2010: A Year's Review - January to March

January

Albion started the New Year with a shivering journey north through the snow to Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup third-round. Roberto Di Matteo made five changes to the side which brushed Scunthorpe aside a few days earlier. Scott Carson returned after suspension in goal, Gonzalo Jara replaced Gianni Zuiverloon at right-back, Shelton Martis started at centre back in after Abdoulaye Meite jetted off for the African Cup of Nations with Youssouf Mulumbu and Simon Cox also starting for the Baggies. The changes did the trick at the Galpharm Stadium as two late goals from Graham Dorrans and Chris Wood put the Baggies into the next round of the Cup. New loan signing Gabriel Tamas watched the game from the sidelines.

Albion’s reward for beating Huddersfield was a home tie against Newcastle United at The Hawthorns in the fourth round.

Star midfielder Graham Dorrans signed an improved contract – after only penning an earlier deal seven months ago. The former Livingston man inked a three-and-a-half year deal, with a further year in the club’s favour.

Ishmael Miller made his first competitive start in a behind closed doors friendly at The Hawthorns against Port Vale after 13 months out. The striker played the first 45 minutes as he continued his comeback from a serious knee injury.

Neil Clement, Albion’s longest serving player, announced his retirement from professional football after unsuccessfully battling to regain full fitness after 18 months out injured. Roberto Di Matteo, who knew ‘Clem’ from their days at Chelsea, revealed his disappointment at the news. Clement made 326 appearances for the Baggies, scoring 27 times and is the only player to have achieved three promotions with the club.

Winger Reuben Reid joined fellow Championship side Peterborough United on a three-month loan until April after failed to impress at The Hawthorns. On the same day, Albion agreed a deal with Vancouver Whitecaps to sign striker Marcus Haber who had been on trial.

Michelle Davies announced that she was to leave her position as Operations Director and leave the club at the end of March.

David Worral rejoined Bury on a permanent basis after a successful loan spell. He made just one senior appearance for the club. George Thorne also penned his first professional contract with the club after progressing through the ranks as a youngster. The 17-year-old signed an 18-month contract, with a year in the club’s favour.

Gabriel Tamas received both a work permit and international clearance in time to face in-form Nottingham Forest in the first game of 2010 at The Hawthorns. Tamas was one of five changes made by Roberto Di Matteo. The Romanian international replaced Shelton Martis, Gianni Zuiverloon and Joe Mattock also returned to the starting XI with Jerome Thomas and Luke Moore also recalled. In sub-zero temperatures Albion froze in front of the Sky cameras as goals from Dexter Blackstock, Radoslaw Majewski and Chris Cohen put the visitors 3-0 ahead. Roman Bednar pulled a goal back after the hour mark, but even the introduction of Ishmael Miller was not enough to salvage a point. Roberto Di Matteo admitted it was the “worst performance” since he took over as Baggies boss.

Free agent Giles Barnes began training with the club after his release from Derby County.

The club announced it would wear shirts supporting the DEC Haiti Appeal against Newcastle United. Di Matteo made four changes after the disappointing defeat to Forest with Robert Koren handed his first start in 11 games. Youssouf Mulumbu, Roman Bednar and Marek Cech were also included as the Baggies favoured a 4-5-1 formation for the first time of the season. The switch worked as Albion opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Jonas Olsson coolly side footed home a volley to give the Baggies the lead. Danny Guthrie equalised for the league leaders with a free kick as the sides entered the break on level terms.

However, Roman Bednar took just seconds after the break to give Albion the lead once again when he headed home 35 seconds after the restart. But the hosts hit back once again when Peter Lovenkrands headed the equaliser before the hour mark. Ishmael Miller could, and should, have given Albion all three points though when he hit the post from a matter of yards when the presented with an empty net with only minutes to go. Di Matteo admitted he had the response he wanted after the Forest defeat and said Albion would have to remain grinding out results.

Ishmael Miller finally found the back of the next – this time for the reserves in a 2-0 victory against Hereford. Lateef Elford-Alliyu netted the other.

Roberto Di Matteo rubbished reports linking left back Marek Cech with a move to French club Rennes following newspaper reports. The boss also said the club would be reporting his agent to UEFA after contacting the French club without the Baggies’ permission.

Roman Bednar apologised to Roberto Di Matteo after his reaction to being substituted in the 2-2 draw against Newcastle. The Italian said he was “happy as before”.

