Monday, 15 August 2011

Albion 1 - 2 Manchester United - A brief round-up

This game signalled the return of competitive football to The Hawthorns after exactly three months away, with Albion starting their campaign against the previous year's Premier League champions for the second successive season.

Manchester United impressed football fans up and down the country during their 3-2 Community Shield victory over Manchester City seven days before the start of the season, with Albion struggling to a 1-1 draw at home to Parma after a flat performance in their final pre-season friendly. These results and performances led to some Albion supporters justifiably predicting a rather heavy defeat, a pessimism not helped by our 6-0 opening-day defeat at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea last season. However, what was to follow was a very close game and a performance which certainly gives Albion fans plenty of reasons for optimism.

The game itself
The main surprise in the starting line-up was that Roy Hodgson appeared to go with what was almost an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with the unpredictable Somen Tchoyi partnering debutant Shane Long up front. The rest of the team was fairly predictable, although I was disappointed to see Graham Dorrans left on the bench after predicting big things from him this season. There are still plenty of games left though, I suppose!

The first ten or 15 minutes of the game were totally dominated by United, and they took the lead during this period when Wayne Rooney received a pass from Ashley Young inside the penalty, was given time to turn and sent a powerful low shot across Ben Foster and into the bottom corner to give the champions a deserved lead.

It is fair to say that this goal woke us up a bit and as we began to see more of the ball, the noise levels inside The Hawthorns rose noticeably.

We equalised after 37 minutes, when Long received a pass from Chris Brunt after the impressive Tchoyi had held off Fabio with ease and sent a low shot under David De Gea and into the bottom corner to bring Albion back on level terms.

Shane Long celebrates a goal on his debut and bringing Albion back on level terms.

The general consensus of opinion at half-time was that we had played very well and deserved to be on level terms, but that United had a number of quality players at their disposal and so would be able to up their game if they needed too.

However, if anything, we had more of the play in the second half. We didn't really create any clear-cut chances, but had a lot of the ball and looked comfortable at the back, which is an unusual scenario for the Albion!

Despite this, as is often the case against the better sides in the Premier League, United were still able to find a winner with nine minutes remaining.

The fact that the winner was an own-goal by Steven Reid created by a former Aston Villa player in Young made it even worse for Albion fans, especially when it just seemed as though we would be able to do enough to hold on to what would have been an excellent point.

As much as we tried to find an equaliser during the closing stages of the game, United have got years of experience when it comes to scoring important late goals and then holding on to the draw a victory they have been able to salvage. Even Foster's presence at the far post for a last-minute Brunt free-kick was not enough to see us score a late equaliser, meaning that our season started with a defeat.

There were plenty of positives to take from the game, such as:
  • The performance of Ben Foster, whose confidence was brilliant to see.
  • Our defensive performance in general was more solid than it was during most of last season.
  • Youssouf Mulumbu produced another outstanding individual display.
  • Somen Tchoyi and Shane Long seemed to form a very good understanding up front in the first game they have played alongside each other.
  • Most importantly, at no point were we outclassed by the side many people are tipping to win the Premier League.
Somen Tchoyi was a constant threat to the Manchester United back four.

However, there were one or two aspects of the performance which need a bit of work:
  • Steven Reid struggled to cope with the pace and trickery of Ashley Young all afternoon.
  • If we are being really critical, the defence could have done more to stop Wayne Rooney turning and shooting in the penalty area.
  • James Morrison struggled to have any influence on the game, whereas Graham Dorrans might have been more effective.
  • To concede such an unlucky goal so late on to lose when we deserved a draw was very difficult to take, and is a negative in itself. 
Overall, though, there were far more positives than negatives to take from this performance and Albion fans will certainly not be too disheartened going into next weekend's match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

West Bromwich Albion season preview - 2011/12

For the first time in many years, there appears to be a genuine mood of optimism among Albion fans as we are about to embark on a second successive campaign in the Premier League for only the second time in our history. There are undoubtedly a number of factors contributing to this cautious optimism, but I would say the main one is that, for the first time in the Premier League, we are starting the season with an experienced manager in charge.

Roy Hodgson turned our season around last time out after his arrival midway through February, and his tactical nous could be crucial to us building on what we achieved last season and consolidating in the Premier League. If we are to believe what he said in an interview a couple of days ago, the club have secured the three players who Hodgson wanted to bring to the club above all others in Ben Foster, Zoltan Gera and Shane Long.

Having Roy Hodgson in charge is one of the main reasons for the level of optimism at The Hawthorns this season

The two signings which have created the most excitement among Albion fans are probably that of Foster on a season-long loan deal from Birmingham City and the return of Gera after his contract expired at Fulham, with the Hungarian international captain being a favourite among The Hawthorns faithful following his previous four-year spell at the club. The main attribute which these two players have in common and which our four other signings don't really have is a wealth of Premier League experience, something which Hodgson seems to value very highly.

Here is a round-up of our transfer activity:
Ben Foster (season-long loan, Birmingham City)
Marton Fulop (free transfer, Ipswich Town)
Billy Jones (free transfer, Preston North End)
Gareth McAuley (free transfer, Ipswich Town)
Zoltan Gera (free transfer, Fulham)
Shane Long (undisclosed fee, Reading)

Scott Carson (undisclosed fee, Bursaspor)
Boaz Myhill (season-long loan, Birmingham City)
Gianni Zuiverloon (released, now with Real Mallorca)
Abdoulaye Meite (released, now with Dijon)
Giles Barnes (released, now with Doncaster Rovers)
Marcus Haber (released, now with St Johnstone)
Chris Wood (28-day youth loan, Birmingham City)

Key player
I think our key player this season will, once again, be Youssouf Mulumbu in midfield. Peter Odemwingie's goals effectively kept us up towards the end of last season, but Mulumbu was consistent throughout the season and played with the kind of passion and commitment which has made him a real favourite with the fans. Mulumbu is the kind of player who you might not always notice when he is producing one of his typically solid performances, but you definitely notice if he is slightly below-par or is absent from the team due to injury or suspension. Most of the time, if Mulumbu plays well, the rest of the team plays well.

Youssouf Mulumbu's form is crucial if Albion are to repeat their success of last season

One to watch
I think there are two players to look our for this season from an Albion perspective - Graham Dorrans and George Thorne. Dorrans spent most of last season out of the team, due to personal problems at the start of the season and a number of injuries. However, during the few games where he was given an opportunity to impress, he showed glimpses of the ability which saw him perform so well in The Championship during the previous season. If he is given more of a chance this season, I can see him being a big player for us.

