The Diary

24 January 2009: Will Distinctly-Blue Clarets Sink The Baggies?

Feeling a bit omen-y this bright and beautiful Saturday morning? Or just plain ?lucky?, perhaps? Well, don?t go looking for a little playmate in this column just yet, will you?

Why? Simple. After having spent a distinctly-embarrassing and seemingly-fruitless hunt for my specs, duration approximately 30 minutes ? multiply-compounded, of course, by the plain fact that being bereft of any visual aid whatsoever to track their current whereabouts, I might as well have asked the average Premier League referee to pen this piece for me - I?d strongly suggest you transfer your optimism glands to some other forlorn soul in severe need of serendipitous feelings. Dearie, dearie me: next stop, a rest home for battle-weary, long-term Albion supporters, n?est ce pas?

Anyway, now I?ve finally found the blasted things, on with the show. I have to say that watching the Burnley-Spurs League Cup encounter on the box in midweek left me with somewhat mixed feelings. There I was, one minute comfortably seated upon our living-room sofa, semi-comatose cat purring happily on my lap, furry feline and human both exuding great pungent dollops of schadenfreude brought on watching the brash North Londoners? comfortable three-goal cushion gradually wither away to absolute ziltch ? the Spurs custodial cock-up that led to the second Burnley goal certainly had the distinct hand of Paul Crichton about it, the sheer ghastliness of which left me laughing like a drain busted wide open by a passing deluge ? but the next?

Didn?t you just know it? The jammy gits from the capital restored normality, and very late in the proceedings for complete sanity and comfort, too, but for sheer savage amusement beforehand, you just couldn?t whack it, could you? As for The Clarets, today?s Cup opposition, you really had to feel sorry for them. To get so close to a Carling Cup Wembley final, then have to watch all such ambitions cruelly curtailed by Lady Luck belatedly flashing her voluminous frilly knickers in the direction of ?Arry and his grossly-overpaid and underachieving bunch of metropolitan costermongers about three minutes from the end, must have hit their followers with all the velocity of an express train. And what about The Beast - that?s Clarets keeper and ex-Baggie Brian Jensen, to any neutral reading this - who performed so magnificently in both legs, not to mention earlier rounds, but ended up with rock-all to show for his Herculean efforts? As Harry Enfield?s ?Kevin The Teenager? character might have put it, ?That?s soooo unfair!?

The real trouble for me was the very same moment the visitors sent the ball crashing into the back of the Burnley net, dark thoughts concerning the outcome of today?s Baggies-Burnley Cup clash went crashing through my mind, and with all the tidal force of a Gordon Brown ?great clunking fist?, too. Not at all pleasant, I assure you. But that?s the main problem I still have with Cup games in general, and our lot in particular. Last term?s wonderful semi-final run excepted, when we do crash out of Cup competitions, it tends to be quite spectacular TV. For the opposition, of course, not us! 4p Having said all that, had today?s game been scheduled to take place sometime in the weeks preceding last Christmas, I?d have most certainly given one of George Bush?s fawning inner circle of sycophants more chance of post-Obama survival, than we. With all our midfield and attacking options a complete and utter disaster, the best you could have possibly hoped for, back then, was a replay.

But the turning of the year has brought fresh hope, and with it, assailed (tortured?) Baggie nostrils with the teeniest, faintest tang of survival. SS Titanic-style impersonations having being deemed neither big nor clever by Mogga and his merry men, no longer do we stand on a boat deck completely awash with salt water, nervously reaching for handily-placed lifebelts. Or not, if you happened to be a ?steerage? passenger on that stricken ship. Leave that sort of emotional incontinence to Kate Winslett And Co., say I. Lord alone knows how much they get paid for it, but the simple fact now remains that disaster movies aren?t quite as essential a part of our supporting repertoire as they were in the December just gone.

It therefore stands to reason that the best possible way, psychological or otherwise, to springboard a Great Escape Mark Two is to stage a repeat performance of last year?s Cup run: now our main armament has at least the faintest veneer of venom about it, finally, we might ? just might! - just put The Clarets to the sword without the further need to press the matter courtesy a gruelling and potentially booby-trapped midweek journey up the M6 and back.