Albion faced familiar faces in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Newcastle United visited The Hawthorns days after the two teams played out a 2-2 draw in the league. The Baggies continued their good form against The Geordies beating their hosts 4-2 to progress to the fifth round. Jonas Olsson opened the scoring with a header in the 17th minute before Graham Dorrans stepped up to the penalty spot to double Albion’s advantage in the 31st minute. Just after the hour Newcastle scored through Andy Carroll with Albion having to withstand sustained pressure. However, the Baggies stood firm and scored a third when Jerome Thomas was toppled in the area by Steven Taylor – who was then dismissed – and Graham Dorrans stepped up to score his second penalty of the afternoon. It was Thomas again who terrorised Newcastle in the 74th minute when he fortunately tapped home Albion’s fourth of the afternoon. Andy Carroll completed the scoring in injury time for the hosts as Di Matteo’s men marched on in the FA Cup. Albion’s reward would be a fifth round tie away at Reading.

Young prospects Paul Downing and Lateef Elford-Alliyu joined Hereford United on a month’s loan to gain first-team experience.

Roberto Di Matteo named an unchanged side for the third league game for the trip to Ipswich Town. Albion enjoyed large spells of possession during the early stages with Roman Bednar somehow missing from only six yards out with the goal gaping. Ipswich were given an reprieved by referee Stuart Attwell in the 21st minute when Town stopper pulled down on the oncoming Roman Bednar outside the area but was shown only a yellow card. The Baggies continued to press in the second half but were behind in the 68th minute when referee Attwell again caused controversy awarding Ipswich a penalty after adjudging Jonas Olsson had pushed Damien Delaney. Grant Leadbitter stepped up to give Ipswich the lead. Albion were again frustrated in their attempts to equalise until at the death when Chris Brunt headed home a rebounded Simon Cox effort.

After the game Roberto Di Matteo revealed his anger at Ipswich’s penalty but praised his players’ attitude in earning a last-gasp point.

As the transfer window drew to a close, Roberto Di Matteo revealed that Leon Barnett was likely to extend his loan spell at Coventry and that Albion’s attempt to sign James MacArthur was unlikely with Wigan leading the chase. The Baggies boss also said the club were interested in signing Victor Moses.

Paul Robinson changed his loan into a permanent deal at Bolton Wanderers. The left-back, who joined in 2003 for £250,000, made 237 appearances scoring six times.

Sheffield United visited The Hawthorns for the final game of January with Roman Bednar and Graham Dorrans both winning late fitness tests as Di Matteo named an unchanged team for the fourth league game. Following the dodgy penalty against Albion last time around, the Baggies were given their own in the 18th minute when Nick Montgomery was adjudged to have handled in the area. Graham Dorrans made no mistake from the spot. Albion doubled their lead in the 30th minute with a clinical counter attack. From a United free kick the hosts broke in numbers with Jerome Thomas finally finding Roman Bednar who made no mistake.

The Baggies went into the break two goals up but were pegged back minutes into the second half. Youssouf Mulumbu dallied over a clearance and tripped Stephen Quinn with Daruis Henderson slotting home the resulting penalty. United sensed an undeserved comeback but were put to the sword again seconds later. Dorrans sent Thomas clear with an excellent long ball with the winger cutting inside before seeing his deflected effort find the back of the net.

Albion finished the month in third place six points of leaders Newcastle United and only two points off second place Forest – although with a game in hand on Billy Davies’ men.

February

Albion’s attempt to sign Victor Moses was thwarted when the Palace man chose Wigan instead of The Hawthorns. Feyenoord winger Andwele Slory joined on a five-month deal, with a year in the club’s favour. Stumbling defender Shelton Martis signed for Doncaster Rovers for an undisclosed fee in a three-and-a-half year deal. Leon Barnett extended his spell at Coventry and Felipe Teixeria also departed on loan to Barnsley.

Marcus Haber made his first appearance in Albion colours for the reserves as they beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Chris Wood continued his development with an early second half goal.

With Albion away to Blackpool and Plymouth in the same week, Roberto Di Matteo decided to set up a training camp in Lancashire to keep the squad together during a tricky week.

Albion boosted their option as Giles Barnes penned an 18-month deal, plus a year in the club’s favour, following a training spell with the club.

On a cold winter’s night Albion travelled to Blackpool for their game in hand on second placed Nottingham Forest. The Baggies were unchanged for the fifth consecutive league game with new signing Andy Slory on the bench. The visitors started brightly but were behind in the 25th minute when Keith Southern wandered through the Albion defence and slot home past Scott Carson. Albion hit back though minutes later when Dorrans and Brunt combined to release Roman Bednar who rounded Paul Rachubka to equalise. The striker was at the double in the 40th minute when good work from Gonzalo Jara gave the striker the easiest of tap-ins. Albion again pressed after the break and nearly went two goals in front when Andy Butler headed against his own post. Andy Slory was given his first taste of action in an Albion shirt when he came on for Jerome Thomas in the 53rd minute.

The Dutchman could’ve made a dream start to his Baggies’ career when he fired wide after a superb reverse pass from Graham Dorrans. As the game wore on, the Baggies tired and Blackpool found their second wind. Stephen Dobbie equalised ten minutes from time as Albion looked to have squandered their game in hand. However, the Baggies again showed their never-say-die attitude minutes after conceding. Graham Dorrans fed Ishmael Miller, on for Roman Bednar, who advanced in the area and was pulled down by Butler. Much to the dismay of the Blackpool players referee Foster pointed to the spot. Penalty ace Graham Dorrans stepped up and again to restore Albion’s lead. The victory took Albion back up to second, a point ahead of Nottingham Forest.

Roberto Di Matteo praised his troops after the late victory and the work rate of in-form striker Roman Bednar.

Dan Ashworth said the first-team was in “good shape” following the closure of the January transfer window.

Albion made the long journey to Plymouth Argyle only days after the victory at Blackpool. For the first time in four games, Di Matteo made four changes to the starting XI with Abdoulaye Meite in for Jonas Olsson, Gianni Zuiverloon for Gonzalo Jara, Joe Mattock for Cech and Simon Cox for Robert Koren. On a pitch which looked more like a ploughed field, the Baggies struggled to find any sort of fluency. Gabriel Tamas impressed at the heart of Albion’s defence as Roman Bednar twice went close in the first half. After the break the Baggies finally took the lead when Simon Cox arrived late in the area and volleyed home from ten yards. In the 83rd minute Graham Dorrans had the chance to wrap up the points from the penalty spot after Luke Moore was felled. However, the Scotsman’s spot kick was excellently saved by David Stockdale. As Albion held on to the points, Jerome Thomas outstretched a leg and caught Argyle defender McNamee and was shown a straight red card. Despite being down to ten men, the visitors held on to record their eight away win of the season.

Roberto Di Matteo hailed the impact of his fringe players after the victory and was pleased with how his players adapted to the shocking Plymouth pitch. Goalscorer Simon Cox said he was happy to move into a deeper role after switching from a striker to an attacking midfielder against Argyle.

Young West Ham striker Frank Nouble on a month’s loan to bolster Albion’s attacking options.

Strikers Chris Wood and Simon Cox were both nominated for the Mitre Goal of the Year 2009. Wood’s wonder volley against Doncaster Rovers was nominated, as was Cox’s effort during his time for Swindon against Walsall.

Three days after beating Plymouth, Scunthorpe United visited The Hawthorns. New signing Frank Nouble was given an immediate start in place of the suspended Jerome Thomas. Gonzalo Jara, Jonas Olsson and Robert Koren were also recalled. Albion controlled the game for long periods and continued their recent dominance over the Iron. Roman Bednar continued his good form in front of goal scoring his sixth goal in seven games with a cheeky back heel in the 13th minute to open the scoring. The Baggies pressed for a second but a combination of blocked shots and saves from ex-Albion keeper Joe Murphy kept the hosts at bay. After the break Chris Brunt tested Murphy’s reflexes before missing a golden opportunity to double the advantage when pulled his shot wide when one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Robert Koren effectively ended his Albion career in the 65th minute when he refused to shake hands with Roberto Di Matteo after being substituted in place of Simon Cox. The second finally came when Bednar and Cox combined well to find Zuiverloon in the area who made no mistake in the 86th minute. There was still time for action though as Cliff Byrne was shown a red card for pulling down Andy Slory when through on goal.

