The Diary

18 January 2009: Battered Boro Slide Deeper Into The Murk Following A Well-Executed Albion Triple-Whammy.

Wow ? what a game that was. One of the best performances I?ve seen from us this season, and quite remarkable, insofar as we added something distinctly lacking in our armoury before, a little bit of ?snap and bite? to our play. Nowhere near the sheer nastiness of Mister Pulis?s heavy mob, of course, but for a first attempt, it wasn?t bad at all.

Yet still good entertainment value; you?d have to be completely brain-dead not to be left sitting on the edge of your seat and shredding your nails, with the sheer intensity of it all. And there?s a nice psychological boost in its wake ? we?re off the bottom, if only for 24 hours. Spurs and fellow-strugglers Pompey lock horns later today ? there?ll certainly be blood and snot flowing in quantity for that one ? but whatever happens there, it?s a start.

And well done to Mister Fortune, for looking into his little crystal ball, and coming up with nowt but bad karma for Gareth Southgate and his molecularly-endowed charges. Oh, and while we?re on the subject of Southgate, despite all our helpful suggestions to the Boro board about giving that gentleman his P45 within the next 24 hours, that?s the very last thing we want. Full explanation in my previous post, in case you hadn?t sussed it already.

But on with the show, which started, for my other half, at least, with a visit to the compost heap in his mother?s garden. No, not to chuck himself on it, but to offload some very smelly vegetable waste, formerly sitting in stately decompose in a plastic bag we keep in our kitchen for such things, now very hastily ditched, as the damn thing was stinking the place out.

The clincher, for me, was two days previously, when I hastily grabbed my shopping bag from the same cupboard before departure on a mission of essential monetary consumption ? and smelt the ghastly aroma whilst on the bus. No wonder I was getting strange looks from my fellow passengers ? but no more! The cupboard?s noisome organic contents have now been consigned to Norm?s (equally-antisocial) heap, and not before time, say I. And did ?Im Indoors hear a distinct ?burp? the moment he added the stuff to the maw? Wouldn?t surprise me in the least, having suspected for a very long time that it was, indeed, a sentient organism, and not just a heap of you-know-what.

By the time we got to the ground, it was bathed in brilliant sunshine ? but our main mission wasn?t in the pub. Nope ? what we needed to do was book tickets for the Hull game; because of everything that was happening to my family over the course of the last few days, and one thing or another, we?d left it a tad late ? but even so, we were absolutely dumbfounded when the lady behind the counter told us the whole lot were sold out!

What made the crucial difference, apparently, was the fact that our club had only 1,600 or so in their possession in the first place (normally, Hull give us around 3,000), and those few had gone like hot cakes, unsurprisingly. So if anyone reading this can help (we were on a promise to The Fart to sort out his requirements, but couldn?t: unsurprisingly, he wasn?t best pleased when we somewhat sheepishly confessed our sins in the pub, later!), we?d be infinitely and eternally in your debt.

The best bit, though, was the stilt-walker parading outside the shop extolling the virtues of Thomas Cook Holidays from 12-plus feet in the air ? and, I must say, doing it very well indeed. Hell, when was the last time you ever saw a stilt-walker RUN? This guy did, as if he?d been born to the skill, I have to say ? hence Dee?s somewhat disparaging comment (she was lurking outside her normal place of work for some reason or other): ?Huh ? Peter Crouch?s brother!? Superb, Dee ? who?s your scriptwriter?

A bit of a disastrous start, really, the only good news of the day being my latest online assessment results from the OU, 79%. Wow. Came as a bit of a shock, that, considering I?d completely crashed and burned on the first two questions. But that wasn?t much of a help when it came to finding Hull tickets, was it? Oh, well ? time to grab that all-essential pre-match drink, which I suppose, constitutes a somewhat tenuous connection to the module I?d just finished, all about alcohol, and what the naughty stuff can do to your body if you imbibe too much. But I?m sure you?re all very good Baggies, and don?t need to know.

As per usual, there was the Noise, but reposing in a slightly different spot to the usual; being early, they?d managed to lay claim to a couple of sofas for our crowd, which was much appreciated by this column. Apparently, The Noise?s job at Wedgwood?s is still hanging by a thread; over half the workforce have already gone, leaving a small rump, of which our chum is a part, on their books, still. And the manner of their telling, effectively by different coloured tickets, those without being taken aside, and told they were surplus to requirements, had a distinctly Thirties flavour about it.

How long that job will last isn?t certain, but it?s not helping Mart any; what he needs to do, right now, is start applying, before he gets trampled in the rush. But he can?t, not until they confirm his redundancy. Jane, his missus, is working longer hours, to try and pull everything together, but it still ain?t enough. What an uncertain world we live in, these days.