But the question upon everyone?s lips today will be whether or not the Clarets will be so both mentally and physically drained by that inequitable midweek Carling Cup defeat of theirs, they?ll have completely lost the stamina and fighting spirit that made them such formidable opponents in the other tournament.

They do go into today?s encounter with one massive psychological advantage, mind: the mere knowledge they haven?t lost a single game at our place since 1970. And by that, I mean an era when a certain Mr. Astle led the attack, Mr. Ashman led the side, and the current heir to the throne was just a jug-eared youth, albeit one who boasted the somewhat unlikely distinction of managing to win a Cambridge University place on the back of two distinctly-modest A-Level passes.

Looking back from a time where even four straight A?s is no cast-iron guarantee of an Oxbridge place (just ask Laura Spence), the unpleasant whiff of Royal favouritism pervading the entire affair completely beggars belief, doesn?t it? Mind you, I?m now fairly certain in my belief that dual Burnley and Football League chairman Bob Lord (who would most certainly have won any poll for ?most pompous public personage? in a walk) had nothing whatsoever to do with it!

Whatever the percentages might say about our chances of sending today?s visitors packing, it seems to me that just like the old Middlesbrough away hoodoo, finally ripped to shreds by our first away win there since the time of Oliver Cromwell, or so it seemed to me, the time is now ripe for the consignment of this one to the very same dustbin of history that now contains The Smog Monsters. Despite everything the statisticians might have to say on the subject, there can only be a certain number of times the coin lands the same side up when tossed, is there?

But enough of that, let?s proceed forthwith to what Burnley might be up to today. The word on the Burnley streets is that Stephen Jordan will definitely be out, courtesy the knee ligament injury that consigned him to the bench in the middle of the Spurs game. Countering that, captain Steven Caldwell and striker Steven Thompson (four goals in all competitions thus far) will both be looking for a first-team return for this one.

$p That?s them then ? so what about US? First off, nice to see that Mister Cech has now decided to bury the hatchet. No, not deep into Mogga?s head, just to call a truce, apparently. It would seem that our man has finally learned that stomping around like Elton John with a hissy fit-type strop on doesn?t get you anywhere with our current gaffer.

Mogga promised to put out his strongest side today, apparently, even with the prospect of an unproductive midweek Premier League home encounter with The Mancs looming, but he will still be without Messrs. Morrison and Olssen. And, it would seem, Meite and Zuiverloon, whilst keeping Luke Moore under wraps as his ?secret weapon?. So secret, in fact, even Albion supporters aren?t fully aware of his hitherto-latent talents. So rumour has it! Oh, and just when you thought it was safe?.. Mike Dean is the man in the middle today. Eeeek!

In today?s - ermmm ? ?Soaraway Sun?, Christ Brunt allegedly fears a bit of a backlash from Burnley?s midweek Carling Cup exit, but I don?t see it that way. More likely to be a case of ?After The Lord Mayor?s Show? in my reckoning. Don?t forget, that chash with Spurs must have taken one hell of a lot of energy out of their side, both physical and emotional. It?s not exactly something you can disregard in a flash, by any means. My prediction? Oh, soddit ? let?s throw caution completely to the wind, here. A certain place in tomorrow?s 5th Round draw, anyone?

?Mercy?s sakes alive, looks like we?ve got us a new book deal!....? Or, to be more accurate, His Nibs has! The offer came courtesy my other half?s publisher, and the tentative idea is to spotlight a number of Albion games that made the headlines for one good reason or other.

But my other half won?t necessarily be spewing forth a tropical rainforest?s worth of tired and weary prose about the ?usual suspects? - Man United 3, Albion 5, season 1978-9 immediately springs to mind in that respect, of course, as does, say, Albion 6, Man United 3, to my own supporting generation ? but will probably go forth in search of stirring Baggie stuff gleaned courtesy other, somewhat less well-known, Albion encounters instead. Going by the timing of this decision, I reckon we?re first and foremost looking at next Christmas?s market. So keep your peepers open wide, all you lovely Baggie people out there!

 - Glynis Wright

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