Baggies boss Di Matteo reserved praise for in-form Roman Bednar after the final whistle and praised young Frank Nouble’s performance during his first outing with the club. The Italian also said Koren’s handshake rejection was a “selfish act”.

Former midfielder Jason Koumas was on Roberto Di Matteo’s radar as he looked to strengthen his midfield options.

The club and its supporters raised £25,000 to the DEC’s Haiti Earthquake Appeal after selling sponsored shirts and other donations.

The Albion head coach escaped punishment following his comments towards referee Stuart Attwell after his penalty decision against the club in late January.

Thousands of Albion fans took advantage of free coach travel to Reading for the FA Cup fifth round. Andy Slory was denied his full debut after pulling out with injury at the last minute with Gianni Zuiverloon, Abdoulaye Meite and Simon Cox all recalled to the starting XI. Zuiverloon was at fault for Reading’s opener after only 9.5 seconds when the defender failed to control a pass and Jimmy Kebe pounced to poke the ball past Scott Carson. The goal was the quickest in the FA Cup ‘proper’ rounds history. A shell-shocked Albion regrouped and found an equaliser in the 18th minute when Robert Koren ghosted in at the back post to score. In form Roman Bednar almost doubled the advantage a minute later then stung the hands of Adam Federici with a rasping 25 yard drive. Koren went even closer minutes later when his volley beat the keeper but rebounded off the post. An eventful first ended with Gonzalo Jara limping off following a late challenge.

Reading’s robust approach continued after the break when Shane Long caught Abdoulaye Meite with a late challenge which saw his receive his marching orders. Albion capitalised on their advantage with Bednar agonisingly close to putting Albion ahead when he poked effort rolled inches wide. However the sides were level just after the hour when Youssouf Mulumbu was dismissed for a second bookable offence.  Reading adjusted better to having ten men and went ahead in the 73rd minute when Simon Church raced through and rounded Scott Carson. Albion were not yet out of the game though. Simon Cox raced on to Tamas’ long ball and drew a fine save out of Federici. With Albion looking to be heading out of the cup they found an unlikely hero – left back Joe Mattock. Dorrans danced his way into the area and found the unmarked defender who hit a fierce drive across the goal and into the far corner. Albion had earned a replay to a thrilling cup tie.

Gonzalo Jara was ruled out for the rest of the season after fracturing a metatarsal in his right foot. Roberto Di Matteo was given a further selection headache after Jerome Thomas was handed an extra one-match ban following his red card at Plymouth.

Albion’s marathon run of games continued when the Baggies travelled for the first time to play Cardiff City at their new stadium. Roberto Di Matteo was without eight first team regulars due to injury or suspension. As a result, Andy Slory was handed his first full start and Gabriel Tamas, Frank Nouble and Luke Moore were all recalled. It was Moore who almost opened the scoring in the fourth minute when his effort flashed wide. The hosts were to open the scoring in the eight minute Jonas Olsson pulled down Jay Bothroyd in the area. Peter Whittingham scored the resulting spot kick. Albion rallied and Slory was unlucky not to net his first Baggies goal when his shot hit the inside of the post midway through the half. The Baggies were to pull level though in first half stoppage time when Gianni Zuiverloon flicked the ball over David Marshall and into the net.

Substitute Chris Wood wasted a good chance after the break when he headed wide from six yards when unmarked. Jonas Olsson had a massive let off minutes from time when his back-pass found Chris Burke but his effort went wide when one-on-one with Scott Carson. Albion though could’ve snatched it at the end when Simon Cox failed to bundle the ball over the line in the dying stages.

Roberto Di Matteo believed Albion’s sewn up side deserved more but was delighted to stretch Albion’s unbeaten away record to an impressive 13 games.

Giles Barnes made his first appearance in Albion colours during a 45-minute spell for the reserves against Port Vale. Albion’s new-boy was upstaged by young Chris Wood who hit a hat-trick.

Another young striker Marcus Haber joined League One outfit Exeter on an initial one month’s loan.

Roman Bednar returned from a back injury to face Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Youssouf Mulumbu also returned in favour of Andy Slory. In front of the Sky TV cameras Albion looked to extend their 13-game unbeaten stretch. The Baggies started brightly with Robert Koren and Chris Brunt both having goal-volleys blocked in the area in the opening minutes. Danny Haynes gave Joe Mattock a taste of things to come in the fifth minute when he outpaced the full back but could only find the side netting. Graham Dorrans saw a couple of efforts flash wide before giving Albion the lead in the 24th minute. The Scot collected Zuiverloon’s clever ball and placed his shot beyond Gerkin in the City goal to open the scoring. Bednar had two chances to extend Albion’s lead before the break but was unable to find a way past the City stopper.

