Saturday was one of my proudest moments being an Albion fan. I left the ground literally floating up Halfords Lane whilst walking back down the Birmingham Road with a smile on my face feeling 10ft tall. Albion had beaten the European Champions and were well worth the three points.
Roberto Di Matteo’s return certainly didn’t go the way the Italian expected. For one he was out-foxed by his former teammate Steve Clarke. Di Matteo underestimated the Baggies and picked a weakened side. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires should never be warming the bench. We know all too well about RDM’s puzzling selection at times, but Steve Clarke got it spot on again.
A week after sacrificing Peter Odemwingie and Zoltan Gera to adopt a winning 4-4-2 formation against Wigan, both players were recalled as Clarke adopted his preferred 4-2-3-1 formula. Chelsea mirrored Albion’s formation – meaning that Odemwingie and Gera would have to provide extra cover against Chelsea’s tricky widemen. The move worked a treat.
Peter Odemwingie looked like a man reborn. When in possession he was clever on the ball. Making darting runs to pull defenders out of position whilst using simple balls to teammates to relieve pressure. But for once it wasn’t his attacking attributes – despite his goal – which caught the eye. I’ve never seen Odemwingie work so hard for the team. In the second half he was a man possessed. Eden Hazard certainly didn’t know how to play Odemwingie who constantly won the ball off him in threatening areas. It was the performance we’d all been waiting to see from Pete since question marks were raised over his commitment.
Odemwingie deserves praise but there were nine other blue and white shirts and one green top in particular who were superb. Boaz Myhill, making only his sixth Albion start, made crucial saves to deny Daniel Sturridge which kept the Baggies ahead when the visitors found a way past Jonas Olsson and Gabriel Tamas – who also had his best 90 minutes in Albion colours. In front of them, Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob fought tirelessly for every ball. Chelsea simply couldn’t compete. Then there was James Morrison, who was at the heart of everything good we did going forward. Then, of course, you can’t forget the impact of Shane Long.
The Irish forward played his heart again – amazing when you consider he was grieving the loss of his Grandmother only hours before kickoff. I know that Giovanni Trapattoni is an OAP, but he desperately needs an eye test if he believes there are two other better forwards who represent ROI than Long. On Saturday he played David Luiz and Gary Cahill – two international defenders – superbly. Neither had a moment’s rest until Clarke decided it was time to substitute Long. It was a masterful show of forward play and well worth the admission alone. He’s quickly becoming a true fans’ favourite. I also thought his replacement Markus Rosenberg looked more sharp and willing than in recent weeks.
The victory moved Albion into a Champions League spot in mid-November. Clarke afterwards said it was OK for Albion fans to dream of a European adventure – whilst saying nobody within the dressing room was getting carried away. An early trip to Sunderland on Saturday isn’t as exotic as Milan or Madrid, but another three points will be equally as welcome.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES.