I watched the events from the Hawthorns unfold via the excellent offering on Sky, Soccer Saturday with the talented Jeff Stelling hosting. Who would have thought that a group of ex-footballers watching TV screens interspersed with goal flashes from around the grounds would make for such entertaining viewing? It works mainly because of the skill of Stelling, whose research and ability to add humour to his very quick statistical recall, makes him for me the most impressive football pundit. Added to the chemistry of the four regular ex-players, Le Tissier, Merson, Thompson and Nicholas, then for me it is as interesting a way to follow football on a Saturday afternoon as I know without actually being at a game.
The BBC have tried it with Final Score, and if I didn’t subscribe to Sky Sports then it would be an OK alternative, as would Five Live on the radio, or the commercial station, Talk Sport. But Soccer Saturday is my choice. I interspersed this with watching my second favourite sport, the Channel 4 horse racing from Newbury and Ayr, which included the Ayr Gold Cup.
Le Tissier was assigned what he termed the “dubious pleasure” of the West Brom v West Ham game last Thursday, and admitted that he thought he’d drawn the short straw, not expecting many goals. He described the first half goals as the game unfolded as “comedy defending”. He was particularly scathing about Masuaku’s high clearance “into the clouds” which ended closer to our goal than when he kicked it, and his inexplicable hand ball giving away the penalty for the first goal. He thought Ogbonna was the chief culprit for the second Baggies goal when he should have put the ball into row Z, and the third goal was poor marking generally with Masuaku totally switched off.
Three down at half-time so I had a quick look at social media to brush up on my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon expletives from some of our cultured followers. Jeff Stelling stated what we have been saying for some time about the nonsense of possession statistics when he confirmed that we had 72% possession in the first half. We were three down in goals though! I went into “clutching at straws mode” and thought back to the week after my birthday in February 2011 when we were three down at half-time at the Hawthorns and fought back to draw the game. And of course the concept of comebacks wasn’t completely alien after last week against Watford, although of course the boot was on the other foot then.
The fourth goal was described as “Sunday morning” or “amateurish” as Albion broke away to score from our corner. To some extent I can understand how it happened as we were going for broke, but just one player staying deeper was all it would have probably taken to prevent the goal. At four down we gave it a go, although Albion decided to take it easy at this stage. A Payet free kick hit the angle of crossbar and upright and only just stayed out, then Antonio scored his fifth goal (remarkably all headers) of the season. Payet was brought down in the penalty area, and with Noble already substituted, Lanzini placed the resultant penalty kick low into the corner to reduce the deficit to 4-2. We didn’t make too many clear cut chances from there; just one more might have induced panic in the Baggies’ defence. Collins had a shot well saved by Foster but that was it.
Four defeats in five games means we have only three points, when I would have hoped for somewhere in the region of 7-9 to ensure we were keeping up with the life in the fast lane. At least I had an evening out to look forward to. We went to see the Illegal Eagles. No, not the Crystal Palace FC tribute team, but the excellent band, who were one of the best tribute acts I’ve ever seen, and would recommend them to anyone who likes the Eagles.
I came home just in time to see us have top billing on Match of the Day for a change, but not for the reasons I would hope for. Matt Le Tissier had painted the picture well in the afternoon, and the game was just as he had described. I can’t tell you why we are defending so poorly and many fans think we are already gone.
But those of you who are old enough may remember 1985-86. That season we had just four points after five games, three of which were at home, and sat seventeenth in the table. Two further draws meant just six points from seven games. Of course we finished in third place, eight points clear of fourth, and only narrowly missed out on being champions. But to do that we went on a run of 12 wins, 6 draws and no defeats prior to Christmas. Then we had another run in the second half of the season where we won 11 games out of 13. I don’t believe we are good enough to emulate those days, but we’re also not as bad as some might say.