City regrouped after the break and scored twice inside four second half minutes. First, on loan Wolves striker Chris Iwelumo bundled home from a corner. Then, Haynes, who tormented Mattock all afternoon, got to the byline and crossed for Johnson to side-foot home. The goal knocked confidence out of the Baggies as a run of 12 games in six weeks proved to be too much for Di Matteo’s men. The defeat saw Albion drop out of the automatic promotion places a point behind Forest.

Di Matteo admitted his men looked jaded after their extended run of games but still lambasted his defenders for City’s second.

Despite being interested in Jason Koumas, it was Wigan’s Ben Watson that arrived on loan until the end of the season. Roberto Di Matteo was given a double boost with the news that James Morrison played an hour in a friendly after ten months out with a heel injury. Despite not playing a competitive game, he was immediately called up to the Scotland squad by new boss Craig Levein. Fellow countryman Graham Dorrans also got the nod in the same squad. Jonas Olsson’s impressive performances at the heart of Albion’s defence also earned him his first international call up.

Ahead of the fifth round replay, Albion’s players practiced their penalties should a winner not be found over 120 minutes. Di Matteo admitted the cup had been costly after injuries had taken their toll but he still aimed to set up a mouth-watering quarter final game against local rivals Aston Villa.

The Baggies boss decided on making three changes for the visit of Reading. Luke Moore was recalled alongside Abdoulaye Meite and Simon Cox. James Morrison was also included in Albion’s squad for the first time in ten months. Following the events at The Madjeski Stadium, it was Albion who grabbed the early goal this time when Robert Koren smashed home after Roman Bednar had a shot blocked on the line in the sixth minute. The visitors scored a carbon copy goal three minutes later when Jimmy Kebe slotted home after Scott Carson had saved. The game again saw both teams create chances in an enthralling cup tie.

Albion were literally handed a goal two minutes into the second half when Adam Federici somehow let Robert Koren’s weak volley squirm under his body and over the goal line. Reading hit back immediately and hit the woodwork only seconds later after a long-range Sigurdsson effort.

The home side were hanging on at this point with Carson doing excellently to deny Kebe from close range after Tamas had gifted possession to the winger. Roberto Di Matteo decided to add some extra energy in midfield and called upon James Morrison for the first time in 10 months. His first taste of action saw Tamas head his corner just wide.

With only seconds remaining, and Albion heading for a quarter final tie against neighbours Aston Villa, disaster struck when Gianni Zuiverloon mis-controlled a high goal kick with Kebe setting up the on rushing Howard to equalise.

Albion’s defensive blunders continued in to extra time when Meite failed to clear a long ball with Sigurdsson expertly curling the ball around Carson from all of 25 yards to give Reading the lead for the first time on the night.

The Baggies pushed forward to take the tie to penalties but were unable to find a third goal on the evening after being so close to progressing to the next round. After the final whistle, Jobi McAnuff was shown a straight red card for head butting Youssouf Mulumbu as the celebrations spilled over. The Reading players were also involved in a number of scuffles with Albion stewards as they celebrated a thrilling cup tie.

Roberto Di Matteo later said he was “destroyed” after the FA Cup exit with Albion literally seconds away from the final whistle before Zuiverloon’s error.

Youngster Paul Downing extended his loan at Hereford United after impressing at Edgar Street; however, Lateef Elford-Alliyu was no longer required by the Bulls and returned to The Hawthorns.

James Morrison said it “felt good to be back” after making his first appearance in an Albion shirt for nearly a year after a heel injury. The Scotland international also revealed that “harsh words” were spoken after the manner of the Reading defeat.

Midfielder Graham Dorrans and striker Roman Bednar were both nominated for the PFA’s Championship Fans’ Player of the Month for February.

The club dismissed claims Albion’s stewards tried to get on the Reading coach after the game had finished and described the Royals’ claims as “ridiculous” after being given the all clear by West Midlands Police.

Felipe Teixeria also extended his loan spell at Barnsley until the end of the season after impressing at Oakwell.

