The Diary

05 January 2009: Out-Poshed By The Posh?

I suppose that yesterday?s performance pretty much encapsulated the basic difference between Championship Albion, and its allegedly more opulent present incarnation ? or, if you want your blog-openers sweet and snappy, Peterborough, FA Cup 2008, and Peterborough, FA Cup 2009. Compare and contrast.

Not too difficult, is it? Around 12 calendar months ago, we had a free-spirited outfit that, in keeping with the philosophy of a bright young manager, truly entertained, and by dint of scoring goals largely for fun, or so it seemed to me at the time. Result? Last season, a thorough trouncing of the then 2nd. division side, and great fun watching our lot humble poor Posh on their own London Road territory.

Hell, we?d even put them to the sword 2-0 in the League Cup, too, and just to emphasise the relative difference between the two sides, at the second time of asking, we?d made a Posh recovery totally impossible by whacking them amidships with three goals in 15 minutes, and finishing with a Boro keeper suffering from severe backache sustained by having to fish no less that five successful efforts from the back of their net. Shock and awe made very, very large, not least because our victory was perpetrated upon a side riding proudly at the very top of their own heap, and thumping all-comers with monotonous regularity.

Now for the ?compare and contrast? bit, i.e. with yesterday?s fear-ridden, frost-bitten nervy performance, a game where Posh, after some glaring errors at the back early doors, suddenly latched on to the fact that we weren?t the all-devouring kings of the jungle we?d been back in the days when the name ?Kevin Phillips? was upon everyone?s lips, after all. A massive learning-curve from them followed quickly, one coupled with a seeming disinclination to get to proper grips with the game from us.

Result? A Premier League side very, very lucky to exit the field of play safe in the knowledge that they?d lived to fight another day: this may yet be a day of reckoning postponed for we Baggies, though: given the emergence of Posh as the more dangerous side by far, come those last furious, frenetic minutes, I strongly suspect that natural justice will prevail after all, come the replay.

Now for a public service message to members of our far-flung Baggie contingent reading this: if you?ve heard the 4th Round draw already, and are making plans right now to travel to Baggie-land for an Albion v Crystal Palace/Burnley clash, listen to your Great Auntie Glynis (vairy, vairy carefulleee: I shall say zis onlee vonce!) ? DON?T BOTHER! Go to B and Q instead, and buy some shocking-pink emulsion for the living-room, with a couple of tins of turquoise gloss for the kitchen. Install a Swedish sauna in your garden, so you can run around naked in the snow for a bit and give the neighbours something REALLY juicy to talk about for a change ? whatever. Spend the entire afternoon listening to Leonard Cohen tracks, if you really have to do something to get you in a similarly-suicidal frame of mind. Just forget about 4th Round day, ?cos it ain?t gonna happen! OK?

But yesterday wasn?t all bad. As ever, it?s Albion?s many, many supporters that make the whole exercise of supporting the Baggies a worthwhile one, overall. Take the chap who accosted us as we rounded the motorway island,. having parked our jam-jar quite close by. A former GD reader, he was, and clearly had some important information to impart.

? ?Ay yow tew ?eard abart the Blues-Wulves game, then?? ?Er ? no, we bain?t ? sorry ? ?haven?t???

?Thay?ve called it off, bay thay ? frozen pitch, or summat loike?.?

Wordlessly, we looked around us. Cold, yes ? bloody cold, in fact, as the mercury couldn?t even be arsed to climb above freezing, when we?d left our house. But the sun was shining ? or trying to ? and there was nary a drop of frost or snow to be seen anywhere. And they must have had undersoil heating at St. Andrews, surely? A pause, lasting but a few swift seconds from us ? then we both burst into peals of laughter! Truly, we mused, the words ?brewery? ?pee-up? and ?bottle-opener? were inextricably intertwined, as far as this game was concerned. In fact, my other half summed the situation up beautifully:

?Huh! Typical Blues, that ? no class!?

