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Terry's Baggies Blog

LANCASHIRE HOT POT

04-02-2008

Preston away, Burnley at home. The footballing fates threw Albion together with a pair of Lancashire "town teams" in the space of five days. Terry Wills tucks in.

A wet miserable journey to Preston and even before kick-off a number of warning bells was growing increasingly louder in the ears! First the local radio announcement that North End hadn’t lost a Tuesday Night home match since 2001, then the realisation that it had been 39 years since Albion had managed a Deepdale League success.

If those ‘miserable’ statistics weren’t bad enough came the news that not only was Kevin Phillips missing from the starting line up he wasn’t even on the bench. But then looking on the bright side, a necessary attribute for Baggies fans, we compensated these negative vibes by convincing ourselves that on current form the Championship Leaders would surely carry enough fire power to see off third from bottom Preston?

So on to what appears to be a Baggies trademark. Make it hard for yourselves and give a massive boost to the opposition by conceding an early goal. Inevitably from a set piece. (Now just how many IS that?!)

A left sided corner (a regulation cross from ex Baggie Darren Carter) a static defence not helped by Dean Kiely again seemingly terrified to come off his line for crosses and from a yard or so out there was Youl Mawene to nod home a ‘gift’ wrapped opportunity.

Curses all round! Players stared at each other. Fans looked on in disbelief not knowing what to say after seeing a recurring a nonsensical situation. All this after promising link up play between James Morrison and Filipe Teixeira had seen an inviting pass temptingly slide across the face of the Preston goal with sadly no Baggies player on hand to open the scoring.

This being followed when the eventual ‘Man of the Match’, Preston keeper, Andy Lonergan, pulled off the first of a string of fine saves that as the game wore on became all so familiar and frustrating.

The rest of the half was bossed by Albion although in a ‘rare’ Preston attack we were grateful to see a shot rebound to safety after hitting a post.

Second half and looking for an equaliser Albion pushed forward roared on by the passionate travelling hordes and at LAST we were rewarded with a truly magnificent strike from Zoltan (Mr Magic) Gera. A surging run, a tremendous strike and even the athletic Mr Lonergan couldn’t get anywhere near the ball.

“Come on you Baggies”, “let’s see a winning goal “When the Stripes Go Marching in” “Come on, come on”!!

Wish granted the only drawback being the winner came from Karl Hawley who from yet ANOTHER set piece must have been amazed to find himself surrounded not by determined athletic players but a line of terracotta soldiers. Moribund? You’d better believe it.

The local radio station commentator was suitably astonished telling their listeners “From looking as if they would do well to hang on to a point North End have somehow taken the lead - can they hold on for a valuable win against the championship leaders”?

Yes they could and they did. Wave after waves of attacks saw opportunities created but from early on I’d had the distinct impression this WASN’T to be Albion’s night. We ‘trooped’ away ‘brooding’ on the seventh away defeat of the season knowing that if promotion IS to be achieved this has to be redressed.

Certainly a disappointing performance. An uncertain defence. A midfield, pick of the bunch Zoltan Gera, below their best, and without Kevin Phillips a distinct lack of a cutting edge up front.

First impressions of a Lancashire Hot Pot? Unsavoury. Did Betty Turpin ever serve such an unappetising meal in the Rovers Return? If she had it’s a wonder any customers was willing to hand over cash for the privilege.

Back to the Hawthorns and the uncompromising Burnley outfit complete with three Albion ‘old boys’ Certainly an in form team capable of causing problems for a fragile defence but as opposed to Albion’s record at Deepdale it was encouraging to discover they hadn’t won at the Hawthorns for 42 years. Here was the opportunity to make it 43!

Team news. Kevin Phillips was back to link up with Roman Bednar. The usual midfield permutations and the satisfaction of hearing that at last Dean Kiely had genuine competition. There was new loan signing Michael Danek sitting on the bench, no doubt wondering if and when he’d get a chance to show his capabilities.

‘Groundhog Day’, and how may more are we to witness? This time a mere 4 minutes on the clock and up popped ‘old boy’ James O’Connor .to punish those ‘invisible’ Blue and White defenders who were again conspicuous by their absence at a set-piece. Groans and mutterings from Baggies fans, appreciative roar’s from the Turf Moor devotees. It was most definitely game on.

Albion’s defending wasn’t inspiring any genuine confidence. Far too frequently they backed away allowing Burnley to advance and cause problems but gradually Albion began to let their football do the talking.

‘Sweet’ passing moves down both flanks created scoring opportunities. Carl Hoefkens and James Morrison bombed forward revelling in the service from Jonathan Greening, Zoltan Gera, and Robert Koren. With pressure mounting Morrison’s header stuck the bar. Kevin Phillips, below his best, found space but wasn’t sharp enough to snap up the half chances that came his way but not to be denied in 26th minute the equaliser came from the unlikely feet of Bostjan Cesar who superbly volleyed home a Jonathan Greening corner.

Burnley protested at the award of a corner claiming that Roman Bednar had pushed a defender and they should have been awarded a free kick.

You know what? After seeing the incident on the box they were right! But what a strike from a central defender.

Second half. The ground rocking to the sounds of “When the Stripes go Marching In” (inspired by the passionate Smethwick End crowd) and in the 60th minute the scoring machine, going under the name of Roman Bednar, was there to head home a fantastic cross from Paul Robinson.

Came the incident that SHOULD have spared fans the nervous twitchy last 15 minutes. Down went Robert Koren. Referee Mr Pike pointed to the spot. Up stepped Koren to be followed by groans as the ‘Beast’ pushed away a poor penalty attempt.

Nerves were evident as the clock ticked down. Four minutes added on time. An unsettled Baggies looking vulnerable But at last the final whistle meant our lead at the top was now two points. Not a vintage performance but the battling display justly merited the win. For me Robert Koren, despite his penalty miss, Zoltan Gera, Paul Robinson, and Roman Bednar were the team’s bedrock

Man of the Match? Any of the above but on a collective basis I have to plump for the Baggies twelfth man. Those fabulous Smethwick End fans who in a short space of time have bought the whole of the Hawthorns back to life. ‘Gawd Blimey’, even those in the East Stand had been forced to wake up from their slumbers! So the second chance to sample a ‘Lancashire Hot Pot’, and reflecting on the Preston result, this was far more digestible.

Next up? Barnsley away and if you think the daunting statistic of going 39 years at Preston without a win was bad enough then prepare to choke on this. The Baggies last win at Oakwell took place on August 30th 1947!!

Surely it’s time to expunge THAT record from Albion’s history book of horrors?

Until next week lets hear it “When the stripes go come marching in”, etc, etc. So as a certain Delia Smith once implored’ Norwich City supporters “Lets be having you”!!!

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