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West Bromwich Albion 0 Watford 1 (16/04/2016) 17/04/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- We always lose at the Hawthorns. Actually… it had been a long time since we’d beaten Albion at all, and that had been an away game but it was so long ago that there wasn’t even a BSaD report. My memories of coming here involve being absolutely tonked on any number of occasions, with the likes of Bob Taylor and Lee Hughes making hay. Even the relatively good days didn’t involve winning as such.

I like Albion – in as much as you ever actually like another team.  A good honest club, the sort of place where you’re not surprised to find an excellent fanzone featuring Norwich (“best team in the Championship”) being tonked by Sunderland on a big screen, plenty of space, loos, drinks, eats and live music (note to self for next season – ha! – this beats the cramped interior of the Smethwick End hollow).

Nonetheless, my expectations were non-existent, and as we added our own predictions to those of the local mascots on the stage my “scruffy 1-0” was borne less of prescience than of a sense of obligation.

2- It really was scruffy though, particularly the first half.  There was something vaguely reassuring about that, as if it demonstrated that in this rarified football environment there’s still a place for a bobbins game of football high on endeavour and boisterousness, low on smooth edges.  It was the sort of game that only the supporter of either side could enjoy – and I suspect we’d have enjoyed it a whole lot less if we’d lost.  Either way… it’s comforting that games like this are still allowed, games in which crossfield passes fly into the stand, in which the referee has to make any number of decisions about fouls that could have been climbing or could have been backing in and were probably both.  Between two sides who will be in the Premier League next season no less (ha!).

And reassuring, most of all, that we won it.  Because success this season was never going to be achieved solely by humiliating Liverpool, flattening West Ham.  It needed the brushing aside of inferior sides too – Newcastle, Villa, Sunderland, Swansea.  And it needed the winning of games like this, games where we didn’t necessarily play better than the other lot, didn’t deserve to win.  But won anyway.

3- Which isn’t to say that we didn’t play well, or that there weren’t good things about our performance.  Étienne Capoue looks infinitely more comfortable and confident back in the centre.  José Jurado danced and skipped and dazzled on the left; it would be nice to have a variation on the “cutting inside” trick, but knowing what he’s going to do and stopping him from doing it are quite different things.  Miguel Britos and Nathan Aké both threw themselves in front of things to good effect,  as West Brom’s periods of dominance were largely confined to being territorial rather than creating a glut of clear chances.

Nonetheless we rode our luck too.  Albion looked most menacing when James McClean (“why are we booing him?”. “because he’s an idiot”) and Stephane Sessegnon got possession wide and it wouldn’t have taken much for one of those crosses to become something not saveable.  Meanwhile Ighalo still looked ineffective, perhaps half-interested, perhaps low on confidence, definitely in the need of some pressure from the bench.  Nyom and Guedioura were far less effective on the right than Jurado and Aké on the left – for all that his enthusiasm and bullishness is a Good Thing, the excitable Algerian lost possession too often and the booing of his substitution was perverse. And as the game increasingly veered towards rugby union with it’s physicality, sideways passing, punts into touch and shots clouted over the bar, we were in danger of creating a problem for ourselves with turnovers. Some untidy play saw Rondon put through, Gomes came out and took him out.  He got a yellow.  It probably was a yellow.  You would want to rely on any referee agreeing however, least of all Michael Oliver.

4- By the second half we were one up, the tremendous Ben Watson flicking Guedioura’s corner kick in and putting us in pole position.  It could have been Albion in that position, it probably wouldn’t have been any easier for us to recover than it was for Albion.  But it wasn’t so we didn’t have to.  That our clean sheet survived owed pretty much everything to Heurelho Gomes, who athletically tipped over McAuley’s header and then twice denied Berahino from the spot.  From our pretty dismal vantage point – low in the shallow stand at the far end – we were in no position to assess either penalty call but there was certainly more energy about the protests the second time around.  The first penalty had been weak, but I fully expected the net to bulge in the 87th minute, you don’t get that lucky twice.

Thing is, it’s only about “luck” up to a point.  Lucky is when the other guy bottles it, puts it over, wide, doesn’t give it enough welly.  But Berahino’s second penalty was excellent, low and hard and in the corner.  And Gomes got to it anyway.  It was our afternoon.  It had been our afternoon since Watson scored.  The home stands emptied, and we celebrated, none more than Gomes who was already the Player of the Season elect but sealed the deal with this record-breaking achievements this afternoon.  He’s a tremendous goalkeeper, but a massive personality too, a leader, and that’s been just as valuable.

IMG_2179 (1)

5- And so.  Safe.  Finally.  As acknowledged by the travelling Hornets, in glee.  And maybe you were already there in your head, but I wasn’t, I hadn’t relaxed at all.  Today wasn’t elegant and it wasn’t perfect, the side’s performances have felt laboured since Christmas, the points rather forced and things need sorting.  But bollocks to that, it can wait.  Today’s result means two things.  First:  that the rest of the season is there to be enjoyed without reservation from the Cup semi-final next Sunday (and whatever follows) to the significance (albeit for others – ha!) of the last two games.

