2009: A Year's Review - An up-and-down year for Baggies fans

January

Following on from the fine home victory over Tottenham Hotspur, which lifted Albion off the bottom of the Premier League for the first time in two months and raised festive spirits, the Baggies were given a double boost with the news that promising forward Jay Simpson had agreed to bolster Albion’s attacking options until the end of the season and Chairman Jeremy Peace also turned down Bolton’s ridiculous offer for James Morrison.  Unfortunately Neil Clement was also ruled out for the remainder of the season following the knee injury picked up in pre-season.  Joss Labadie exited for Shrewsbury for an initial 28-day loan.

The FA Cup third round fixture against Peterborough United at The Hawthorns was the Baggies’ first game of 2009 as Darren Ferguson brought his promotion chasing team to the Shrine.  In front of a crowd of 18,659 the visitors bossed the game for long periods as Leon Barnett struggled with the pace and trickery of Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith.  Loan signing Jay Simpson came on to make his first Albion start with the hosts taking an unexpected second-half lead when Jonas Olsson rose the highest at the near post to nod in a Jonathan Greening corner.  However the Posh got their rewards for an impressive performance three minutes from time when Mackail-Smith got in front of Barnett to scramble the ball home under Scott Carson.  The League One outfit had earned a respectable replay against their Premier League opposition. 

Tony Mowbray admitted his relief Albion were still in the cup as the Stripes were drawn against either QPR or Burnley in the fourth round.  The Baggies boss refused to again loan out Craig Beattie following his return from Crystal Palace but admitted misfit Bartosz Slusarski’s days at The Hawthorns could be numbered.  Sadly Joss Labadie quickly returned to The Hawthorns after breaking his foot after only one game for the Shrews.

Scott Carson backed Leon Barnett to exercise the ghosts of his Villa nightmare earlier in the season on the eve of Albion’s trip to Witton.  Contrary to newspaper reports, Ryan Donk’s contract had not been terminated at Albion with Mowbray backing the young Dutchman to feature again for the Baggies.  Young defender Jared Hodgkiss was also expected to return from his spell north of the border with Aberdeen following financial problems for the Dons. 

James Morrison, Gianni Zuiverloon and Filipe Teixeira were all passed fit for the Villa game with Ishmael Miller’s knee operation also ruled a success.  Lee Baker completed a free transfer to Kidderminster Harriers following an impressive loan spell. 

Jay Simpson was handed his first league start in Albion colours with James Morrison and Paul Robinson also recalled in place of Chris Brunt and Marek Cech.  Albion’s misfortunes at Villa Park continued despite a second-half fight back from the Baggies.   Curtis Davis came back to haunt his former club as he gave Aston Villa the lead against the run of play in the 17th minute.  Minutes before half-time the hosts doubled their advantage in bizarre fashion when Gabriel Agbonlahor broke down the left-hand side.  There seemed little danger with Leon Barnett covering however the defender ignored the attacker instead of closing him down with Agbonlahor’s shot somehow creeping under Scott Carson much to the amusement of the home fans.  The Baggies battled back early in the second-half with James Morrison smartly turning Martin Laursen before slotting past Brad Friedel.  As much as the visitors tried for an equaliser Albion couldn’t find another goal with two late penalty appeals frustrating substitute Roman Bednar.  Tony Mowbray again rued his side’s poor defending and waited anxiously on the news on James Morrison following his injury.

Sherjill MacDonald joined Belgium outfit Roeselare on loan until the end of the season with Bartosz Slusarski having his contract cancelled by mutual consent. 

Just three days after the defeat at Villa Park, the Baggies travelled to London Road to face Peterborough United in the FA Cup third round replay.  Despite Tony Mowbray making four changes from the weekend’s defeat Albion started brightly with Jay Simpson opening his Albion account in style with a 25-yard curling shot.  Paul Robinson bundled home a free-kick in the 37th minute to hand Albion their first away win in four months and set-up a fourth round fixture at home against Burnley.

After the game Tony Mowbray admitted his interest in Benfica striker Ariza Makukula as the 6ft4in striker arrived in the Black Country for talks over a proposed loan move – the striker would later sign for Bolton Wanderers.  The Baggies boss also played down newspaper reports quoting Marek Cech’s unhappiness following being dropped prior to the Villa game.

