2010: A Year's Review - April to June

April

Jonas Olsson explained his exchange of words with fans after last month’s 3-1 victory against Derby was due to adrenalin and admitted it was “bad judgement” on his part.

Steven Reid extended his loan spell at the club until the end of the season; however Ben Watson was recalled by his parent club Wigan after impressing during his short spell at The Hawthorns.

As the Baggies entered the final full month of the season, Roberto Di Matteo insisted there was no sense of complacency entering the Albion camp – despite being nine points clear of third placed Nottingham Forest.

After Dean Kiely’s appointment as Goalkeeping Coach, Roberto Di Matteo revealed the Baggies would be in the market for another ‘keeper in the summer.

For the visit of Leicester City four changes were made to the starting line-up with Robert Koren, Chris Brunt, Marek Cech and Ishmael Miller all recalled. Albion recorded their sixth double of the campaign as James Morrison’s rocket saw him become the Baggies’ 21st different scorer of the season. Two goals from Robert Koren, either side of the break, saw the Baggies pull 12 points clear of Nottingham Forest after Nigel Pearson’s and Lloyd Dyer’s return to The Hawthorns.

Baggies boss Roberto Di Matteo revealed his side made the victory “look a bit easier than it was” against the Foxes as the Baggies took another step closer to achieving automatic promotion. He also reserved praise for James Morrison after the midfielder scored for the first time since his extended injury lay-off.

Albion travelled to Watford three days later after beating Leicester at The Hawthorns. Giles Barnes made his first start in Albion colours in place of James Morrison. Gianni Zuiverloon replaced the injured Steven Reid and Roman Bednar was preferred to Ishmael Miller for the trip to Vicarage Road. On another tricky pitch, Albion needed a win to secure an immediate return to the Premier League. Scott Carson made an excellent save from a Tom Cleverly’s volley in the 15th minute as relegation-threatened Watford enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges. Jay DeMerit blocked a Graham Dorrans’ goalbound header before Watford ‘keeper Scott Loach almost scooped the ball into his own net from the resulting corner.

After the break, Abdoulaye Meite replaced Gianni Zuiverloon as the Baggies went in search of a winner. However neither side created any real second half chances until the game came to life in the 79th minute.

Watford’s corner was cleared with James Morrison leading the counter attack. However, Hornets defender Jon Hartley pulled back the Scotland international and was shown a second yellow card. But despite being down to ten men, it was Watford who took the lead five minutes from time. Danny Graham ran on to Don Cowie’s headed knock down and unleashed a 25-yard volley which gave Scott Carson no chance.

After James Morrison had missed a good chance with a header, Albion’s never-say-die attitude again shone through though as Chris Brunt equalised in the fourth minute of added time to rescue a point. Andy Slory made his first and only contribution in an Albion shirt when he headed a loose ball goalwards with Brunt running on to the ball to nod home from close range to cue celebrations in the away end.

Giles Barnes was pleased to make his first start in nearly 16 months and admitted the Baggies’ point at Watford was an ‘ugly’ one.

Graham Dorrans’ performances in March earned him the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month in the Coca-Cola Championship.

Andy Slory’s reward for setting up Albion’s equaliser at Watford was selection for the reserve’s trip to Shrewsbury Town. Marcus Haber scored his first goal in club colours but Albion’s second XI trailed 3-1 as the final ten minutes approached. But George Thorne again showed his potential with two late goals to claim a point.

Albion’s youngsters continued their development as they again reached the Nike Cup quarter finals – a year after winning the competition for the first time. But the Under-15s were unable to repeat the feat as the kids crashed out on penalties to Manchester City.

Marcus Haber returned to Vancouver Whitecaps on a two-month loan as the striker aimed to gain full fitness ahead of the 2010/2011 season - the striker only joined the club in January.

As Albion headed to Doncaster Rovers knowing a win would clinch automatic promotion, Roberto Di Matteo made two changes to his starting XI. Simon Cox made his first start in nine games in place of James Morrison with Steven Reid also returning from injury. Rovers started the brighter but Roman Bednar and then Robert Koren almost gave the Baggies the lead in the 18th minute after the Czech striker had mis-kicked his attempt at goal. A minute later, Albion had one foot in the Premier League. Graham Dorrans, like he had many times before that season, bent a free kick around the wall into the far corner to give the lead to the Baggies. Albion grew in confidence and started to impose themselves on the game. Simon Cox should’ve doubled Albion’s advantage from Robert Koren’s cross before Chris Brunt did so in first half stoppage time. The winger pounced on a weak header from former defender James Chambers to score his 13th goal of the campaign.