Graham Dorrans could be a big player for Albion this season if given the chance

Thorne has emerged from the youth team and Reserves over the last 12 months or so as a player who can genuinely challenge for a first-team place this season. Despite only making two competitive appearances for the senior side, his performances in these matches and in training have led to suggestions that he could well force his way into the first team at some point this season. Thorne is unfortunate that the strongest area of our squad is arguably central midfield, which is where he plays, but time is on his side and if he impresses when he undoubtedly gets an opportunity in the Carling Cup, he may well leave Hodgson with a tough decision to make.

George Thorne has emerged as a player who can challenge for a first-team place this season

Expectations for this season
Premier League - 14th
I have seen a number of people suggest that we should look to at least match our 11th-placed finish last season, and maybe even push towards the top half of the table. However, I think remaining realistic is incredibly important and so I would be happy if we finished lower mid-table and were able to go into the last three or four games of the season with our Premier League status secured. Although there is still the best part of three weeks left until the transfer window closes, I think there are at least four or five squads who, on paper, are not as good as ours. With this in mind, if our key players have good seasons and avoid injuries, I don't see any reason why we cannot avoid relegation again.

FA Cup - Quarter-finals
Everyone likes a good cup run and one of the main disappointments of last season was that we were knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup after a lacklustre performance at Reading. We now have a greater number of options throughout the side than we did last season, so I think we should be looking at trying to reach the latter stages of the FA Cup if the draw is kind to us.

Carling Cup - Quarter-finals
This is the competition where, in the early rounds at least, some of the young players from our newly-established Development Squad will probably be given the opportunity to impress Hodgson and the rest of the first team coaches. When you add to these young players some of the experienced players who may not start the Premier League season in the starting line-up, such as Marton Fulop, Somen Tchoyi and Simon Cox, it is clear that we have the potential to go on a decent run in this competition if we avoid some of the bigger clubs in the draw. This is often the competition which clubs sacrifice to allow them to focus on their respective league or the FA Cup, but the reaction of Albion fans to our exit at the hands of Ipswich Town in the quarter-finals last season after naming a weakened side shows that if you are able to reach the latter stages of the Carling Cup, it is still a competition which supporters would like to see their side win.

Overall, I think we have a lot to look forward to this season. There is always a certain sense of optimism going into the first week of any new season, but there is plenty of reason for it on this occasion, with an experienced manager at the helm and a number of quality additions joining a squad who performed very well in the Premier League last season for much of the campaign.

Despite this, I'm sure most Albion fans (myself included) would settle for a lower mid-table finish without having to worry about relegation going into the final few games of the season, and maybe even a cup run as well!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to leave a comment with your expectations for the season or speak to me on Twitter @tomharper94.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Albion's transfer activity - Part two

Since my last blog post about our transfer activity, it is fair to say that we have been one of the more active clubs in the Premier League, confirming the signing of four players and being linked with countless others.

The first new addition to be confirmed was Ben Foster, who has joined us on a season-long loan deal from Birmingham City. Some concern was expressed by a number of Albion fans at the fact that there is no option to sign Foster permanently at the end of the season, although I'm sure they club will make an offer if Foster plays as well as he did for Birmingham City in the Premier League last season. In my opinion, Foster is among the top five or six best goalkeepers in the league, so to attract him to the Albion is a real coup for the club and definitely a cause for optimism ahead of the new season. As part of the deal which saw Foster join us, Boaz Myhill went the other way in an identical deal, meaning that we do have a Plan B should we not be able to sign Foster next summer. Below is a video showing what we can hopefully expect from Foster next season.

To provide back-up for Foster this season, we also signed Marton Fulop from Ipswich Town. Fulop is an experienced goalkeeper, who can include the likes of Sunderland and Manchester City (albeit briefly) among his former clubs. He has spent the last seven years in England playing for a number of clubs, so will provide good competition for Foster in an area of the squad which is looking significantly stronger compared to the end of last season.

I mentioned in my last blog about our transfer activity that we were close to re-signing Zoltan Gera after his contract expired at Fulham. This deal took a little longer than expected to go through due to Gera needing surgery on an ankle injury, with the club wanting to wait until he had made a sufficient recovery before confirming his return. He seems to have made a good recovery and should be available for selection by mid-September, which is also around the time when a suspension he incurred after being sent off on the final day of last season will have been served. The big question among most Albion supporters is, quite simply, how will Gera fit into our side once he is fully fit? Roy Hodgson has described him in a recent interview as one of his main targets this summer, which suggests that he will be in the starting line-up during most games. With this in mind, I believe his versatility could be his greatest strength, as he is capable of playing on either wing and can also play just behind one or two strikers, depending on the formation we play. This is where Hodgson will earn his money this season, as we have a lot of talented midfielders who we need to try and accommodate in the side!

The most recent signing we have made is that of striker Shane Long, who has been a player we have been linked with all summer since Reading lost to Swansea in the Championship play-off final back in May. His record of 25 goals in 51 starts last season is incredibly impressive, which is why a number of Premier League clubs have been linked with him this summer, as well as arguably the two promotion favourites in The Championship, Leicester City and West Ham United. Some Albion fans have expressed concern that we have signed a player with very little Premier League experience, but I have been impressed every time I have seen him play live (admittedly only once or twice when we have played Reading) and I definitely trust a manager with 36 years of experience in the game to have signed a player who is good enough to make a big impact in the Premier League. Below is a video showing some of Long's highlights from last season, which should hopefully persuade the doubters that he is potentially a very good signing.


When you add these four signings to the two we had already completed this summer (Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones), I think our squad is undoubtedly stronger than it was this time last year. We have replaced players who were far too inconsistent with players whose greatest attribute is their consistency and reliability (albeit at a lower level up until this point), so I would like to think that most of the individual errors which cost us so dearly last season can be eradicated this season.

Roy Hodgson has hinted in his most recent interview that he would still like to sign a centre-back and I think that if we are able to add one more player to our squad in this position, we will have made all the signings we need to this summer.

Keep checking my blog over the next few days, as later in the week, I will be posting an Albion preview for the forthcoming season. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Craig Dawson - Can he be the answer to our defensive problem?

As any Albion fan will admit, our defence is simply not good enough and has struggled for the past three years or so. This is despite having a number of established international defenders competing for a place in our back four, such as Steven Reid, Jonas Olsson and Gabriel Tamas.

The area of the defence where we are particularly light is at centre-back, with three players trying (but unfortunately failing) to impress either Roberto Di Matteo or Roy Hodgson last season when played alongside the impressive Olsson at the heart of our back four.

This has led to various sources linking us with moves for countless central defenders this summer, one of whom arrived in the shape of Gareth McAuley on a free transfer from Ipswich Town.