Nancy striker Marc-Antonie Fortuné joined Albion until the end of the season on loan on the eve of Middlesbrough visiting The Hawthorns.  The Throstles started the game only three points behind the visitors with Albion taking an early lead in the fourth minute when a deflected Chris Brunt free-kick found its way into the Smethwick end goal.  Albion were dominant throughout with Jay Simpson and debutant Marc-Antonie Fortuné impressing up front.  The advantage was doubled after the break when Robert Koren cut inside and saw his effort deflected off the legs of Fortuné in the 54th minute.  Eight minutes later Didier Digard saw red for a high tackle on Borja Valero.  If there was any doubt about the second goal there was none about Albion’s third as Robert Koren was found by a superb ball from Chris Brunt with the midfielder making no mistake from 18-yards.   The emphatic win again moved Albion off the bottom of the league with the Baggies’ third successive home win taking them within three points of 12th place Bolton.

Tony Mowbray hailed the debut of Marc-Antonie Fortuné admitting he’d trailed the striker’s progress for more than two years.  Despite Jonas Olsson, Abdoulaye Meite, Gianni Zuiverloon and Neil Clement all missing through injury the Baggies boss refused to sign another defender during the January transfer window.  Record signing Borja Valero was also praised by Tony Mowbray for coming to terms with the ‘hurly burly’ of English football.

Pedro Pele, Filipe Teixeira, Do-Heon Kim and Roman Bednar all returned to the starting XI to face Burnley in the fourth round of the FA Cup at The Hawthorns.  The changes disrupted Albion with the visitors taking the lead in the 25th minute courtesy of a penalty from Graham Alexander.  The Baggies weren’t behind for long with Robert Koren scoring an unstoppable volley from the edge of the area past Brian ‘Beast’ Jensen in the Burnley goal.  The goal boosted the hosts with Albion taking the lead deep into added-on time in the first-half when Do-Heon Kim’s free-kick took a wicked deflection leaving Jenson with no chance.  The Baggies bossed the second-half with a number of wasted chances coming back to haunt them when Martin Pattison scored at the back post in the last minute.  To make matters worse for Albion, Jonathan Greening limped off in the second-half to join an ever increasing injury list.  The draw against Burnley saw the Baggies or the Clarets drawn out of the hat to face either Cardiff or Arsenal in the fifth round.

Jonathan Greening was ruled out for a minimum of a month with his knee injury and missed the game against Manchester United at The Hawthorns.  Gianni Zuiverloon made his first start in a month in a wide midfield berth as Borja Valero, Chris Brunt and Marc-Antonie Fortuné were all recalled to the starting XI.  In front of a bumper 26,105 Hawthorns crowd referee Rob Styles was again Albion’s nemesis.  After a delayed kick-off following traffic problems around The Hawthorns, the Baggies started the better of the two teams with Michael Carrick clearing Borja Valero’s volley off the line.  However the World Champions took the lead in the 22nd minute when Dimitar Berbatov collected a Carrick pass to slot home under Scott Carson. 

Controversy then engulfed the game when Albion were reduced to ten-men when Paul Robinson was shown his marching orders following a clash with Ji-Sung Park five minutes before half-time.  Despite winning the ball the tough tackling left-back was adjudged to have made a reckless tackle with Styles taking no time in reducing Albion’s numbers.  Four minutes later the game was effectively over when Scott Carson fumbled a corner leaving Carlos Tevez the easy task of scoring an open goal.  Albion struggled to retain possession in the second-half with United showing their true quality.  Goals from Nemanja Vidic and a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo ensured Albion suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign. 

After the final whistle Tony Mowbray claimed Robinson’s tackle was simply ‘committed’ as he pondered whether to appeal against the defender’s dismissal.  The club decided days later to contest a ‘wrongful dismissal’ claim. 

Roman Bednar was again called up to the Czech Republic squad for the second successive time with youngsters Lateef Elford-Alliyu and George Thorne selected for England Under-16s and Under-17s duty.

Paul Robinson’s red card against Manchester United was rescinded by the FA following Albion’s appeal allowing the defender to play against Hull City on the final day of the month.  Jonas Olsson was ruled out for another month with tendonitis in his knee giving Mowbray a selection headache at centre-half ahead of the trip to the KC Stadium. 