In Albion’s eight game of the month, Derby County visited The Hawthorns with Roberto Di Matteo calling for a “wall of noise” against the Rams. Ben Watson was given his full debut with Jerome Thomas also recalled following a five-game ban. Chris Brunt, Jonas Olsson and Marek Cech were also included in the starting XI. In a scrappy game of few chances, Robert Koren was first to threaten in the 26th minute when he volleyed Jonas Olsson’s through ball over the bar when through on goal. The teams went into the break level, however, Derby opened the scoring in the 49th minute when Albion failed to clear a Savage cross and Chris Porter volleyed home from close range.

Brunt came close to equalising for the Baggies with a header before Derby forward Giles Sunu missed an even better chance at the other end to extend the visitor’s lead. County were made to pay for the miss in the 67th minute when Brunt held off two Derby defenders to drill home a 20 yards shot. The goal brought Albion back to life and James Morrison came close to scoring with a downward header keeper Bywater did well to tip over from a corner. But it was only a brief reprieve for the visitors as Brunt prodded home Dorrans’ corner in the 77th minute to give the Baggies the lead.

Simon Cox then wrapped up all three points in the 87th minute when the broke the offside trap to smash the ball past Bywater and secure the victory. The result saw Albion move back into the second automatic promotion spot having played a game less than third placed Nottingham Forest.

March

Gonzalo Jara reported in safe following a massive earthquake in his native Chile. The international missed his country’s game through injury, but the news was far better for defender Gabriel Tamas after being recalled to the Romanian squad for the first time in 11 months.

Albion’s Legal Director/Secretary Darren Eales announced he was to leave the club in the summer to join Tottenham Hotspur in a similar role after four years at The Hawthorns.

Ishmael Miller and Giles Barnes both continued their comebacks from injury in the reserves’ 0-0 draw against Black Country neighbours Walsall. Miller missed a number of chances to give Albion’s second XI with both sides missing penalties through Walsall’s Steve Jones and Albion’s Joss Labadie in the last minute.

Versatile Blackburn man Steven Reid joined the Baggies on an initial one month loan and was included to Albion’s trip to face Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. The Republic of Ireland international was given an immediate start as he, James Morrison, Simon Cox and Youssouf Mulumbu were all included in the starting line up. The last time Albion were at Loftus Road they lifted the Championship title, but had nothing to celebrate on this occasion. The Baggies were behind after 13 minutes when former loanee Jay Simpson pounced on a Scott Carson error to give Rangers the lead. Their advantage was doubled five minutes later when Matthew Connelly walked through a static back line to slot past Carson.

The Baggies staged a comeback and Chris Brunt halved the lead in the 36th minute when he scored his tenth of the season after a looping header at the back post. After the break Albion pushed forward for an equaliser but another Scott Carson error led to Rangers regaining a two goal advantage. Substitute Akos Buzsaky sent over a curling free kick in the 67th minute from the left which beat everybody and somehow snuck in at the far corner with Carson static on his line. Albion’s misery increased in the final stages when Simon Cox was stretchered off with a back injury after on-loan Wolves stopper Ikelme had flattened the forward.

Baggies boss Di Matteo said that Albion had gifted Rangers the three points but reserved special praise for James Morrison on his first start for the Baggies in almost 11 months and Steven Reid’s debut for the club.

The club’s matchday programme ‘Albion’ was again honoured for the ninth season running by Programme Monthly for offering the best value for money than any other rival publication. The club also decided to support the aid effort in Chile by wearing sponsored shirts in their next home game.

Roberto Di Matteo said that Albion’s game against Sheffield Wednesday was a “must win” clash and backed Scott Carson to bounce back from his nightmare show at QPR. Luke Moore and Graham Dorrans were both recalled by the Italian as Albion looked to go above Nottingham Forest once again into second spot. Steven Reid made his home debut and Giles Barnes was included amongst the substitutes for the first time. The Baggies had not beaten the Owls at The Hawthorns for 35 years but Robert Koren put an end to the run with a fantastic individual effort 11 minutes from full time.

The Baggies enjoyed large spells of possession but could not find a way past a dogged Wednesday rearguard. Neither side managed a shot on target in the first 45 minutes but Robert Koren’s introduction after the break changed the game in Albion’s favour. Olsson was first to test Wednesday stopper Camp in the 58th minute when his goal bound header was saved with Ishmael Miller firing over the rebound. The stopper then saved headers from consecutive corners from first Miller then Morrison.