However, one player whose arrival seems to have been ignored by Albion fans is that of young centre-back Craig Dawson from Rochdale. Admittedly, this may be because we actually signed Dawson on deadline day last summer, before sending him back to the League One club on a season-long loan deal. With all the talk about potential new defenders, could the answer to our defensive problem actually currently be at the club, waiting for his chance to impress?

Dawson began his career playing for Non-League club Radcliffe Borough as a 17-year-old, where he played 75 games in just two seasons. During this time, he scored 15 goals, with his impressive goalscoring record being an attribute which he was able to take into the Football League with him after joining Rochdale in 2009.

As well as the offer made to Dawson by Rochdale, Bury, Crewe Alexandra, Port Vale and Northwich Victoria were also rumoured to have made offers for the young defender at the time.

When you consider that Spurs, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesborough all allegedly sent scouts to Radcliffe Borough games to watch Dawson, it is clear just how highly-rated he was after just two seasons playing Non-League football.

During one season with Rochdale, he played 46 games and scored a very impressive ten goals as they clinched promotion to League One. His solid defensive displays and goalscoring ability led to him being selected in the League Two Team of the Year, as well as winning the League Two Player of the Year award.

This led to a host of clubs showing an interest in him, but Albion eventually completed the signing of Dawson on August 31st 2010. Almost as soon as his arrival was confirmed, we sent him straight back to Rochdale on a season-long loan deal so he could continue his development at a higher level than he had previously been used to.

Craig Dawson was unveiled as an Albion player on deadline day of the summer 2010 transfer window.

Dawson once again played a key role for Rochdale, playing 41 games and scoring nine goals as the newly-promoted side finished a very impressive ninth, just three points off the play-offs, in a division containing some of the best sides to play in the third tier of English football for many years.

He returned to Albion at the end of last season and was included in the squad which has played three friendlies in the USA this pre-season as well, a sign that Roy Hodgson wants to give Dawson as much of a chance as possible to impress and show what he is capable of.

Most Albion fans have so far only had very brief highlights of matches and the occasional comment from a Rochdale fan on an Albion messageboard to form an opinion on Dawson, so here is the view of Dawson from a Rochdale fan to improve your knowledge of him as a player and what he would bring to the squad.

With this in mind, I decided to appeal for a Rochdale fan on Twitter to provide us with a reason why Dawson was so highly-rated whilst playing for them. Here is the response I got from a Rochdale fan called Sarah, who can be followed on Twitter @GirlOnATerrace and whose blog  is well worth a read!

Craig Dawson is the type of player everyone wants in their team, management and fans, and you just cannot not like him. He's the epitome of what every young lad wants to achieve, starting off playing football locally before signing for Radcliffe Borough, and eventually joining up with us in 2009. When the news of his move to West Brom came about, although we were obviously gutted, we were also so pleased for him because he deserves everything that he's worked so hard for and a lot more. We were also very happy that we were allowed to have him back on loan for the season before he left us to move onto bigger and better things.

It's clear from watching Craig play that he's not a lower league footballer, there's something different about him and he was always a class above our team. He's tall and slender yet powerful and determined, and despite his young age he always had a cool and composed head and very rarely gave us any wobbly moments. I think one thing that puts him in a better class is his eye for the goal too, he was always coming up for corners and contributed 10 goals to our 09/10 campaign. 

My last memory of Dawson at Rochdale is one that encompasses him entirely as a person and a footballer. After our final home game last season when the players came back out to applaud the fans, Craig headed off in the opposite direct and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes walking around the entire ground shaking hands, giving hugs and signing items for every fan who wanted it and made a point of thanking everyone individually for their support at Rochdale. That night was our end of season awards and once again he stayed right until the end of the night with the fans rather than the other players, I think he probably made a lot of fans very happy that day without realising...including me as I made sure I got a good few hugs in there too...!

Craig was a big part of our team at Rochdale, a local lad done good, what's not to like? He's always come across as a genuinely lovely lad who appreciates everything that he's been blessed with and is the model professional too. Even his parents came onto our messageboard to thank the fans for all the support we've given him during his time with us! I'd expect his move was a big decision for Craig as he seems like a real family lad, but I think this is just the start of something amazing for him, I just hope he remembers some of the memories from his time with us when he's turning out for England...! ;)

Dawson celebrating one of his numerous goals for Rochdale.

I hope this blog has proved to be an informative read for Albion fans hoping to find out a bit more about Dawson and whether he can genuinely be the answer to our defensive problem.

Feel free to share your opinions by leaving a comment below. 

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Albion's transfer activity

After just over a month of very little to talk about in terms of football, the transfer window opened on July 1st and supporters like myself who were missing our fix of football-related news to discuss finally had something to talk about.

In fairness, Albion had been one of the busier clubs before the transfer window opened, with Gianni Zuiverloon, Abdoulaye Meite, Giles Barnes and Marcus Haber all being released. On top of this, we were able to strengthen our squad with the additions of Gareth McAuley from Ipswich Town and Billy Jones from Preston North End on free transfers At the time of writing this, we are reportedly close to completing the signing of former Albion favourite Zoltan Gera on a free transfer after his release from Fulham.

Abdoulaye Meite is one of four Albion players who were released at the start of the summer.

This apparent policy of signing players on free transfers has led to criticism from some Albion fans, as they believe that we should be spending vast sums of money on players who may be no better than the signings we had made thus far. I have often thought during transfer windows that we need to spend more money than we have done, but when you look at our two record signings - Borja Valero and Luke Moore - it is clear that spending money does not necessarily guarantee that a player is going to make an impact.

However, this criticism will continue following the departures of Scott Carson and Valero to Bursaspor and Villarreal respectively, both for undisclosed fees. Although the amount of money Albion received for these two players is not known, it is fair to say that it would probably be enough to add at least one or two quality players to the squad over the summer.

My opinion on our transfer activity so far is that we are essentially replacing the players who we released with more consistent, experienced players.

McAuley has made over 25 appearances for Northern Ireland and has a wealth of experience in The Championship with Ipswich Town and Leicester City. He has also been playing football at a reasonable standard for 15 years since his career began in Northern Ireland with Linfield and so will know exactly what is required to deal with some of the attacking players he is going to come up against in the Premier League, despite it being a higher standard. Due to the fact that he is a solid, old-fashioned central defender, he is a very good replacement for Meite.

Jones is another player with a lot of experience, albeit at a lower level. He came through the youth system at Crewe Alexandra, which should lead to him being a very good footballer and also means that he should have a lot of confidence on the ball. Despite only being 24, he has already played nearly 300 career games and was also rumoured to have attracted the interest of Manchester City back in 2007 after a series of impressive performances for Crewe in League One. He is a right-back by trade, but can also play in midfield. With this in mind, he is an ideal replacement for Zuiverloon.