One quick thought apropos that inexplicable postponement: with the two participants (combatants?) in that tie being two neighbours not exactly noted for the intelligence of either set of followers, I did briefly wonder whether a ?raiding party?, very mindful indeed of the vastly-increased prices copper wiring is fetching as tat, these days, had gained entry under cover of darkness, then dug up the pitch in the furtherance of their nefarious ? but highly lucrative, no doubt ? deed. After such an embarrassment, it goes without saying that Blues would desperately need some ?smokescreen? or other, in order to hide their blushes.

David Gold: ?I know ? Let?s tell everybody the pitch is frozen, that?ll shut the sods up?.? I can almost hear the exchanges as I write!

Another thought occurred to us, upon hearing news of that postponement: would West Midlands Police still charge Blues for policing, irrespective of the fact the game had been called off? What with work rotas having to be drawn up well in advance, I suppose they could justify it, with a second stiffish dose to come on the night the game is actually played. Don?t mention the prospect of a replay to either side, mind; that would invoke yet another hefty policing bill, for the Dingles, this time!

But something even more hilarious was to follow, and shortly after we?d entered the Hawthorns pub, following a quick tootle into the Club Shop, to see what they had on offer in their sale. No sooner had we joined The Noise, Carly and Bethany (broken anatomical bit now well and truly mended, finally!) in their pre-match, start-of-transfer-window-musings, when an ear-splitting bellow of delight suddenly erupted from those supporters sitting nearer the big screen than we were. Wondering what the hell had rattled their cage, and looking up, we then saw the latest score from the Hartlepool-Stoke Cup tie ? 1-0 to the First Division side, later to become (and finish, of course) 2-0! Sod Richard Dawkins, now I know there really is a God!

Following the news item on Sky, I felt really sorry for those Walsall supporters who?d made the long trek to Carlisle to see their favourites in action: that one was only called off following a pitch inspection at ONE IN THE AFTERNOON! Given that any 7 year-old of reasonable intelligence can read and interpret correctly one of those little charts that give journey times between major towns and cities in this country, surely it wouldn?t have been too difficult to get a local referee to make a pronouncement on the state of Carlisle?s pitch BEFORE those Saddlers fans set out to make their marathon trek northwards?

Mind you, talking about ?embarrassment? - after all the hilarity from hubby following my recent combustible exploits with a hot frying-pan and a quantity of red wine, the pub became the venue for my revenge. How come? Easy. One of the Christmas presents I purchased for my acutely-culinary-inclined beloved happened to be a huge book containing a complete Delia Smith cookery course, the idea being that he could take on board all the correct cookery terms, theory etc. while rustling up some lovely scrummy food, at the same time. After all, you can?t go wrong with Delia, can you?

Er ? wrong! I first suspected something was amiss when my beloved, who had been slaving over a hot kitchen sink putting together some kind of leek and egg concoction, in cheese sauce, entered our living-room, and enquired what ?simmer? meant, so I told him ? a low, gentle boil as opposed to a massive, rolling one.

?Er ? what are you trying to cook?? said I, suspicion gradually mounting in my head.

?Well, in the book, it says ?simmer eggs for 7 minutes?, but does that mean I have to boil them first??

You didn?t need to be Einstein to work out what had gone wrong?. Sure enough, when I broke open one of the eggs, still in its shell, a clear white told me that the eggs hadn?t even boiled yet. Turned out, hubby hadn?t realised that to get eggs to the ?simmer? stage, you needed to get ?em to boiling-point first! He blames Delia?s instructions ? ?Well, she doesn?t say ANYTHING about boiling them, does she?? ? and I blame ?typical bloke syndrome?, the same malady that prevents blokes asking locals the way when ?geographically embarrassed?.

And also makes male brains refuse point-blank to function when following instructions, it would seem: as I gently pointed out to my beloved afterwards, it WAS a cookery course, and just like any textbook, had he looked at the start of the relevant chapter, or in the index, even, all would have been revealed! Hell, he could even have asked me: a secret society, I am not. Anyway, I can now consider the whole affair to be a 1-1 draw, considering the huge amount of mirth he derived from my own bijou culinary mishap, a few short weeks ago!