In between listening to poor Mart?s problems, we watched the Preston v Burnley game on the big screen. Now I?m no expert, but even Stevie Wonder would have declared those two Preston penalties dodgy in the extreme, I reckon. Curious to see what Burnley?s gaffer had to say about it all, before embarking upon this piece, I called up their website.

Apparently, following the final whistle, Clarets gaffer Owen Coyle told the official responsible for both decisions, Paul Taylor, precisely where he?d gone wrong, then invited the ref to apologise if subsequent footage proved Burnley right ? and the errant whistler?s response? He handed the Burnley lad a BUSINESS CARD! Well, he certainly had the courage of his convictions. Incidentally, talking about people called ?Taylor? there was Supes himself, milling around the crowd near the bar, and supping pre-match pints like a good ?un ? which he is, of course. Bet he enjoyed the game.

By the time we emerged from the comparative darkness of our pre-match haunt, we were quite surprised to discover that the temperature, so mild with the boost given to it by the brilliant sunshine before, had now plummeted quite precipitously. A biting wind greeted us as we made our way down Halfords Lane, via Anorak?s Corner, and to our usual turnstile. Unusually for him, ?Im Indoors was really feeling the cold; who didn?t dress in layers, then, you silly boy?

When we finally reached our seat, there was Jean Homer, and threatening to bring her daughter?s wedding pictures to the next game; apparently, she put together some sort of purple-feather headgear combo for the occasion, and reckons it really looked the part despite being home-made. Oh ? and Zoltan, her furry little chum, got the leftover feathers, and very grateful he was for the unexpected gift, apparently. They?re still trying to fish the bits out of their living-room carpet. The Homers, not the cat.

But on with the main business of the day, trying to put the Smog Monsters to the sword. Not easy, with so many of our regulars clutching sick-notes, right now; i.e. Morrison, Olssen, Zuiverloon, Meite and Miller. And Bednar suspended, following a fifth booking: who?s a silly boy, then?

No wonder we needed the new guy in, and hoping like hell that despite only having a couple of days or so to get to know his new playmates, Mister Fortune would learn on the job. No choice, really. To accommodate everyone properly, we?d also done a bit of shuffling around, with Brunt and Valero starting at Teixeira and Kim?s expense. As for Boro, they?d gone for change too, with Andrew Taylor, Gary O?Neill and Mohammed Shawky replacing Emanuel Pogatetz, Josh Walker, and Julio Arca. The ref? Mark Halsey, not one of the best by any means.

The start really took Boro by surprise (and us!). Within just a few minutes, we?d gone one up, courtesy Chris Brunt?s deflected effort. A tad lucky, sure, but who?s arguing? As I commented to my other half at the time, no matter how they go in, if they?re legal, they count, end of. And in any case, I?m a firm subscriber to the belief that we still have a whole heap of luck owing to us after a rash of truly awful refereeing shockers inflicted during our previous top-flight incarnations.

So there we were, one up, and with some 85 minutes to get through unscathed in order to collect the precious triple-pointed prize. And holding on like grim death for that length of time isn?t exactly one of our prime attributes, is it? No wonder everyone around us was muttering prophecies of gloom, doom and eventual downfall. Having a combined supporting age approaching that of Methuselah, we Halfords Lane people have seen it all before. You can spot us quite easily: just look for the Baggies with the ?thousand-yard stare?!

But as expected, Boro were far from throwing in the towel. Soon after that, Carson got injured after managing to push a goalbound effort away; while he was down, the ball, still in play, came back, so Boro were left with an unattended goal to aim for ? we were dead meat, in short. Thank goodness all they could do was hit the bar, something we all could have quite cheerfully done after that almighty let-off, albeit in a quite different sense to the Boro lad!

Then, with the play pinging from end to end like something from a pin-ball machine, it was Fortune?s turn to make a name for himself; sadly, his effort came to nothing, but this sure was developing into one hell of a game. Midway through the half, first of all Boro should have got one back, then we chucked up a glorious chance to double the lead ourselves, courtesy Simpson, who should have done far better than he did after being put clean through on goal At that stage in the pulsating proceedings, you wouldn?t have liked to lay serious money on the outcome, believe you me.

It was also bye-bye for our distant relative, Chris Riggott, who had to leave the action through injury ? but a big ?Hello? for former Albion coach Malcolm Crosby, spotted in earnest conversation with the possibly-doomed Southgate during the resultant lull in play. Hell, I?d forgotten he was working for them, these days.

By the later stages, we?d really got Boro on the rack, with Chris Brunt failing to put away a header, totally-unmarked, that should have bust the back of the net, and Fortune could only see their keeper save from his contribution to the war effort.

On the debit side of the register, during a Boro attack about five from the end of the half, which almost saw them nick an equaliser, we lost Barnett, injured. An erratic cove, even at the best of times, but we need all the hands we can get to the pump, right now, so any further depletion through injury won?t exactly be appreciated by our manager, will it?

