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Terry’s Baggies Blog

WEMBLEY HERE WE COME

04-04-2008

Terry Will reflects on a fine midweek draw in Cardiff for Albion, but admits he expects to taste defeat in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Cardiff.

They’ll keep a welcome in the Hillsides! Now only one game in hand but just two points off an automatic promotion spot, the visit to Blackpool next Tuesday becomes REALLY vital.

But before that there’s a little matter of a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final. So which is of greater importance?

A visit to Ninian Park isn’t welcome at any time but with the added aspect that both City and the Baggies were still in the hunt for Promotion to the ‘Greed League’ plus also playing respective Wembley Semi Finals just four days hence, this made for an even more intriguing fixture than normal.

Albion’s defensive frailties, so exposed and condemned after the Colchester ‘fiasco’, guaranteed Tony Mowbray would shuffle his pack in an attempt to quell this SO glaring weakness.

The decision? Start with a 4-5-1 formation. The lone striker, Ishmael Miller, surprisingly given the nod over Kevin Phillips and Roman Bednar, who were joined on the Subs bench by Chris Brunt, Leon Barnett and, ‘hurrah’, Czech goalkeeper Danek.

Other changes. Bostjan Cesar also relegated to bench warming duties. Pele, Neil Clement, and James Morrison stepping in.

Pre match both managers had stressed all that mattered on the night was gaining vital league points. Time to worry about Wembley at the end of this game. Or WOULD it subconsciously play on their minds?

Good humoured pre match banter ….Both sets of fans lustily belting out ‘Que Sera Sera’ Whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wemberley, ‘Que Sera Sera’!

A tense cautious start. Cardiff being quicker to, and on the ball, subsequently for the first 15/20 minutes dominated in terms of possession without ever seriously troubling Dean Kiely. (Who by the way received tremendous backing from the very vocal Baggies fans)

Gradually Albion began to impose pressure to cause for problems for the City defence. In one impressive spell Zoltan Gera had a shot blocked on the line. A strike from ‘Tiny’ was turned round the post, leading to a series of corners.

The first via Jonathan Greening, as usual (!) failed to clear the near post, but when Neil Clement strode up to deliver a quality cross, that caused far greater problems.

Scrambles in and around the six-yard box were repulsed but with Ishmael Miller, not really at his best but still managing to cause problems with powerful running and shots, there were signs that vital first goal would come.

Albion’s main architect was once again Zoltan Gera. Non stop running, clever close control, all blessed with the so obvious feeling from the fans that when he rampaged down the flanks there was always the feeling a goal would materialise.

What had been even more encouraging was the far more solid display from the defence and midfield.

Albrechtsen rarely missed a header, and tackled well. Pele looked secure. James Morrison alongside Robert Koren and Jonathan Greening made a nuisance of himself although Jonno frequently caused palpations when he again, twisted and turned with the ball in the wrong areas of the field.

A definite bonus was the VERY impressive display from Neil Clement. His composure under pressure was praiseworthy in itself making me ‘muse’ just how much more successful we’d have been if Clem had been available for the majority of the season?

Second half and if there had to be a winner it should have been the Baggies.

Yes Cardiff had their moments but despite the odd flurries Dean Kiely was never called on to make any serious saves and probably it was the Baggies supporters more worried than the keeper himself.

Cardiff , forced to utilise their substitutes earlier than Dave Jones would have wished, found themselves under severe pressure as Tony Mowbray went looking for the vital three points.

66 minutes. A double substitution. Chris Brunt and Roman Bednar on for Miller and Gera followed 10 minutes later with Kevin Phillips replacing Robert Koren.

Increased fervour and not only on the field! Mixed with the usual Baggies chants were, rather undiplomatically. “England, England”-“God save our Queen” and “Swing low, sweet Chariot” plus one I couldn’t possibly repeat for ‘Stirrer’ readers!

The reaction? Doesn’t leave much to the imagination does it?

In the closing stages it was Albion who came closest to breaking the deadlock.

Reasonable openings went begging when an extra pass was deemed necessary- shots that should have hit the target didn’t and as minutes ticked away I felt both teams were happy to take a point apiece.

Overall although I felt the Baggies could and should have won the game a draw was probably a fair result.

Cardiff had passed the ball around with a degree of comfort and certainly couldn’t be taken lightly. Albion for their part were always looking to win the game and the reaction from the players as we made our way out of the dilapidated Ninian Park showed they’d appreciated the tremendous backing they’d been accorded.

Rounding off the entertainment blaring out over the tannoy came Doris Day singing THE Wembley song that’s been heard at every game since the 6th Round victory at Bristol Rovers. Raucously appreciated by both sets of supporters.

Next up the second visit to Wembley to face Portsmouth followed by a Tuesday visit to the seaside to take on Blackpool.

Poles apart in terms of ‘glamour’ but in relation to the need to climb out of the ‘Fizzy Pop’ League a game that has to be won.

Will, can, Albion reach the Final ? The heart has to say ‘yes’ but logic suggests that by Sunday night it’ll be Pompey and Cardiff supporters waiting to hear just how difficult it will be to purchase a precious FA Cup Final ticket.

But then I could, and hope, to be proved wrong. After all it is a Semi final in a season of unprecedented shock results so here’s hoping West Bromwich Albion can add yet another by beating Pompey.

“ Come on you Baggies”

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