But in the midst of all this hilarity, spare a passing thought for The Noise, who could well be out of a job before too long. As you may know already, he works for Wedgwoods? pottery firm; well over 200 years old, but likely to collapse in a financially-embarrassed heap very soon, unless someone can find a suitable buyer. And even if someone can be found to put together a rescue package, it?s still likely to mean the loss of loads of jobs: taking the bulk of the work to Indonesia, where a substantial amount?s outsourced already, apparently. And with one teenager to support, still, a drastic drop in income would be about as popular with the Lewis family as a fortnight?s sojourn spent in Wolverhampton.

But on with the game?? As I pointed out in my pre-match preamble, the other day, had we played this tie just three or four weeks ago, Posh would have stomped all over us, but buoyed up by a couple of important home wins, my reasoning now led me to believe that the all-important factor, confidence, might be present in significantly more abundant quantities, right now. As I said to my beloved, pre-kick-off, the important thing was to get on the scoresheet early, before Posh had sufficient time to properly adjust to our place, and before our own people, nursing high expectation, and possibly seeing them thwarted, started to get on the players? backs.

And, to be fair, despite the miscellaneous bunglings of our near-neighbours, the weather really was typical British winter stuff: cloudless sky, biting cold, slight breeze, sending the steamy fug of thousands of tightly-packed bodies soaring aloft, and gently wafting tantalising scents of hot Bovril and steak-and-kidney pie past our food-deprived olfactory organs: in short, the sort of Third Round day conditions I remembered from the sixties, my own generation?s Cup high-point. And no ? I don?t miss the various downwards trickles of urine in close proximity to my youthful feet, one little bit. There?s ?nostalgia?, and there?s nostalgia: that particular sort I can well do without! Mogga, keeping to his pre-match promise of fielding a relatively strong side, brought in the now-fit Koren and Hoefkens for injured duo Morrison and Zuiverloon. And, as expected, our new lad, Jay Simpson, remained our ?secret weapon? on the bench.

As far as Posh were concerned, they?d got a six-pointer with MK Dons coming up, so they rested Tommy Williams, who had a dodgy knee anyway: Posh weren?t sure the offending joint would hold up in the face of a two-pronged matchday assault. Another change: Gabriel Zakuani flapping angelic wings wonderfully in their rearguard (well, it is that time of year for celebrating the Biblical halo-wearer?s miraculous impregnation of the Virgin Mary, isn?t it?), after being hors de combat (with Satan, perhaps?), and his replacement, Charlie Lee, being given another first-team role instead.

But the thing that impressed me most about Posh was the sheer size of their following, but one niggly little thought still bothers me, viz; why did we give them the whole of the Smethwick to play in? After all, that?s the end that seems to be making the most of the old vocals these days, consequently it makes absolutely no sense to me to completely wreck what semblance of an atmosphere we had already by splitting all the singers up, and scattering them to all four corners of the ground. Possibly explains why Mogga?s post-match comments included those about the relatively low noise level in the stadium during the game ? well, with a few honourable exceptions, mostly among those few brave souls trying like stink to get something going, that is.

To be absolutely fair to our finest, during the opening minutes, we came about as close as we could come to completely spoiling their travelling faithful?s day for them. With but a few minutes on the clock, Chris Brunt let fly with an Exocet-imitation of a free-kick that, if nothing else, had those standing in the wall fearfully wondering about the incipient loss of their manhood. Ouch! And Mister Brunt played a starring role in our next assaults upon the slightly wobbly Posh defensive fortress, the first ending up in Row Z, and the second, which their keeper failed to deal with properly, zinging just wide.

Posh weathered this severe battering for about 20 minutes then, realising our main armament lacked real punch, started to take the game to us instead, courtesy their lad Mackail-Smith, who first led our defence a merry jig indeed before letting rip inside our box ? thankfully, it was the crossbar, and not the back of the net, his laudable attempt met with upon reaching its destination.

And, not long after that, we had to really battle to defend around four corner-kicks from Posh. And yes, we did try to break up their incursions by attempting to hit them on the break, but to my mind, our tactics were very much one-dimensional in character in that respect. Yes, there is a certain directness in hitting long balls three quarters of the length of the pitch, but if you?re a First Division high-flyer, such aerial irritations are but a mere bagatelle, aren?t they?