Although we have yet to officially confirm the signing of Gera, it seems as though the deal is fairly close to completion. He is a player who needs very little introduction to Albion fans, having spent four years at the club and making a massive impact in the process. His habit of scoring goals against Wolves was always going to make him a popular player among the supporters, with his exuberant celebrations and outstanding work ethic increasing his popularity further. If he does sign, he is a natural replacement for Barnes and is a player who can provide back-up to the first team, as well as genuinely challenge for a starting place if he impresses during pre-season. 

I am sure there are more signings in the pipeline, especially up front, where we undoubtedly need to sign a goalscorer to try and take some of the pressure off of Peter Odemwingie. A goalkeeper is also going to be a priority now Carson's departure has been confirmed, with the likes of Steve Harper, Robert Green and Tomasz Kuszczak all being linked with us. If we are able to add players in these two key areas as well as possibly strengthen other areas of the squad should quality players become available, then I think we will be in a very good position to push on next season and build on our outstanding finish to the season last time out.

This is a time of the year when there are a number of rumours going around and supporters become frustrated with an apparent lack of transfer activity, but based on the vast majority of our additions over the last few years, I believe we can really trust Roy Hodgson, Dan Ashworth and the scouting department to ensure that we bring in enough players with the ability to improve our squad ahead of the forthcoming season.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Scott Carson to Bursaspor - Is it the right move?

It's fair to say that not many Albion supporters expected Scott Carson to be our number one goalkeeper at the start of next season, even after his improved form following the appointment of Roy Hodgson. However, the fact that our much-criticised former captain looks set to join Turkish side Bursaspor, who played in the Champions League last season and will be competing in the Europa League during the forthcoming season, has come as a great shock to most English football supporters.

Despite his obvious quality, Carson has always struggled to settle at Albion. He has often been made a scapegoat by supporters for poor performances and although he was at fault for some of the goals we conceded last season, he was very harshly criticised at times and some of this criticism was definitely unjustified.

I certainly don't think that Carson was helped by the fact that he made his infamous error for England against Croatia just a few months into his Albion career. This led to a great deal of criticism from the national media and perhaps meant that some Albion fans immediately had their opinion on Carson changed, although he was not the first and will certainly not be the last highly-rated goalkeeper to make an error for England in an important game.

There is undoubtedly a reasonable argument that Carson may have lost what confidence he had after this error, although his performances for the remainder of the Premier League season which ultimately ended in relegation were relatively consistent. He conceded a lot of goals, but this was mainly down to a gung-ho approach from our manager at the time Tony Mowbray, who placed far too little emphasis on defending and far too much emphasis on playing good football and out-scoring the opposition, a tactic which worked in The Championship, but which was not going to work on a regular basis against some of Europe's top sides in the Premier League.

After the departure of captain Jonathan Greening at the start of the following season, new Head Coach Roberto Di Matteo immediately appointed Carson as Albion's new captain. This decision confused the vast majority of Albion fans, but it was hoped that the responsiblity of wearing the armband would lead to Carson being more vocal with his back four and becoming more of a dominant, confident goalkeeper in general.

Unfortunately, he became rather error-prone and although we ended up being promoted from The Championship, I had hoped that we would be able to sign a goalkeeper who could realistically challenge Carson for the number one jersey and maybe even replace him as our first-choice goalkeeper. This player would be Boaz Myhill, who we signed from relegated Hull City.

Seeing as he was still captain, it was not a surprise to see Carson start the season as our first-choice goalkeeper, with Myhill being forced to settle for a place on the bench. Although he made no real out-and-out errors, Carson's hesitancy always looked like costing us goals and led to criticism from small sections of supporters at matches, who felt the need to sarcastically cheer Carson on the rare occasions he came off his line to gather crosses.

The one occasion when I finally lost patience with Carson was during our 3-0 defeat at Fulham in January. Under-pressure Head Coach Di Matteo had assmebled a make-shift back four for this game due to injuries, with none of our defenders being over six feet tall. Despite this, we had held out relatively comfortably until just before half-time, when Carson let a long-range shot from Clint Dempsey through his hands and into the back of the net. This clearly had an effect on Carson and the rest of the players, as two moments of hesitancy in the second half from our goalkeeper led to us suffering an incredibly disappointing 3-0 defeat at Craven Cottage.

These errors led to Di Matteo dropping Carson up until he was placed on gardening leave, with Myhill coming into the side and producing a number of consistent performances.

However, the appointment of Roy Hodgson coincided with a return to the side for Carson, who immediately looked more assured and seemed to have benefited from an extended spell on the sidelines. Carson did not have the captaincy returned to him though, as Chris Brunt had been given the armband in his absence and so continued as captain.

I would go as far to say that Carson was one of many players who performed very well in most of our remaining games, with an error at Newcastle United on the final day of the season being the only disappointment in an impressive last three months of the season.

These solid performances have led to some Albion fans stating that they believe Carson should stay at the club next season, as they do not think we will be able to bring in a better goalkeeper. Whilst I can understand this view to a certain extent, I think we do need to look to strengthen this area of our squad and if we can get around £2m for a player who has just entered the last year of his contract, we should definitely take it.

From Carson's point of view, this could also be the big opportunity he needs to rebuild his career. It is fair to say that he has struggled at the Albion and that the English media will always remember him for his error against Croatia, whatever he achieves during his career. Going abroad means that he is away from people who will just criticise him at any opportunity and who greet every example of impressive goalkeeping with a sarcastic cheer.

Although there is no guarantee Carson will be successful for Bursaspor in Turkey, playing in a totally different environment may help him develop as a player and establish himself as a permanent fixture in the England squad. Taking all this into account, I believe this transfer could be one of those rare deals which benefits everyone concerned. 

Friday, 17 June 2011


Today is the day every football fan looks forward too during the summer months. Of course, everyone enjoys a bit of a break from the stress of following their football club and being able to relax over the weekend, but by the middle of June, most supporters are eager for the fixtures to be released and want an excuse to dust off their Sat-Nav and start planning which away games they are going to attend over the forthcoming season.

As is always the case, this season's fixtures threw up very few surprises in terms of who some of the top sides are playing on the opening weekend of the season. Champions Manchester United visit my club, West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea face a difficult-looking trip to Stoke City, Arsenal have an away game at Newcastle United to look forward to, Liverpool host Sunderland at Anfield, and Manchester City welcome newly-promoted Norwich City to Eastlands on the opening weekend.

Although the fixtures are obviously generated randomly from the fixture computer, Albion have now faced the previous season's Premier League champions on the first week of the season in both campaigns since we returned to the Premier League. This is incredibly unfortunate, and Baggies fans will be hoping we perform better than we did in our 6-0 opening-day defeat at Stamford Bridge last season in front of the ESPN cameras.