Dorrans and Miller again tested Camp before the Wednesday man was beaten. Slovenian captain Koren cut in from his position on the right and unleashed an unstoppable 25 yard effort with his left foot which arrowed into the top corner to secure second place in the Championship for the Baggies. Giles Barnes made his first appearance in Albion colours as the winger impressed during a 7 minute cameo at the end of the second half.

After the final whistle both Koren and Barnes revealed their delight at their performances against the Owls – whilst Roberto Di Matteo reserved praise for his back four.

Promising Academy graduate Kayleden Brown joined non-league outfit Barrow for experience until the end of April.

Ian Holloway’s improving Blackpool were next to visit The Hawthorns. Ishmael Miller made his first start in 15 months with Robert Koren also recalled following his wonder strike last game. It was the visitor who took the lead in the 7th minute when Charlie Adam found the bottom corner with a 20 yard strike which found the bottom corner.

But Albion bounced back six minutes later when Ishmael Miller repaid Roberto Di Matteo’s faith in the striker when he converted Chris Brunt’s excellent through ball to level the scores. The teams entered the break all square but lightening struck twice at The Hawthorns only a few minutes into the second half. Robert Koren picked up the ball on the right and cut in field to shoot with his left foot and find the far corner.

Blackpool responded in the 72nd minute when the ever dangerous Adam crossed from the right to find Brett Ormerod at the back post to bravely head an equaliser. Both teams pushed for a winner but it was Albion who would find it. Giles Barnes played a clever one-two with Roman Bednar before being upended by Joe Martin in the area. Referee Jonathan Moss had no hesitation in pointing to the spot with Graham Dorrans again scoring a late penalty against the Tangerines to record a 3-2 victory. The win was Albion’s fifth in a row at home and saw them pull five points clear of Nottingham Forest in third place having both played 36 games.

A humble Robert Koren played down his two eye catching goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool in the same week saying the most important thing was Albion achieving automatic promotion.

Albion and Plymouth were fined by an Independent Disciplinary Committee at the FA after failing to control their players at Home Park earlier in the season. The two were fined £12,500, although £7,500 was suspended until June 2011.

For Albion’s first ever competitive trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City, Luke Moore, Ben Watson and Abdoulaye Meite were all recalled to the starting XI. Against the division’s meanest defence Albion struggled to create chances in the opening stages. It wasn’t until the 38th minute when Graham Dorrans fizzed a cross across the area that Albion looked threatening – however, neither did the hosts after an assured, disciplined performance from Albion’s back four.

The Baggies were more adventurous after the break and almost scored with their first effort on target in the 49th minute when Luke Moore stung the hands of de Vries in the Swans’ goal. It was the introduction of Ishmael Miller and Giles Barnes after the hour mark which brought the Baggies to life. After Gabriel Tamas had missed a header from a corner, Barnes tricked his way into the area before being tripped. Referee East immediately pointed to the spot. Graham Dorrans again stepped up and curled the ball round de Vries before celebrating wildly in front of the visiting fans from England.

Swansea pushed forward for an equaliser but were made to pay a minute from time. Ishmael Miller raced onto Graham Dorrans’ pass before beating de Vries twice before smashing the ball into the net. Roberto Di Matteo saluted his players’ “mature” display and revealed his delight at Albion moving eight points clear of the chasing pack.

Graham Dorrans was somehow piped to the Coca-Cola Championship Player-of-the-Year Award by Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan despite scoring 15 goals from midfield.

Roberto Di Matteo revealed the door was not shut for Borja Valero who was enjoying a fine season back home in Spain for Real Mallorca. He also said the club would wait until the end of the season before making a decision on whether to sign Gabriel Tamas permanently.

Following his goal against Swansea, Ishmael Miller started the game as the lone striker in place of Luke Moore with Gianni Zuiverloon also recalled for the injured Jonas Olsson for the visit of Preston North End. The Baggies started the game in tremendous fashion with Ben Watson first giving Albion the lead in the 7th minute before Chris Brunt doubled the advantage two minutes later.