?Start as you mean to go on? seemed to form the basis of Mogga?s half-time team talk, given the fact that within minutes of the restart, we almost grabbed another, courtesy Simpson, who came so close after bursting through a phalanx of opposition defenders, his effort going narrowly wide of the target when push came to shove.

But that miss only served to postpone things for Boro: within but minutes of Fortune?s ? errm ? ?Mis-Fortune?, we finally did it ? and what a beautifully worked strike it was, too. It all started from a wonderful one-two move worked between Koren and Fortune, with the latter applying the coup de grace, deflected, admittedly, but it still went in ? and in any case, Fortune?s name is on the scoresheet, so his claim to the strike must have proven technically valid.

With Boro now chasing the game big-time, they had to do something, and quick. Their answer came in the form of the Brazilian, Mido; a logical choice, I suppose. But their luck didn?t change for the better. Far from it, as very soon after that, they once again spurned a golden opportunity to get them back into the game, courtesy another Alves miss. Once more, they?d tore our main weakness ? a seeming inability to close things down properly ? completely to shreds, and once more, we?d somehow got away with it.

And then the real fun started. Nothing to do with us, just Boro, with one of their finest going in on Valero like a clog-dancer high on strong mind-altering drugs. Believing their chum to be the victim of an injustice on the part of referee Halsey, they then crowded in on the guy with the whistle, and that?s when I thought I saw someone take a swing at the ref, or at the very least, knock the red card right out of his hand.

Not quite believing what I?d seen, I then leaned towards Mr. Homer, and asked him if he?d spotted the same thing as me ? which he had. I?m not quite sure who was responsible, but if the referee chooses to include it in his match report, somebody of Smog Monster fame could be in some extra-deep lumber with the FA very soon.

With them now down to ten, the third wasn?t much of a surprise, and Brunt once more proving to be the agent of their downfall, his superb ball to Koren incising the visitors defence as neatly as a surgeon with a scalpel. The ground absolutely erupted, mostly with disbelieving Black Country cries of ?WE GOT THREE!? Blimey!

After that little lot, Boro were a spent force, and it only remained to run down the clock, entertainment provided courtesy The Smethwick, and their lusty rendition of that newly-minted Albion choral favourite: ?WE?VE DONE IT ONCE, AND WE?LL DO IT AGAIN?.? Not against Man U, next up at the Shrine, perhaps ? but with at least some of our missing personnel returned, and a Nancy boy of a striker giving us fresh hope and belief?who knows?

Trolling around various Boro-related sites tonight, it would appear that Gareth Southgate himself is admitting it wouldn?t surprise him in the slightest to get a phone call soon telling him to collect his P45 from the club ? and not to bother coming back (my words, not his).

And I certainly agree with his assessment that Boro weren?t anywhere near as bad as the result would suggest. After that unexpected early goal, we rode our luck in the first half, and got away with it. Two of our three were deflections - they hit the post, crossbar, and had one kicked off the line, if my memory serves me correctly. On the other hand, we could ? should! ? have got at least two more, the incidents in question being our failure to put away two slam-dunk chances.

But that?s what the Prem?s all about, isn?t it? Putting away your chances, even though you?ve played like a bag of rusty spanners for most of the 90 minutes. (A tad unfair on our hard-working crew, perhaps, but you understand the underlying principle, don?t you?) They didn?t, we did. What more is there to say?

As for ourselves, Mogga was spot-on in his post-match interview: Said our gaffer: ?There are some fixtures we can look forward (to)?.with total respect, against the likes of Sunderland, Wigan, Newcastle and Bolton, the sort of teams who are in and around us. They all have still to come to The Hawthorns, and they are games, if we are right on the day, we can win.?

We now have 21 points: to keep our noses out of trouble, we need at least another 19 from a maximum possible of 48, some of which are up for grabs from the teams previously mentioned. Six-pointers, in other words. Not a ?Mission Impossible? by any means, then, and should the dogfight at the bottom become really intense, with desperate sides all snatching points from each other in the melee, if we can keep our heads with all that lot going on around us, it might well be slightly less by the time we have to think seriously about our position.

Headline on a football website tonight: ?MOWBRAY GLAD TO BE OFF BOTTOM?? Blimey, I hadn?t realised he?d spent that much time sitting on the bench!

Just one wonderfully Python-esque incident to relate by way of an end-piece. Those of you who?ve seen and enjoyed ?The Life Of Brian? will understand perfectly. It happened during the dying seconds of the first half, when Albion were taking their time with a throw-in. Bawled referee Mark Halsey, in tones that surely must have reached Smethwick High Street: ?GET ON WITH IT!? Bawled back in completely spontaneous unison our section of the Halfords Lane Stand, vintage Baggies mostly, and truly knowing a whistling poser when they saw one: ?SHUTTUP!?

 - Glynis Wright

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