Some games for Albion fans to look out for are:

Albion v Manchester United - Saturday 13th August
A very difficult way to start the season, but a challenge which I'm sure Roy Hodgson and the players will relish. Manchester United are stereotypically slow starters in the league season and with the number of players they are supposed to be signing this summer, playing them early on may mean that their new players will not have had time to gel and may drop a few points as a result. Albion fans will be hoping for a repeat of the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in October of last season, as two of the scrappiest goals of the season saw us come back from 2-0 down.

Chelsea v Albion - Saturday 20th August 
Our second game of the season is equally difficult, but is one to look forward too nonetheless. There is very little pressure going into games such as a trip to Stamford Bridge and especially if we are able to get a result against Manchester United the week before, there will be plenty of reasons to travel to West London with some optimism of getting a result, or at least avoiding a demoralising defeat like last season. There were very few positives to draw from our two matches against Chelsea last season, but Peter Odemwingie's impressive finish to put Albion 1-0 up at The Hawthorns showed that we do have a player who is capable of causing their back four problems.

Albion v Stoke City - Saturday 27th August
As you can tell, each of our first three games are big matches and are games which would have stood out to supporters when the fixtures were released. Stoke City are a side who we rarely do well against and who have enjoyed a brilliant record against us in recent years, particularly at The Hawthorns. However, we picked up a point at the Britannia Stadium under Roy Hodgson in February thanks to a late equaliser from Carlos Vela, so Albion fans will be hoping that this goal ended our losing sequence against Stoke City and maybe even set a trend for future results!

Albion v Wolves (Saturday 15th October) and Wolves v Albion (Saturday 11th February)
These were undoubtedly the first two games most Albion fans looked for on the fixture list, particularly after our disappointing 3-1 defeat at Molineux towards the end of last season. In the most part, our record against Wolves in recent years has been very impressive and Albion fans will be hoping that the result at Molineux was only a slight blip on that record. There was one main positive moment last season against our local rivals, with an equaliser from Carlos Vela in the last minute of injury-time helping us to a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns in Roy Hodgson's first match in charge.

Aston Villa v Albion (Saturday 22nd October) and Albion v Villa (Saturday 28th April)
After the Wolves games, these are probably the other games which Albion supporters were most keen to look for. Last season saw us experience both sides of derby-day football against Aston Villa, as we followed a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park with a 2-1 victory at The Hawthorns towards the end of the season in a result which essentially secured our Premier League survival. The manner in which we won the game at The Hawthorns - with a late winner after going down to ten men with over 30 minutes left to play - was particularly impressive, and ended a 25-year win-less record against our local rivals.

Liverpool v Albion (Saturday 21st April)
A trip to Anfield takes on added significance now Roy Hodgson is our manager. It was clear from the reception that Hodgson received from the travelling Liverpool fans at The Hawthorns last season that he is not particularly popular with them after his disappointing spell with the club at the beginning of last season, although he has since gone on to prove with Albion that perhaps it was just a case of "right job at the wrong time" for the experienced Head Coach. After masterminding a 2-1 victory over his former club last season, maybe he can do it again at the ground where he endured some harsh treatment from the Liverpool fans?

Albion v Arsenal - Sunday 13th May
This is a very tough game to end the season with, although I'm sure Albion fans will be hoping that nothing is riding on this game! We put in two of our best performances of last season against Arsenal, with a 3-2 win at The Emirates Stadium being followed by a 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns. Even if Arsenal are unable to strengthen their squad significantly this summer, they should still be competing for a place in the top four at the very least, and so this game could have huge connotations for a number of different factors.

Of course, Albion fans will have their own particular games which they will have identified on the fixture list as ones they are looking forward too, but these are some of the games which immediately stood out to me and which probably stood out to a number of other Albion fans when they first observed the fixtures.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The emergence of Youssouf Mulumbu

"Youssouf who?" was the thought of most Albion fans when young Democratic Republic of Congo international midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu arrived at The Hawthorns on loan from Paris-Saint Germain in January 2009. He featured sporadically for the remainder of that Premier League season which ultimately ended with relegation to The Championship, but over the last two seasons, he has become one of the best, most highly-rated players in our squad.

In truth, he was never given much of a chance to establish himself for the remainder of the 2008/09 season, as he suffered a succession of injuries which prevented him from making his debut until April in a 2-2 draw away at Portsmouth.

Once the season was over, most supporters forgot about Mulumbu and instead concerned themselves with wondering whether the likes of Robert Koren (now at Hull City) and Chris Brunt would still be at the club to try and help us achieve promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

However, whilst transfer speculation surrounding some of our better players was gathering pace in the local and national media at the start of pre-season, Mulumbu displayed the kind of commitment which has endeared him to supporters ever since. Despite still being contracted to Paris-Saint Germain in France, he returned to pre-season training with Albion in the hope that he would be able to earn a contract. Thankfully, new Head Coach at the time Roberto Di Matteo recognised this commitment and offered Mulumbu a permanent contract which was signed on 10th July, after agreeing a fee of around £175,000 with Paris-Saint Germain.

The young midfielder was not guaranteed a starting place at the beginning of the season, but got given a chance in our opening league game at home to Newcastle United and took it, putting in a Man of the Match performance and really making supporters sit up and take notice of his undoubted ability.

This performance helped him become a regular for the rest of the season and had it not been for the outstanding form of Graham Dorrans, Mulumbu would probably have ended up gaining even more plaudits than he received from supporters and team-mates alike.

His one weakness in The Championship was that his distribution was occasionally not as good as perhaps it needed to be, particularly when you consider how important it is for defensive midfielders to not lose possession on the edge of their own penalty area. This slight weakness led to some supporters suggesting that he may not be able to make the step up to the Premier League, as better players would be able to punish these lapses in concentration.

However, had it not been for the occasional injury and a couple of suspensions, it is certainly reasonable to assume that Mulumbu would have been an ever-present in our midfield throughout last season in the Premier League. His tough-tackling and work ethic makes it difficult for any opposing midfield players to really control the pace of the game, with his exuberant celebrations and genuine appreciation of the fans who travel up and down the country every week making him a firm fans' favourite at The Hawthorns.

Despite scoring only three goals in The Championship, he scored a very impressive total of seven in the Premier League, making him our second-highest scorer behind Peter Odemwingie. This shows that whilst Mulumbu does an excellent job in a defensive midfield role, there may be the potential for him to be moved further forward into a more attacking position if he continues to develop this side of his game.