Sean St. Ledger scored a free header to reduce Albion’s advantage after 15 minutes but Graham Dorrans again showed why he was the best player in the Championship in the 33rd minute. A full 30 yards from goal Dorrans curled a sublime free kick around the wall and into the top corner to score a wonderful third for the Baggies. However, Albion could not hold on to a two goal lead until half time with Neil Mellor given the freedom of The Hawthorns to score Preston’s second of the day.

After the break Albion pushed for a fourth but were denied by Preston stopper Lonergan as the visitors extended their 37 year wait for a victory on B71 soil. Roberto Di Matteo paid homage to his players for their fourth win inside 11 games but warned the Baggies must stop conceding silly goals.

Following his first Albion goal, Ben Watson hinted his desire to stay at The Hawthorns after his loan spell ended in the summer after enjoying his football again after a nightmare spell at Wigan.

Defender Callum Davenport arrived for fitness tests in an attempt to secure a contract after his release from West Ham United.

Joss Labadie joined Tranmere until the end of the season after failing to impress on his return on loan at Shrewsbury and Cheltenham Town.

Albion went in search to record their best run of form in six years as East Midland neighbours Coventry City travelled up the M6 to The Hawthorns. Joe Mattock made his first start in seven games in place of the injured Marek Cech. Steven Reid also replaced Gianni Zuiverloon. Reid’s inclusion proved to be pivotal as the on loan Blackburn man scored the only goal of the game. Chris Brunt’s corner from the right evaded Gabriel Tamas at the near post but found the unmarked Reid to volley home in the 22nd minute.

Robert Koren then thought he’d been given Albion a 2-0 lead in the 42nd minute when he directed Graham Dorrans’ free kick towards goal. The ball seemed to have crossed the line but referee Webster and his assistant waved play on. TV replays later showed the Baggies should’ve been awarded the goal.

After the break Coventry attacked with purpose and should’ve equalised when Jon Stead wasted a golden effort when clear on goal. Gabriel Tamas then cleared off the line as the visitors continued to push forward.

Albion were on the ropes and visibly tired and were given a massive let off when Clinton Morrison somehow hit a post in the 95th minute. The victory was Albion’s fifth in a row and moved them within two points of leaders Newcastle United with only seven games of the season remaining.

On loan pair Steven Reid and Gabriel Tamas revealed their pleasure at being at promotion chasing Albion and both hoped to sign permanently when their short term deals expired in the summer.

Graham Dorrans was again nominated for the PFA’s Championship Fans’ Player-of-the-Month for March.

The loan deadline passed without Albion deciding to bring in reinforcements before the end of the season.

Albion geared up for the final game of the month with revenge on their minds. Roberto Di Matteo revealed he was still hurting after the FA Cup fifth round defeat with Gabriel Tamas also out for some sort of payback. The Romanian got his reward against Reading in the fourth clash of the sides that season. Chris Wood made his first start in five months with Jerome Thomas, James Morrison and Jonas Olsson also recalled.

Albion were made to pay for sloppy defending again against Reading when broke quickly and Gylfi Sigurdsson tapped home a rebounded Jimmy Kebe shot. Tamas and Reid both came close from corners as Albion searched for a reply before the half time whistle. The visitors were nearly made to pay for missed chances when Brian Howard and Shane Long both saw efforts cleared off the line.

The Baggies were denied two penalties after the break when a clear hand ball and a trip on Ben Watson was ignored by referee Andy D’Urso. But Albion did find a way back into the game through their 20th different scorer of the season. Graham Dorrans’ corner was headed against the crossbar by Jonas Olsson with Gabriel Tamas controlling the rebound on his chest before smashing an unstoppable volley into the net. D’Urso was in the limelight again in the dying stages when Dorrans was clear through on goal in the last minute and hauled back by Sigurdsson but chose to book the midfielder instead of showing him his marching orders.

Roberto Di Matteo claimed that captain Scott Carson was “magnificent” in the draw against the Royals and was pleased with Albion’s resilience in extending their unbeaten record. The valuable point extended Albion’s advantage over Nottingham Forest to nine points and moved them within a point of Newcastle – although having played two more games.

Forgotten man Andy Slory scored his first goal for the club in the reserve’s 2-1 defeat to Burton Albion.   

Dean Kiely was officially named as the club’s goalkeeping coach as he signed a one-year deal on his playing contract.

Albion duo Roberto Di Matteo and Graham Dorrans were nominated for monthly managerial and player awards after a memorable March.