1-0 away to ten man West Brom? Not much to say about that, a routine win surely? Yes but no but. Throw in the context of Everton and Chelski dropping points, no win since the first of January, the inactive transfer window and Togo’s unexpected progress through the ACoN and Significance Top Trumps Routine.
West Brom ignored the tactics of the teams who’ve had success against us recently and played a nice open 442. Whilst we spluttered up front (crosses flew across at a speed and height that would’ve made Mark Falco drool but Jermain Defoe blink into the sunlight) Hugo’s speed off the line and reflexes/spreadability at the other end kept us level. The home team’s style and tactics played straight into our hands, and you sensed that one break in front of goal was all we needed to take complete control, it was just a matter of whether we’d sneak ahead before Lukaku managed to stay onside and look dangerous at the same time or Shane Long found his range.
Defoe’s injury meant a rethink and a reshuffle. We didn’t buy Dempsey to play with his back to goal at the Hawthorns but here he was, attempting to find room to receive and touch the ball back to the all action Holtby or the all conquering Bale. Our Welsh superstar started down the middle with Dempsey on the left, the same formation as in the second half against Norwich, once Defoe limped off though he moved, nominally at least, towards the left. It worked ok but with Elland Road fresh in the memory, optimism was cranked down a notch, until the intervention of Twattenburg that is. He’d let Yacob hack at will unpunished and had been cowardly at corners as Olsson wrestled with Dawson so when Popov was dismissed (initially apparently randomly and then as it turned out actually justifiably) his desire to be the decisive influence on a game was sated but for once, the decision was in our favour.
Everything was on our side now… apart from an obvious goal threat. Dempsey was doing his best, Lennon was providing nuisance value, Holtby was busy, Dembele, Walker and Assou-Ekotto were happy to give it a go from long range but without a focus in the middle the feeling that all the effort would be in vain persisted. But then there was Bale. Twice in the first half he’d run through the West Brom defence so easily that ‘like a Bale through butter’ should be a new idiom (?). After 66 minutes he took the ball 25 yards out, brushed Morrison aside, and then exploited the space made by Holtby’s run by burying the ball over Foster’s right shoulder. Oh yes.
That was that. By taking off Lukaku Steve Clarke hindered his own side’s ability to both relieve pressure and provide any sort of threat and once we’d gone ahead the Baggies saggied and whilst an extra goal would’ve been nice, we sauntered to victory.
Defoe’s turned ankle means that Adebayor’s return couldn’t be timelier. Injury, not being selected, suspension and the AcoN mean that he’s had the weirdest of stop start seasons. Hopefully he’ll be bolstered by Togo’s relative success during the past fortnight but more importantly, he’ll be fired up by the prospect of leading the line for the rest of the season. Starting with Newcastle on Saturday his place at the centre of our attack will be his to lose. If he doesn’t respond though, there’s always Bale.
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