Goals such as his winner against Aston Villa at The Hawthorns and the other qualities I have mentioned helped Mulumbu to win both Player of the Year awards last season (Supporters and Players), despite the form of the likes of Odemwingie, who scored 15 league goals in his first season with the club. However, the consistency which Mulumbu showed throughout last season means that his Player of the Year awards are both richly-deserved.

So, how far can Mulumbu go in the game? It was rumoured that Bayern Munich were interested in signing him earlier in the summer, although they would have to pay several times more than the £1.5m being quoted in the national paper which started the rumour. However, as with any talented player at pretty much any club, it is inevitable that eventually an offer will come in which may be too good to refuse. At the age of 24, he has made 178 career appearances and is captain of the Democratic Republic of Congo national side. With this kind of pedigree, every Albion fan should make the most of having Mulumbu at the club, because another season like last season could see his stock rise incredibly highly in the game.

For the time being though, he is an Albion player and will be part of the spine of the team again next season as we look to build on finishing 11th in the Premier League last season.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Season Review 2010/11

Well, what a brilliant season! As an Albion fan, one has to become used to the inevitable highs and lows which football can provide. However, last season had even more drama than we could ever have expected. From the highs of winning at Arsenal, drawing at Old Trafford and beating Liverpool, to the lows of losing against Blackburn Rovers twice, being comprehensively beaten at Craven Cottage and throwing away a three-goal lead at home to West Ham United, we certainly experienced the complete range of emotions possible during just nine months of football.

The season started with a great deal of optimism after returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking under Roberto Di Matteo.

Unfortunately, we could not have wished for a tougher start to the season, as the fixture computer decided to send us to Stamford Bridge, the home of the then Premier League champions, for our first game. Despite not playing particularly badly, we came away on the receiving end of a 6-0 hammering. If we were under any illusions as to how difficult it would be to stay in the Premier League, watching a combination of Scott Carson and our back four gift Chelsea at least four of their six goals certainly ensured that we knew how difficult it would be after that point.

Our first home league game of the season saw us take on Sunderland, who are certainly a stronger side than their league positions in the last few seasons may suggest. The day before this game, we completed the signing of Somen Tchoyi from Red Bull Salzburg and Peter Odemwingie from Lokomotiv Moscow. Although Tchoyi would take a little while to really make an impression on the Albion fans, Odemwingie made an immediate impact, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Sunderland with less than ten minutes to help us too our first victory of the season at only the second attempt.

Our next match took us to the rather more unusual surroundings of Brisbane Road in East London, for a Carling Cup second round tie against Leyton Orient. Despite playing our second-string, we controlled the game and deservedly won 2-0 thanks to goals from Pablo Ibanez and Chris Wood. Although there were only 400-500 Albion fans at the game, it was still one of the best away days of the season in terms of atmosphere and based on the fact that it was a fairly comfortable victory as well.

Thanks to the apparent 'big-club bias' of the fixture computer, we faced a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool four days later. We put in a very good performance against Roy Hodgson's side, with the only difference being a moment of genuine quality from Fernando Torres midway through the second half, which was enough to win them the game. Unlike our display at Chelsea, however, we looked far more solid defensively and the chance which Torres converted expertly for his goal was the only space he was given all game by the outstanding Jonas Olsson, who returned to the side in place of Pablo Ibanez for the Sunderland game after the poor defensive display at Stamford Bridge.

September started with a home game against Spurs, who gave Rafael van der Vaart his debut. Thankfully, the Dutchman had not yet adapted to Premier League football by this point, and we were able to turn in an impressive performance in a 1-1 draw with the side who would later go on to humble both of the Milan clubs in their debut season in the Champions League. Our goalscorer was Chris Brunt, who got us back on level terms after Luka Modric had given Spurs the lead.

Our second game of the month saw us face our first derby game of the season with the visit of Birmingham City to The Hawthorns. Despite being 1-0 down at half-time after a very flat first-half display, we improved immeasurably after the break following the introduction of Graham Dorrans to play just behind new fans' favourite Odemwingie. It was the Nigerian striker who essentially won us the game as he scored one goal, had another shot deflected into his own net by Blues defender Scott Dann, before Olsson made the game safe with a powerful far-post header.

A third home in succession saw Manchester City make the journey to the Midlands in the Carling Cup third round. In what was essentially a chance for both sides to play some of their fringe players, goals from Gianni Zuiverloon and Simon Cox saw us continue our run in the competition after going 1-0 down.

Just three days later we faced one of our toughest games of the season, and achieved what was probably one of our best results in beating Arsenal 3-2 at The Emirates Stadium. Not only did we beat Arsenal, we outplayed them at their own passing game at a ground which they had turned into something of a fortress since leaving Highbury. To make this result even more extraordinary, we did it after seeing Chris Brunt miss a first-half penalty. Second-half goals from Odemwingie, Gonzalo Jara and former Arsenal player Jerome Thomas put us 3-0 up, before two goals in the final 15 minutes from Samir Nasri ensured there would be a nervous finale for the 1,500 travelling Albion fans in North London.

These excellent results saw Roberto Di Matteo and Peter Odemwingie receive the Barclays Premier League Manager and Player of the Month awards respectively, a feat which had never been achieved by Albion before.

Two weeks later, we faced another tough test in the form of Bolton Wanderers, who had started the season very well under Owen Coyle. Johan Elmander gave Bolton the lead at The Hawthorns, but a goal from James Morrison with just under ten minutes meant that our unbeaten run continued into a second month.

We then faced another incredibly tough away game, with a trip to Old Trafford. Not only did we have to try and pick up a result at Manchester United, but we had to do it without Peter Odemwingie, who had picked up an injury which would rule him out for several weeks. We were 2-0 down at half-time after two defensive errors and the hosts appeared to be heading for another comfortable home victory. However, two of the most bizarre goals which could possibly be scored saw us pick up a deserved point. First, a low free-kick from Chris Brunt near the byline took several deflections before clipping Patrice Evra and sending the ball over the line. Then, just minutes later, Edwin van der Sar made the kind of error he had probably never made previously in his distinguished career, as he inadvertently dropped a routine cross right at the feet of Somen Tchoyi to tap the ball home and send the travelling Albion fans into raptures.

Our impressive start to the season was such that a 2-1 home victory over Fulham seemed like something of a formality. After the visitors went ahead through a stunning strike from former Albion midfielder Zoltan Gera, goals from Youssouf Mulumbu and Marc-Antoine Fortune before half-time helped us to another impressive result against an established Premier League club.

Three days later we made the short trip to Leicester City in the Carling Cup fourth round. Again, Roberto Di Matteo played a side comprised of fringe players, but we still had too much for the hosts, as two goals from Simon Cox and a goal apiece for Somen Tchoyi and Steven Reid helped us too a comprehensive 4-1 victory, just weeks after Sven Goran Eriksson had taken charge at The Walkers Stadium.