No surprise, then, when Carson had to pull off one of his ?spectaculars? to deny Posh the pleasure of opening the scoring: I?ve since discovered that the lad giving Carson the bother rejoices in the truly splendid name of Chris Whelpdale! Conjures up images of serious dog-breeding, that, viz: ?Ooooh, you ought to come and see my new Whelpdale terrier, champion of Crufts, she was; had her served the other week, had the scan done, and the vet says there?ll be ten puppies coming from the old gel?.. Loadsamoney!?

Ahem! Sorry, back to the game. A smidgen of excitement just before the break, when the lad Valero nearly broke the deadlock with a header that his Posh defending opposite number could only shift inches away from the post. From that a corner resulted, over came the bladder, but I can only assume that Koren had his mind far away from the Hawthorns, given that his goalward effort only had the effect of putting some in the Smethwick fearful for their own safety.

Mind you, Whelpdale The Dog-Man could have landed us well and truly in the doghouse with what proved to be about the last kick of the half: away went the ball, from his boot, Carson went to grab the thing ? only to see it sneakily slither away from his grasp! Hooray for instinct: no sooner had realisation struck, out went those massive paws again, to do the job properly, this time. Hell, he doesn?t half seem to do that a lot, sometimes. Has he got a bet on with somebody, revolving around the number of times he can do it, without his own team-mates giving him a verbal what-for?

And so we came to the break, and with it, the realisation that without the constant vocal wit of Mister Homer assailing our eardrums, our little section of the Halfords Lane Stand was a dull place indeed. It?s true what the old Joni Mitchell environmental protest song says: ?You don?t know what you?ve got ?till it?s gone?.?, and all we could see was a bald-headed-bloke-shaped gap where the lad normally sits.

But we weren?t to be deprived of his dulcet tones for very long. Remember how I?d said, last home game, both he and his good lady wife were going to said wife?s daughter?s wedding that day, but John had reckoned he could still get back before the start of the second half? Amazingly enough, that?s precisely how it panned out ? but with one major difference: he was in the ground no less than 20 minutes after the kick-off, but in a different part for the first half! No wonder my incredulous query of: ?What the hell did you use, John? Bloody Concorde?? when the lad finally did show up, around halfway through the second: not in his own seat, ?tis true, but certainly at the end of his normal row.

Clearly our considered opinion of Mr. Koren?s efforts must have more or less matched our gaffer?s, because prior to the restart, up went the fourth official?s board, and on came our new boy, Jay Simpson ? absolutely NO relation to former American football star-turned-B-list-actor (and recent convicted criminal!) of similar name, I hasten to assure you ? in place of the aforementioned underachieving Baggie. And, I?ll tell you what, for a while, at least, his appearance seemed to put new life into our flagging troops.

The problem with Posh was that during that sometimes fraught first half, their attackers had found a hole the size of the Grand Canyon on the left flank, then simply exploited it for all it was worth. To say we looked ?vulnerable?, at times, would be a mastery of understatement on my part, for sure. Now we had Simpson on, because he was very much an unknown quantity to them, his presence opened up several more exploitable avenues of attack for us.

The first intimations of Albion superiority came about 15 minutes into the half; poor Luke Moore, there he was, the ball at his feet and, thanks to some excellent ball wizardry on his part, right inside the visitors? box, but just as he was about to pull the trigger?. Oh, whoops! Literally ? having seen the ghost of the King temporarily loosen its unearthly hold upon his brain, the spirit that took over was one more closely related to Coco The Clown, I reckon. One loss of balance and spectacular pratfall later, there was Posh keeper Lewis with the ball safely within his grasp, and our hero still wondering what the hell had gone wrong.

By then, it was fair to say that the Posh keeper was their sole means of keeping them in the game, still. The phrase ?playing out of his skin? doesn?t nearly do him justice; after his denial of Luke Moore, he then went on to repulse a Greening effort, closely followed by the one that had the entire Brummie thinking the ball had somehow snuck over the line ? but hadn?t, as it turned out. Foiled again, ball dead on line, not over!

