It’s strange how football can change your emotions. One minute it’s ecstacy, the next misery and disappointment and then again to rapture. Yesterday again at The Hawthorns was another emotional rollercoaster as the Baggies took on their bogey side Stoke - but not only for footballing reasons.
Tony Pulis made two changes to the side that beat Newcastle only a few days before. Anichebe expectedly pulled up lame so Rickie Lambert – full of Christmas turkey – was selected up front. Craig Gardner also retained his place after coming on as a substitute against the Geordies. Youngster Tyler Roberts was selected on the subs’ bench for the first time.
In-form Stoke arrived full of confidence after their 4-3 victory at Goodison Park. It was no wonder Albion were wary of the visitors attacking trio. The Baggies lost the toss so uncharacteristically attacked the Birmingham Road End in the first half.
Albion’s defensive pair of Evans and McAuley were excellent in snuffing out Stoke’s initial attacking attempts. McAuley in particular was almost sown into Bojan’s shirt he was that tight on the talented forward. But the tight marking helped and the Potters failed to create any real opportunities.
The Baggies created the best chance of the heart when Chris Brunt’s swirling corner was flicked on at the near post and only just missed the outstretched leg of Jonny Evans at the near post.
Stoke’s best opportunity of the half came when right-back Glenn Johnson cut inside and hit a left-foot drive straight at Boaz Myhill.
Darren Fletcher blazed a volley over the crossbar on the stroke of half time.
After the break
The Baggies again started on the front foot – although clear cut chances were still at a premium. It took until the hour mark for Albion to craft an opening. James Morrison picked up the ball on the edge of the area and cleverly found Stephane Sessegnon in acres of space. Sess took no time to blast the ball into the top corner.
Albion were well on top now. Off went Bojan and Shaquiri as the Potters went more direct for an equaliser. The tactic worked as the visitors got the equaliser with nine minutes remaining. Yacob failed to match the run of Walters who had a free header six yards out. He made no mistake.
The goal gave Stoke extra belief. It looked as thought it may be another case of de-ja-vu against the Potters. However, Albion were given a boost when Geoff Cameron clipped Claudio Yacob around the back of the head after a challenge. Referee Lee Mason correctly showed a red card to the defender.
Pulis smelt blood and threw on Saido Berahino and Callum McManaman to try and find a winner. Albion pushed forward and from a late corner Jonny Evans found himself free to prod in the winning goal. The Hawthorns erupted and the visitors fans had a taste of the medicine Albion had tasted for years.
Albion fans went home happy after watching the club’s first double over Stoke in some thirty years. Back-to-back victories at The Hawthorns extended Albion’s position from the relegation zone – just at a time when it looked though the Baggies were being sucked back in.
Stephane Sessegnon and James Morrison were at the heart of everything Albion did well against the in-form visitors. For consecutive games Albion again looked threatening going forward and had a willingness and intensity in attack.
A victory over Stoke is always sweet. However, my own mood was changed in an instant when I received a text message hours after the game saying that one of WBA-MAD’s most favourite and loved users had been killed in a car crash. Keith Harvey (LincsBaggie) was one of the most warm, friendly and generous men you could wish to meet. Despite his own health issues, Keith was never without a smile on his face and only too willing to put others before himself. I’m sure he was smiling down on the Baggies yesterday. Rest in Peace Keith. We’ll all miss you.
Come on you Baggies.
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