Unfortunately, our brilliant start to the season came to an abrupt end in our first game of November at Blackpool. We were not helped by referee Michael Oliver, who ensured that we were down to nine men with an hour still to play. To be fair to Oliver, he got the decision to send Gonzalo Jara off spot-on, but sending off Pablo Ibanez inside the first ten minutes for a foul in the penalty area when he clearly wasn't the last man was absolutely baffling, so much so that The FA rescinded the red card and three-game ban Ibanez would have picked up just days later. We were 2-0 down at Bloomfield Road, before Youssouf Mulumbu pulled a goal back with a superb curling effort from just inside the penalty area to give us a chance of snatching an unlikely point. The game finished 2-1, but the performance with nine men was a real positive and showed just how much character there was in the squad.

Our next match saw big-spending Manchester City visit The Hawthorns. They were one of only two sides to genuinely outclass us on our own pitch last season, as two goals from Mario Balotelli helped the visitors too a victory which was perhaps more comfortable than the scoreline suggests. To add to the disappointment of successive defeats for the first time this season, Youssouf Mulumbu was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.

Just three days later we faced a difficult trip to Upton Park to face struggling West Ham United. Despite going ahead through a Peter Odemwingie penalty, the hosts equalised with a stunning effort from Scott Parker after Paul Scharner gave the ball away on the edge of his own penalty area. We went behind early in the second half, but got an equaliser with just under 20 minutes left from Pablo Ibanez to pick up a creditable point at a ground which is normally one of the tougher places to go in the Premier League.

However, this optimism lasted no more than three days as we succumbed to a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic, putting in what was probably our flattest performance of the season to date at that point.

The mood among Albion fans was not improved in our next game at home to Stoke City, as we were beaten 3-0 by a side who we simply never do well against. This scoreline flattered the visitors, however, as two of their goals came from penalties, both of which were debatable decisions at the very least. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be positive after a 3-0 defeat and for the first time in Roberto Di Matteo's reign, we were going through a genuinely poor run.

Our run of four defeats out of five was ended in our next game at Goodison Park, as we came away with a superb 4-1 victory from a ground where we had had a very poor recent record. Goals from Paul Scharner, a Goal of the Season contender from Chris Brunt, and late strikes from Youssouf Mulumbu and Somen Tchoyi helped us to a brilliant victory. An almost-perfect result and day was ruined by the sending off of Mulumbu in the final minutes, as he picked up a second yellow card for a foul after picking up his first booking for running into the fans after his goal.

Our first game of December saw us make the long journey East to Ipswich Town for a Carling Cup quarter-final, which played despite the heavy snow forecast. This was the game where a few Albion fans began to question Roberto Di Matteo, as he chose to field an even weaker team than he had played in any of the previous rounds as we suffered a 1-0 defeat. To show this total lack of respect for supporters who had travelled a long way in difficult conditions and for a competition which we genuinely had a chance of winning was simply not acceptable.

However, the Italian redeemed himself as the side he selected to face Newcastle United at The Hawthorns in a televised game on Sky Sports delivered an accomplished display to pick up a 3-1 victory. Peter Odemwingie was on the scoresheet twice and Somen Tchoyi added another spectacular goal to his collection following a similarly well-taken strike at Everton the previous week.

This led to a lot of optimism going into the trip to Villa Park, particularly with Aston Villa struggling to find any form under Gerard Houllier. Unfortunately, we continued our well-established habit of helping teams out of poor runs by producing a below-par performance in a 2-1 defeat, with Paul Scharner scoring a late consolation for us.

With our home game against arch-rivals Wolves postponed the following Sunday due to bad weather, we had to wait until Boxing Day for our next game which was a visit to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers. Despite creating numerous opportunities in this game, the normally ever-reliable Peter Odemwingie failed to take them and we conceded a goal in either half to continue the negativity which was beginning to engulf some of the more pessimistic Albion fans.

Their mood was not helped when three days later, we put in an absolutely abysmal performance against Blackburn Rovers at The Hawthorns in a 3-1 defeat. Yet again, the mood around the ground was a depressing one as we realised that after all the early-season optimism and hope that we would not be involved in a relegation battle, we would be facing a genuine fight to stay in the division.

We started off the new calendar year with the tough task of trying to beat Manchester United, who had seen Wayne Rooney go through a barren run form. Thankfully for the visitors, we were in a very charitable mood and allowed Rooney a confidence-boosting goal with a free header inside our penalty area after just three minutes. Despite this poor start, our performance for the following 87 minutes was absolutely outstanding and we could count ourselves incredibly unlucky not to come away with at least a point. We equalised just before half-time through a stunning strike from James Morrison, as he sent a superb half-volley from the edge of the penalty area into the corner of the net. We had a lot of the play in the second half, but a missed penalty from Peter Odemwingie and a late Javier Hernandez goal helped the visitors to a victory when they were nowhere near their best, something they have developed a reputation for over the years.

After such an impressive performance, we headed to Craven Cottage three days later confident of getting a positive result, despite missing most members of our back four. This gave young defender James Hurst the opportunity to make his Premier League debut for the club. We played relatively well for much of the first half, but an error from Scott Carson saw Fulham go ahead just before half-time and two further instances of hesitation from the goalkeeper saw the hosts add a further two goals to their tally from set-pieces in the second half to seal a comfortable 3-0 win. This was the first time I began to question Roberto Di Matteo, as the players seemed to be lacking the motivation and confidence which made us such a joy to watch earlier in the season and a lack of these two attributes has to be done to the manager to a certain extent.

We had a chance to take our mind off the league with a trip to Reading in the FA Cup in our next game, but another flat display saw us lose 1-0 and end any chance of a trip to Wembley for another season.

Going into our next game at home to Blackpool, there were several rumours going around in the national papers that Roberto Di Matteo would be sacked if we lost. At this stage, I was still just about behind Di Matteo enough to support him. Thankfully, we showed the character of earlier in the season as we picked up a 3-2 victory, with two goals from Peter Odemwingie, one of which was a winner three minutes from time, and a goal from James Morrison helping us to what was probably our most important victory of the season at that point.

Yet again, though, our optimism was short-lived as we produced a poor performance in a 2-0 defeat at Ewood Park in our next Premier League game. As we were soon to discover, Roberto Di Matteo's time was running out...

