion, as well.

After the excellent Brunt was replaced by Graham Dorrens, the Smethwick, sensing a move into higher gear, turned up the wick also, with constant (and drummed) chants of ?Tony Mowbray?s Barmy Army? interspersed with choruses (from both factions, for obvious reasons, of: ?When The Stripes (or Spurs) Go Marching In..? Mogga, also sensing the imminence of a breakthrough, decided to ring the changes once more, Hoefkens for Zuiverloon.

Just a few minutes after that, Spurs also decided to change things, so off ran the lad Bale to great cries of ?WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY!? from the Smethwick. Oh dear. Furthermore, so unamused was referee Tanner by their gamesmanship, come the one occasion when Spurs did appear to have a good case for a genuine penalty, our tame whistler affected total disinterest in their raucous claims for one.

As the match progressed, save for a couple of hairy moments, so did the likelihood of Albion scoring increase. Justice was finally done when Roman Bednar finally headed past the Tottenham keeper with about nine to go to the end. Whoopee!

Mind you, after watching MOTD, a smidgen of doubt did enter my brain as to the legality of the goal ? that did look like one almighty shove on the Spurs defender as our hero rose to meet the ball with his nut - but what the hell. We?ve been screwed by others in this league countless numbers of times before, so it?s about time the percentages started to turn our way, for once.

Better still was the stoppage-time consequence of Harry?s men trying to push up for the late equaliser i.e. getting caught out completely at the back, letting our people in for something they?d threatened to do before, a complete overwhelming of their defence. A Cech pass to Morrison provided the cue for what amounted to a ?cavalry charge? upon the Spurs net. Down the left he went, then laid it off for Beattie, completely unmarked, with the keeper drawn right out of it, to the right. There only remained the simple task of tapping the ball the short distance over the line; as he did so, the place completely erupted!

Time for a jubilant rendition of our usual celebratory ditty, ?The Lord?s My Shepherd? of course, but there was more. Yesterday saw the ?birth? of what might, just might, become a familiar theme song for both club and supporters over the weeks and months to come, viz: ?WE?VE DONE IT ONCE, AND WE?LL DO IT AGAIN!....?

But let?s do a quick reality check. Despite that win, despite Blackburn slipping up versus Man City, we?re still firmly rooted to the bottom. And, with the FA Cup providing the interlude before we resume business once more, it remains to be seen whether or not what we?re seeing is a false dawn. After Peterborough comes the real test of our resolve Villa, at their place, Survive that with a point or better lodged in our account, and we?ll certainly be cooking on gas. Then comes Boro, at our place, a side that are equally mired in the smelly stuff, and therefore realistically beatable. Man United? Come on, you think I?m THAT daft? But get something from both Villa and Boro, and I just might start to get sufficiently excited by the prospect of an awayaday to Hull City, come the last day of the month.

An awful lot will depend upon what comes our way via the transfer window. Or, as happened the last time we swam in such exalted waters, NOT. We supporter ?cannon-fodder? can see quite clearly what deficiencies need rectification, so it shouldn?t be a task demanding A Level standards of knowledge for our chairman to at least try to address the matter successfully. I reckon the next few weeks will turn out to be diagnostic.

All together, now?. ?WE CAN SEE YOU SNEAKING OUT?..? Nothing to do with the away support, just the fact that, once more, we spotted the premature exit of the elderly Sutton Branch chappie known to all and sundry as ?H? from the Halfords Lane Stand. Talk about ?bad timing? ? when he left this time round, the score still stood goalless. Within but a minute or so of watching him disappear from view, Bednar had netted, and not very long after that, so did Beattie!

That?s two home games on the bounce that the lad must have had one hell of a shock on getting to his car, then switching on the radio. Mind you, if our elderly chum suddenly decides to opt for staying until the final whistle, could it be that this will then exert a NEGATIVE effect on the side, so our lad will then have to start leaving early again, so?..? Ooh, makes me go all giddy, thinking about the distinctly circular train of thought that would entail!

How Art Can Imitate Life: Lesson One?. The Noise, on his Play Station (loaded with a football-simulator game, natch!) Clean through on goal, miss?. Clean through on goal, miss?. Clean through on goal, miss?.

After this had happened several times on the bounce, up piped a frankly disbelieving Carly: ?It?s just like watching West Brom, this!....?

Oh, dear. Talk about trying to block out unpleasant events? That?s what I certainly did, when we played Chelsea. Come the evening, I had wanted to watch Match Of The Day, if only to ascertain what went wrong ? but I didn?t. How come? Not through want of moral courage on my part; so much was I in the warm embrace of Morpheus, I was not to be aroused under any circumstances, including that of being prodded quite heavily by my other half, so completely slept through the entire thing!

Yet more matchday giggles derived from the doings of a certain Mr. Homer ? though not those of the usual referee/lino-baiting kind, for once! Apparently, Jean Homer?s daughter will be tying the knot on the day of the Peterborough game, which means that Jean won?t be in attendance.

But there?s more?. By now you?re probably wondering why either Jean or John hadn?t tipped off the bride already ? but there?s the rub. Apparently, Daughter HAD consulted the fixtures before booking church, caterers, bridal wear stores, formal dress-hire shops, etc. but this Saturday being Third Round day, nothing whatsoever was shown in the list she?d seen, so not being in the slightest bit interested in the beautiful game, she?d naturally assumed it to be a free weekend. (GLYNISNOTE: Had she been looking to tie the knot on FOURTH ROUND day, she might well have got it right!)

Result? Following the service, John?s speech at the reception promises to be the fastest ever delivered in the entire history of nuptial gatherings! The way he?s planned everything, our bespectacled Black Country hero anticipates arriving at The Shrine nicely in time for the start of the second half!

 - Glynis Wright

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