And second that 1999/2000 and 2006/07 finally descend into irrelevance.  Part of our history, but no longer benchmarks.  This is new territory, a top flight stay for the first time since the eighties, a completely different environment.  And a massive, massive achievement that shouldn’t be diminished by taking slightly longer to be confirmed than we might have hoped.  Yooorns.

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Comments»

1. lukefairweather - 17/04/2016

I hadn’t relaxed either, until last night. For the last few weeks a teenage, Fairweather statto resident here, has been watching results and calculating the gap to the drop zone. We had been stuck on a gap of 11 points for what felt like ages, and today, the gap is still 11 points, but those 11 points are just a bit bigger, now there are only 5 games left. A vital win given results below that could have whittled the safety zone to 8 points and given more gut wrenching uncertainty going into what now, can be a celebration weekend next week. Forza Pozzo.

Matt Rowson - 17/04/2016

Not mathematically safe. But either Norwich or Newcastle would have to win all of their games, Sunderland would have to pick up 11 points from 5 games that include Arsenal and Chelsea and we’d have to lose every game, or similar. Safe.

lukefairweather - 17/04/2016

True, not mathematically safe, but psychologically.

2. Rod - 17/04/2016

There is a win over West Brom on BSAD, Matt, though not a league one: http://www.bsad.org/0203/reports/westbrom/hr1.html

And if being an idiot is enough cause on its own for booing, that could be the end of silence as we know it.

Matt Rowson - 17/04/2016

Good work, I’d forgotten that one. Oh well… never let mere “facts” get in the way of a good thunk…

3. BH - 17/04/2016

Good stuff Matt. I too marvelled at the civilised nature of the pre-match fans zone (can we get one in the new grand development behind the Rookery?) and enjoyed watching “the best team in the Championship” lose 3-0 at home.

I thought this was one of our poorer performances of the season but still it was enough for a glorious three points. Ake looked nervous early on but got better as the game went on, especially combining going forward with Jurado. However, on the other side, Pardew must have loved watching Nyom and imagining what the desperately feather-light Zaha could do to him. For me Prodl was the only solid member of the back four. Britos looked a little nervous. I wouldn’t be surprised if Prodl and Cathcart started at Wembley.

I agreed with the Guedioura substitution and thought only Watson was (as ever) on form in midfield.

Ighalo so badly needs a rest/replacement. Although better service than he received yesterday would definitely help. I find it really sad that Jurado gets so much stick. The people around me were screaming for him to take the defender on and/or get off the pitch. He’s no winger. He’s a wonderfully skilled number ten being played out of position, doing the best he can. Suarez on the other hand looks way off the pace. I was surprised he was summoned from the bench before Berhami.

However, despite all this we won. We have 41 points, a semi at Wembley to look forward to and a brilliant goalkeeper that will probably sit on the bench there. As someone apparently once said “Football, Bloody Hell”

4. Keith Endean - 17/04/2016

filled the crack in so got to start painting, but a leisure.

5. Harefield Hornet - 17/04/2016

From the angle of your photo you must have been sitting fairly close to us yesterday. That was one of the most gut wrenching afternoons I’ve had for a while as the earlier result and news from Newcastle had convinced me that we absolutely needed to win this, probably not true but my god what a relief to get the win.Gomez is fast becoming one of my favourite Hornets of all time – Roy of the Rovers stuff!

6. John - 17/04/2016

Couldn’t make this one and as I have never been it was on the bucket list – but was confident to know I could go next season.
I think that may be the team vs palace …

My view has always been that we were safe when we beat Palace. Mathematically determined by the laws on probability !

It Will be proven soon. And we can sit back and go “yikes” – we should have celebrated in February. Let’s also hope for redemption next Sunday .

.

7. Simoninoz - 18/04/2016

We’ve been lucky with keepers over the years. ‘Skilly” Williams (before my time even), Underwood, Jennings, Walker, Rankin, Sherwood, Coton, James, Chamberlain and now Gomes. And who could forget Almunia and Leicester? I’ve probably missed a few good ones but it’s a joy to look at that list. Sir Alex rates a good goalie as being worth 10 points a season. I reckon Heurelho is over that for both the terms he has stood between our sticks.

Gerard - 18/04/2016

Ben Foster?

simmos - 21/04/2016

Kevin Miller?

8. brechin Horn - 18/04/2016

Derek Edmonds ???

9. Dusty - 19/04/2016

Just in case you didn’t know this is why McClean gets booed. Right or wrong, I wasn’t booing him.
http://irishpost.co.uk/west-bromwich-albion-fans-react-on-twitter-to-james-mcclean-signing/

Matt Rowson - 19/04/2016

Thanks Dusty. I’d missed that.


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