But Rovers were back in the game minutes into the second half. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas wriggled away from Jonas Olsson and Marek Cech before slotting home past Scott Carson from 15-yards. However, the icing was on the cake for the Baggies in the 74th minute when Roman Bednar scored to start the promotion party. The goal was not the end of the drama however when James Hayter pulled one back for Doncaster four minutes from time. The hosts piled forward in an attempt to end Albion’s promotion celebrations and forced Chris Brunt to clear off his own line in the last minute of injury time. But the Baggies managed to hang on and the Albion fans which had travelled celebrated wildly at the final whistle and at the end of the game with the players on the pitch. Albion had secured an immediate return to the Premier League in Roberto Di Matteo’s first full season in charge with three games to spare.

New Hawthorns hero Roberto Di Matteo said it was an “amazing achievement” by the players and coaching staff to get promoted back to the Premier League before being sprayed by champagne and lager in the dressing room. However Albion chairman Jeremy Peace put the dampener on the celebrations when he announced the club would be “positive but...remain relatively prudent”.

A young reserve team faced Derby County’s second XI in a top of the table clash. Youngster George Thorne opened the scoring for the Baggies in the 27th minute before Albion fell 2-1 behind. Saido Berahino equalled the scores in the 67th minute before super-sub Ethan Mannion snatched a last-gasp winner for the Baggies.

After a fantastic season in the Championship, Graham Dorrans revealed he couldn’t wait to “mix it” with the best players in the world next season. Chris Brunt also urged the club to sign Steven Reid on a permanent deal. Dorrans was also nominated for the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Award for the Championship for this dazzling midfield displays.

Despite only a small number of Baggies fans having the privilege of celebrating with the players at Doncaster, the club again refused the offer from Sandwell Council to stage an official civic reception to celebrate promotion. Albion instead staged an open training session at The Hawthorns.

Roberto Di Matteo revealed the club would be searching for proven players in the top flight next season as the Baggies boss looked to strengthen his squad.

There was a carnival atmosphere inside The Hawthorns for the visit of Middlesbrough. Roberto Di Matteo named an unchanged side to the one which secured promotion against Doncaster with James Morrison returning amongst the substitutes. Albion knew that a victory would equal the club’s best ever points haul for a season. The Baggies bossed the opening stages and ‘Boro had keeper Brad Jones to thank for keeping them in the game. Roman Bednar came within a post’s width of opening the scoring in the 29th minute when he rounded Jones but saw his effort from an acute angle cannon back off the crossbar. The Baggies continued to press forward and got their reward in first half stoppage time. Roman Bednar chested Gabriel Tamas’ long ball into the path of Simon Cox. The midfielder side-stepped two Middlesbrough defenders before smashing an unstoppable effort from 15 yards.

Captain Scott Carson was replaced by Dean Kiely at half time but the change didn’t seem to upset Albion’s rhythm. Roman Bednar made it two in two in the 55th minute when he stabbed home from close range. The hosts continued to press for a third and Koren, Bednar, Brunt and Dorrans all went close as Jones single handily kept Boro from getting a hiding. Scott McDonald hit a post late on for Boro but Albion were worthy winners and recorded their tenth game without loss. The win also moved Albion 14 points clear of Nottingham Forest with Roberto Di Matteo claiming he could not have asked for a better performance.

In form striker Roman Bednar claimed he had learned valuable lessons from the last time he was in the Premier League and hoped to make a big impact next season.

Albion’s reserves missed the chance to go top of totesport.com Central Division as they drew 0-0 with Sheffield United at The Hawthorns.

Jerome Thomas vowed to be fully fit in time for the new Premier League season after being sidelined for the past four games with a stress fracture to his back. Gonzalo Jara also lost his battle against fitness to return for the last game of the season, but would be fit in time for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa for Chile.

Graham Dorrans scooped a trio of honours for his fantastic season. The Scotsman was awarded the Disabled Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and somehow came second behind Kevin Nolan for the Coca-Cola Championship Player of the Season Award. The midfielder was also named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.

For Albion’s final away game of the season at Crystal Palace Albion were unchanged for the third consecutive game. In front of the Sky TV cameras on a Monday night, Roberto Di Matteo’s men made the record books as they became the first team to reach the 90 point mark in a season. Albion had an impressive 22 efforts on goal but somehow managed to hit the net once as the Baggies extended their unbeaten run to 11 games with a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park. Although dominated for long spells they came up against a spirited Palace side battling against both relegation and going into administration.

It was the Baggies who thought they had taken the lead first but Simon Cox’s bundled effort was ruled out for handball and the striker was booked as a result. But it was Palace who drew first blood when, in trying to clear Darren Ambrose’s cross, Steven Reid put through his own net. But the Baggies hit back almost immediately when Gabriel Tamas met Chris Brunt’s right wing free kick to head Albion level. From then the Baggies dominated and home keeper Julian Speroni had to be in top form to deny Cox and Dorrans before Roman Bednar hit a post.