Well, that was the ref?s interpretation of events, and to be fair, we were seated way too distant to make a reasonable call, either way. What with having to repulse several more goal attempts courtesy other Baggies players as well, I reckon the lad Lewis certainly earned his coin for Posh that bitterly cold afternoon.

Now we had a real sense that our lot had finally taken this game by the scruff of the neck, and a goal wouldn?t be long in coming. And so it came to pass that about 20 minutes into the second sitting, Olsson, latching onto a Greening corner, finally managed to arrange a rendezvous of nut with ball close to the Posh goalmouth. In it went ? and finally, we were cooking on gas!

Or were we? As seems to be usual, these days, putting our noses in front had the effect of inducing spasmodic bouts of panic-stricken defending from our finest. Not so much ?talking ourselves into a crisis?, but defending as if one had suddenly popped into view, from nowhere, in fact. Result? The reappearance of the gurt great gap on the left flank that plagued us so horribly for most of the first 45, and Posh, sensing renewed vulnerability on our part, hammering at it for all they were worth. Yes, I know what Mogga had to say about it, post-match, but I just can?t see eye to eye with his assessment of the situation. Posh, with sod-all to lose, simply turned up the wick, and we lost concentration.

And, I hate to say it again, but had this game taken place 12 months ago, we would have wiped them off the face of the earth by that stage in the proceedings. Combine inability to lethally twist the bayonet whilst inside an enemy body with a seemingly hormonal response to increased pressure from the visitors, and what you get is a late, late equaliser. Simple, isn?t it? And once more, this was the result of a hammering from the flank, the right one, this time; over went the cross, tremulous and indecisive was the defensive response, so it really wasn?t all that much trouble for Mackail-Smith to pot the black from point-blank range.

And, in the dying seconds of the game, they could so easily have won it, the same perpetrator of the damage that led to their equaliser, Mclean, setting up Keates for what they?d fervently hoped would be the coup de grace ? just as well for our beaten custodian that the effort flashed just wide of the post. And, to be fair, so could we ? but no prizes for guessing who stopped us in our tracks!

Once again, we made our post-match trudge along the Brummie, in the West Bromwich direction, our breath practically freezing in the twilight sub-zero chill. And again, what a different atmosphere to the last time we?d gone that way, post-final whistle. Many gloomy mutterings from clearly disgruntled supporters, many of them liberally laced with the word ?crap?, plus other sundry blasphemies, not to mention various descriptions made in terms of gross sexual perversions on the part of the errant players concerned.

I think I?ll leave Mogga?s post-match summary, typically honest, as ever, to provide the basis for my parting thoughts: ?Peterborough worked hard throughout the game, so good luck to them... Their goal came very late, and I had to admit, I couldn?t see them scoring the way it was going. (GLYNISNOTE: Couldn?t he? We certainly could, and had only just finished discussing that very same possibility, when it actually happened!)?

?But they earned the replay, and it will be just as difficult for us down there. (But we have some important league games before the replay...? (GLYNISNOTE: Understatement of the year, that, on both counts!...)

It?ll take all of Mogga?s renowned man-management skills to retrieve this one from the flames, come the replay, I suspect. Assuming he wants to, of course. Oh well ? at least we?ll enjoy the break on 4th Round day. And in any case, the prospect of either Palace or Burnley (the Beast, lovely man that he is, is always welcome, though!) visiting our place isn?t exactly an open invitation for slinging great quantities of combative hormones around the old arteries and veins, is it?

Oh, dear ? the power of Sutton Branch?s ?Aitch? (and chum) to influence the course of a game in our favour by leaving early is definitely on the wane! Having seen us take the lead, ?yer man? was seen by this column leaving the ground with more than 10 minutes still remaining until the end. For the last two ?homes?, this has served as an indicator of eventual success ? see the lad leave, and the points would come to the Hawthorns, like a pup to its dinner ? but, no more! Aitch?s winning streak is now in tatters ? woe, woe and thrice woe!

Now here?s a topical thought.... Spotted news item headline while penning this piece: ?Ladies Game Called Off...? They surely couldn?t have been banging on about that postponed Blues-Wulves game, could they?

 - Glynis Wright

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