Once again, Bob Chapman stepped into Pete Sixsmith’s boots for the visit to WBA. And once again he provides an incisive assessment of what he witnessed, with an interesting having-it-both-way assessment of the one big controversy of the game …
Here is a Salut Sunderland quiz question. This report is the fourth in a sequence of firsts so what is it? For a clue the previous three were Swansea, Chelsea and West Ham.
West Bromwich Albion has the honour of possessing the highest league ground in England. I would have thought the likes of Burnley, Oldham and Bradford would be higher, but at 552 feet the Hawthorns is the highest.
So, was my visit to The Hawthorns, under Big Sam going to be, as many had been predicting, the start of a new era of “high altitude football”?
I have always admired Sam. I will never forget that bullet header he scored for Bolton against us at Burnden Park back in 1975. It’s still the best headed goal from a corner that I have seen and I have seen plenty – most against us!
I like the way he uses a scientific approach to how he organises his teams. In the past he had a reputation of preferring to play a long ball. I don’t think that is fair or accurate. What Sam does is analyse the strengths of a squad and then devise a system which suit them best.
I had to change my usual routine for Birmingham trips. Instead of taking the train and a liquid lunch I had to drive. As the Hawthorns is located nearby the first junction off the M5 I decided to meet up with John Marshall and his wife at the Post House Hotel. Located on the motorway roundabout this used to be a regular haunt for supporters who could park, get a drink, something to eat and watch the early match on a decent screen. The hotel catered specifically for this bi-weekly trade. However, something must have happened as the place was half empty and the service was poor.
I arrived at the ground to find that my seat in row D was in fact on the front row almost behind the goal. In my opinion that’s about the worst seat in the ground but at least I could see myself on Match of the Day. The last time I appeared was against Exeter City 25 years ago! The last time I was on a front row seat was at Tranmere in 1998. We won that one 2-0 so being superstitious I decided to stay where I was despite not enjoying the view.
I really don’t know why I bother with these little rituals that I have and have to adhere to as they clearly don’t work!
Big Sam must have been reasonably pleased with the first half. I may be biased but I thought we were definitely the better side.
A good early run by Borini in the first minute gave the team confidence. This was then soon followed up by shots from Cattermole and Fletcher which were blocked and resulted in a corner. From the subsequent corner Myhill produced an excellent save from a diving header from Billy Jones.
West Brom in contrast had been nonexistent as an attacking force. Coming out at half time I said to John that if we could score we would go on to win; it was one of those games where you knew one goal would be enough.
West Brom started the second half with more intent, but still didn’t look much of a threat. Then, for the second week running Pantilimon was involved in a needless goal being conceded. He failed to dominate his box and presented Berahino with a tap in.
It was a typically controversial Martin Atkinson event. John told me he is highly rated on the European scene, but there is invariably a problem when he is in charge of us. By the laws of the game the goal should have been disallowed under three counts; backing into the keeper off the ground, handball and kicking the ball out of the hands of the keeper. Atkinson didn’t see any of these incidents, even when Larsson pointed them out to him on the big screen.
However, that said, Pantilimon is at least a foot taller and probably five stone heavier than Berahino. Without breaking any rules Pantilimon should be able to dominate his area in such a way that if a player is going to physically challenge him, then that player is going to get hurt in the process and will think twice about it. Pantilimon is a great shot stopper but he needs to physically dominate his box.
Despite having one third of the game remaining, we never recovered and were never able to reproduce our first half pressure. The game fizzled out with the Albion fans chanting “you are going down with the Villa”. With both sides only able to produce one chance each in the match, maybe a more realistic chant should be “we are both going down with the Villa”.
By the way, the answer to the quiz is that this is the 4th match report that I have produced as Pete Sixsmith’s substitute for the debut fixtures of the last four managers.
No doubt Pete will have been watching a match somewhere and made the better choice. We have now lost all four matches – Di Canio (Chelsea 2-1), Poyet (Swansea 4-0), Advocaat (West Ham 1-0). However, each of them went on to beat you know who in their second matches and then secure Premier survival.