After the break the Baggies continued in the same rich vein of form but again could not find a way past the Palace stopper. Roman Bednar should’ve scored when one-on-one but his effort was saved. The game finally calmed down but was reignited when Neil Danns headbutted Graham Dorrans in the 83rd minute and was shown an immediate red card. But the drama didn’t stop there. Mulumbu had a chance to win the game before Darren Ambrose thought he’d won it in the last minute but was denied by a last ditch clearance on the line by Marek Cech.   

Roberto Di Matteo again praised his record breakers as his team became the first in the club’s history to reach the 90 point mark.

After his sparkling form had lit up the Championship, Albion received a written offer from West Ham for the transfer of Graham Dorrans which was immediately rejected. Chairman Jeremy Peace again stressed that the midfielder was not for sale.

On the same day, Marek Cech revealed he was pleased with his decision to stay at The Hawthorns in the summer as he hoped to force his way into Slovakia’s World Cup squad. Albion also opened transfer discussions with Auxerre to extend Gabriel Tamas’ stay with the club.

Albion lined up a trip to Kidderminster for their first pre-season friendly for the 2010/2011 season.

In the reserve’s final game of the season, Chris Wood hit a hat-trick during a 6-0 hammering of Macclesfield. Saido Berahino, George Thorne and Dwayne Samuels also netted.

Graham Dorrans added to his awards when he was voted the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year in the Coca-Cola Championship.

MAY

Ahead of Albion’s last game of the season, Roberto Di Matteo postponed any transfer talk until the season had finished and he had a chance to assess his squad.

There was another party atmosphere at The Hawthorns as Barnsley visited for the final game of the season. Roberto Di Matteo named an unchanged side for the fourth successive game. In front of more than 25,000 fans, returning hero Darren Moore was given a standing ovation as he lined up in the visiting XI. Jonas Olsson threatened first from a Dorrans’ corner before the customary ‘Sandwell wave’ circulated around The Hawthorns. Chris Brunt then missed a chance after some good work from Koren and Bednar as the teams entered the break all square.

The Baggies again pushed forward in search of an opener but could find no way past a defence marshalled by Darren Moore. After Roman Bednar had horribly screwed wide when through on goal, Barnsley failed to read the script and opened the scoring on the hour mark. Jacob Butterfield whipped the ball in from a free kick to the unmarked Hugo Colace who had the simplest of finishes.

Jonas Olsson again came close from two corners as Albion searched for an equaliser with Roberto Koren also missing two clear chances to score as the Baggies looked to be heading for a defeat. But with only seconds remaining on the clock Graham Dorrans came to Albion’s rescue as he had so many times before that season. Roman Bednar found the ball out wide and fired in a low cross which the Scotsman met perfectly to sweep home from 12 yards. The equaliser meant that no club had done the double over Albion and club captain was presented with the Runner’s Up Shield by Tony Brown amidst a flurry of champagne after the final whistle.  

After 46 tough Championship games, Albion had finished runners up with a total of 91 points. The Baggies smashed a total of 89 league goals winning 16 games at the Shrine and ten away from the Black Country.

Unsurprisingly Graham Dorrans was awarded the club’s official Player-of-the-Season Award with Youssouf Mulumbu, Chris Brunt and Roman Bednar finishing as runners up. Young Kiwi striker Chris Wood was presented with the Young Player-of-the-Year after firing ten goals in 11 starts for the reserves.

Loan star Steven Reid thanked Roberto Di Matteo for having faith in him during his time at The Hawthorns and revealed his intention to stay at the club.

The awards kept coming for Graham Dorrans as the midfielder was awarded the club’s official Goal-of-the-Season Award for his 30 yard free kick against Preston back in March.

Albion arranged their second pre-season friendly for the 2010/11 campaign away to Midlands neighbours Coventry City.

After only five months at the club, Andy Slory was released from his short term deal. The Dutch winger had failed to make an impression after making six appearances – five of which came from the bench.

A third pre-season friendly was arranged on happy hunting ground for the Baggies at The Keepmoat Stadium – where Albion clinched promotion only weeks before.

Following on from winning the club’s award, Chris Wood scooped the Nike Young Men’s Player-of-the-Year Award for the second successive year at the New Zealand Football Awards.

In a move which shocked many Albion fans, the club decided not to extend the contract of fans’ favourite Robert Koren and released the Slovenian captain. The midfielder joined the club on a free transfer in 2007 and quickly established himself in the Albion line-up. Koren played a pivotal role in helping the Baggies claim the Coca-Cola Championship trophy in his first full season at the club and started all but four games as Albion suffered relegation. But Koren’s versatility was his ultimate downfall as became frustrated at being played out of position. His frustrations got the better of him when he was substituted by Roberto Di Matteo against Scunthorpe United in early February and refused to shake the outstretched hand of the Baggies boss – an act which effectively ended his career at the club. In total, Koren made 149 appearances, including 19 as a sub, and scored 22 times.