Our first game in February saw us take on Wigan Athletic at The Hawthorns in what had become a must-win game for both sides in the fight against relegation. Despite taking an early lead through Peter Odemwingie, we found ourselves 2-1 down at half-time after conceding two goals from set-pieces. In response to this, the under-pressure Roberto Di Matteo gave the much-criticised Marc-Antoine Fortune the opportunity to make an impact in the closing stages, and he did just that with a close-range header to rescue a point. A number of Albion fans seemed surprisingly content with a point in this must-win game, but it was becoming clear that we would have to beat some of the better sides in the division when we got round to playing them again if we were to stay up.

Four days later, we suffered a comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Eastlands against Manchester City. Not only did this keep us in the thick of a relegation scrap, it also turned out to be Roberto Di Matteo's last game in charge, as he was placed on gardening leave the following morning.

The search for a new Head Coach began, with internet message boards and social networking sites full of rumours about who Jeremy Peace and Dan Ashworth would select. The likes of Sam Allardyce and Derek McInnes were linked with the job, before it looked as though Chris Hughton was on the verge of being appointed four days after Di Matteo left. However, just one day later, and the day before another crucial home game against West Ham United, Roy Hodgson was appointed as our new Head Coach. This appointment inspired confidence among the Albion support, as we genuinely believed that we had appointed the best person available to keep us up.

Hodgson took a watching brief from the stands for our game against West Ham, leaving First-team Coach Michael Appleton to take charge of the team. Everything was going well at half-time, as goals from Graham Dorrans and Jerome Thomas, as well as an own-goal from Winston Reid, put us 3-0 up at the break. However, a second-half capitulation and some very questionable tactical decisions from Appleton allowed the visitors back into the game and saw them level the scores at 3-3, a result which we were lucky to get based on our second-half performance!

A three-month mini-season essentially started the following Sunday with a home game against Wolves, in what was Roy Hodgson's first game in charge. In truth, we were poor for most of the match and went behind just before half-time to a goal from Jamie O'Hara. However, in the last minute of injury-time, Carlos Vela finished well from close-range to give us a share of the spoils and begin brilliant celebrations around The Hawthorns.

Our next game was another derby-of-sorts against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Again we found ourselves behind going into the final few minutes, before Carlos Vela stepped off the bench and scored another late equaliser to secure an impressive point.

These late equalisers meant we could go into our first game of March against Birmingham City at St Andrews confident of picking up a result, especially seeing as they had won the Carling Cup just six days previously. We delivered an incredibly professional performance, as second-half goals from Youssouf Mulumbu, James Morrison and Paul Scharner helped us to a crucial victory over one of our local and relegation rivals.

Our next game saw the first of several difficult games against sides near the top of the table as we faced Arsenal at The Hawthorns. Goals from Steven Reid and Peter Odemwingie put us 2-0 up, but Arsenal improved a great deal after our second goal, scoring two goals themselves, and perhaps being a little bit unlucky not to find a late winner.

In April, we faced five tough games which we knew could make or break our season. The first of these saw us host Roy Hodgson's former club Liverpool, at The Hawthorns. As you would expect, there were a fair few chants aimed at Hodgson from the travelling supporters and these increased in volume after they went 1-0 up early in the second half. However, two penalties from Chris Brunt, the second of which came after 89 minutes, won us the game and started what were probably the greatest celebrations of the season. Hodgson had been in charge for less than two months, but he must have felt more welcome in the Black Country than he did at any point on Merseyside as he heard his name ringing around The Hawthorns after this game.

Our next game saw us visit Sunderland, a side who were going through a dreadful run of form. In another entertaining, end-to-end game, we went 1-0 then 2-1 down, before Paul Scharner scored a late winner to send the travelling Albion fans home happy and confident that we may have already done enough to to stay up. Our first two goals were scored by the in-form Peter Odemwingie and Youssouf Mulumbu respectively.

However, our impressive run of form was to come to an end in our next game at home to Chelsea. We took the lead early on through Peter Odemwingie, but Chelsea were 3-1 up by half-time and comfortably saw out the second half to keep them in with a chance of winning the Premier League title and keep us looking nervously over our shoulders at the relegation zone.

The games did not get any easier as a week later, we travelled to White Hart Lane to face Spurs. Yet another goal from Peter Odemwingie gave us an early lead, but we found ourselves on level terms at half-time and 2-1 down going into the final ten minutes. What happened next can always be remembered by Albion fans as the day Simon Cox announced his arrival to the Premier League with a superb curling effort from 25 yards out, leaving Heurelho Gomes in the Spurs goal with no chance and helping us to a well-deserved point.

Next up was the game every Albion fan had been waiting for - the visit of Aston Villa to The Hawthorns. A bizarre own-goal from Abdoulaye Meite gave the visitors the lead, before Peter Odemwingie equalised just after half-time. Within minutes of our equaliser, Paul Scharner picked up a second booking for a professional foul and left us down to ten men for the remaining 30 minutes. It is fair to say that we weathered a bit of a storm after this, but with just six minutes of the game remaining, a perfectly-weighted through-ball from Simon Cox was latched onto by Youssouf Mulumbu, who got the better of a Villa defender before firing high into the net and lifting the roof of The Hawthorns. If the celebrations after the Liverpool victory were impressive, these were even more so, as we celebrated our first victory over one of our main rivals for 26 years.

Peter Odemwingie picked up the Barclays Premier League Player of the Month for the second time this season after his four goals, with Roy Hodgson perhaps a little unlucky to not pick up the Manager of the Month award ahead of Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti.

We started May with a trip to Molineux to face arch-rivals Wolves. Our Premier League status had been secured the previous day, with both Wigan Athletic and Blackpool failing to beat Aston Villa and Spurs respectively. However, we never really turned up against Wolves and found ourselves 3-0 down early in the second half, before a Peter Odemwingie penalty gave us a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, this was not enough to help us get a result which could potentially have almost confirmed the relegation of our local rivals.

Our last home game of the season saw us take on Everton at The Hawthorns, in a game which had a distinct end-of-season feel to it with both sides being comfortable in mid-table. An early goal from Youssouf Mulumbu helped us to a 1-0 victory, our first clean sheet in the league since our opening home game back in August! After the game, Roy Hodgson led the players on a lap of acknowledgement around The Hawthorns pitch to thank the fans for their support.

Our final game of the season saw us draw 3-3 at St James' Park against Newcastle United after being 3-0 down, in what was one of the most entertaining matches of the season. All of our goals were scored in the second half by Somen Tchoyi, who divides opinion among supporters, some of whom think he has the potential to cause defenders problems in the Premier League, whereas others believe that he is simply not good enough.

Both Player of the Season awards (Supporters and Players) were won by Youssouf Mulumbu, who had a brilliant season in midfield and has proved to be a real bargain at just £170,000 from Paris Saint-Germain.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this season review, please feel free to leave a comment.