Gonzalo Jara made his first competitive start in three months for Chile after breaking a metatarsal in early February. The full back was hoping to prove his fitness and go to the World Cup in South Africa.

Young striker Saido Berahino was called up to the England Under-17s European Championship alongside fellow Academy starlet George Thorne. The midfielder played 75 minutes in England’s opening victory against Czech Republic.

Gabriel Tamas turned his loan deal into a permanent switch and would join the club officially on July 1st.

Joss Labadie joined Tranmere Rovers on a free transfer after the club decided not to take up a further year on the youngster’s contract.

Roberto Di Matteo revealed he was planning to strengthen his defensive options in the transfer window and would also reinforce the spine of his team if possible. The Italian also said he intended to stick with the 4-5-1 formation which had brought the Baggies success towards the end of the season.

The club arranged for a select XI to visit Rushden and Diamonds as part as their pre-season preparations.

Saido Berahino scored a fantastic individual goal for England as he helped his country come from behind to beat Turkey to book a place in the Under-17s European Championship semi-finals. George Thorne also played the full 90 minutes.

Steven Reid followed in the footsteps of Gabriel Tamas by turning his loan deal at The Hawthorns into a permanent move. The former Republic of Ireland international turned down a move to Celtic in favour of the Baggies and penned a two-year contract, plus a year in the club’s favour.

Spanish top flight outfit Osasuna would visit The Hawthorns in Albion’s final and only home pre-season friendly.

Young pair George Thorne and Saido Berahino not only helped England into the Under-17 European final but both were crowned winners as Spain were beaten 2-1 by the young lions.

JUNE

The club had more reason to celebrate when it equalled a 52-year record after four players were called up to their nation’s squad to the World Cup. Marek Cech, Chris Wood, Gonzalo Jara and Robert Koren – who would officially still be an Albion player – were all called up to the finals. However, defender Abdoulaye Meite missed out on the Ivory Cup squad.

Another international signed for the Baggies when Pablo Ibanez joined the Premier League new boys on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid. The 28-year-old, who has 28 caps and played at the 2006 World Cup for Spain, signed a three year contract at The Hawthorns. The Spaniard said it was an “honour” to join the Baggies.

The club finalised its pre-season fixtures after arranging an away tie against Bristol City and confirming a mini European tour to Holland to face VVV Venlo.

The club improved the supporters’ facilities in the Smethwick End by laying new flooring and increasing the number of turnstiles. Whilst on the pitch new grass was sewn ahead of the new season.

The club gained another international when Jonas Olsson won his first cap for Sweden during his country’s 1-0 win over Belarus. After the game he admitted it had been a “dream come true” to play for his country.

Albion rejected an offer from Seville for record-transfer Borja Valero. The midfielder had been on loan at Real Mallorca and impressed back in his homeland. But despite not being in Roberto Di Matteo’s plans, the club rejected “out of hand” the offer.

To avoid supporters being stuck in traffic congestion, the club moved mid-week fixtures from a 7.45pm kick off to an 8pm from August onwards.

Chris Wood became the club’s youngest ever player to appear at the World Cup finals when he lined up for New Zealand against Marek Cech’s Slovakia. Wood came on in the 72nd minute and helped earn the All Whites a point as New Zealand battled back to score a last minute equaliser.

Albion were handed a tough run of opening games as the fixtures were released for the 2010/11 season. The Baggies were given the daunting task of visiting Chelsea on the opening day of the season before hosting Sunderland. They would then travel to Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United in consecutive away fixtures.

Felipe Teixiera was released from the club after Albion decided not to extend his contract. He joined the club in 2007 for £600,000 and dazzled fans with his skill and quick feet. But his first season in England was ruined when he injured his cruciate ligament in March the following year. He returned to action eight months later but struggled to find fitness as the Baggies battled against relegation. The Portuguese joined Barnsley on loan in an attempt to regain his match fitness towards the end of 2009/2010 season and was never to feature for the club again. In total, he made 62 appearances, including 24 as a sub, scoring five times.

Marek Cech and Gonzalo Jara reached the last 16 of the World Cup finals with Slovakia and Chile, respectively, although Chris Wood’s adventure with New Zealand was over as they were eliminated – despite not losing a game.

After two seasons without an official sponsor, the club agreed a deal for the 2010/2011 season with Walsall based company Homeserve.

Albion legend Cyrille Regis helped the club to officially mark their return to the Premier League by raising the division’s flag high above The Hawthorns.