Youssouf Mulumbu was on the brink of signing from Paris St. Germain as Mowbray searched to bolster his midfield options.  38-year-old Dean Kiely also signed a one-year extension to his Albion contract.

Abdoulaye Meite made his first appearance since Boxing Day against Hull City with James Morrison also returning from injury to face the Tigers.  For the fourth away game running Albion again conceded on the stroke of half-time when Bernard Mendy was left free following a long punt up field to give Hull the lead.  The Baggies again fought back after the break with Jay Simpson scoring his first Premier League goal after good work from James Morrison.  The Baggies’ good work again went to waste when Paul Robinson allowed Mendy space to cross for Craig Fagan to give Hull the lead for the second time.  However Chris Brunt rescued a point for the Baggies smashing home a 73rd minute penalty. 

The point at the KC Stadium wasn’t enough to lift Albion off the bottom of the table as the month ended – although they were only one win away from 14th place Tottenham. 

February

The month started in emphatic fashion for Albion’s youngsters as they steamrollered their counterparts from over the Staffordshire border with Chris Wood claiming a hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition.  Youssouf Mulumbu became Albion’s third signing of the January transfer window joining on loan with a view to a permanent deal.  Only minutes before the 5pm deadline, 24-year-old Juan Carlos Menseguez also joined until the end of the season on a similar deal to Mulumbu. 

Graham Dorrans made his first start since joining in the summer as Albion travelled to Turf Moor to face Burnley in the fourth round replay.  Pele, Cech, Kim, Teixeira and Roman Bednar were all recalled to the starting XI as Mowbray made extensive changes.  On a cold Tuesday evening in front of just 6,635 fans the Baggies bossed the opening exchanges but AGAIN fell behind only seconds before the half-time whistle.  After the restart Albion again started the brighter but fell behind to a 52nd minute sucker-punch from Steven Thompson.  Gianni Zuiverloon’s first goal gave the Baggies a lifeline, but as the visitors pushed on for an equaliser, Thompson secured Burnley’s passage into the fifth round two minutes from time.

Youssouf Mulumbu received his international clearance allowing him to play in Albion’s vital home game against fellow strugglers Newcastle United.  In a game which many Baggies fans saw as a must win if Albion were to avoid the drop, Tony Mowbray made eight changes to the side which had exited the cup.  Leon Barnett was recalled to the starting eleven but again made a shocking error in the second minute when he allowed the ball to travel between his legs with Damien Duff gleefully chipping the on-rushing Scott Carson.  Marc-Antonie Fortuné levelled the scores two minutes later but with Borja Valero and Do-Heon Kim paired in the middle the Baggies were always losing the battle on a day when Newcastle’s players were rallying around the hospitalised Joe Kinnear. 

Peter Lovenkrands put the visitors ahead again after more dismal defending from Albion’s centre backs with Steven Taylor compounding Albion’s misery heading home a corner four minutes before the half-time whistle.  Marc-Antonie Fortuné continued his impressive start in front of goal pulling one back in the 73rd minute but again Albion had given themselves a mountain to climb.  The demoralising defeat left many Baggies fans questioning Mowbray’s team selection and accepting relegation was on the cards.

Mowbray after the final whistle admitted defensive blunders were again to blame for defeat but highlighted a lack of training for Leon Barnett and Abdoulaye Meite as the reason behind their errors. 

Juan Carlos Menseguez finally received international clearance to make his first Albion start on the day Roman Bednar was called up to the full Czech Republic squad.  With a number of players away in international duty, Chris Brunt scored his first goal for Northern Ireland during a 3-0 victory against San Marino.

Albion’s players jetted out to Spain for some warm weather training after snow and ice had left their training ground in Great Barr unusable.  Defender Paul Robinson missed the trip however due to the birth of his third child. 

Despite scoring his first Premier League goal against Spurs, the arrival of Jay Simpson and Marc-Antonie Fortuné saw Craig Beattie join Sheffield United on loan until the end of the season. 

After training in Spain with Youssouf Mulumbu in a defensive midfield role the Congo international was denied a debut due to injury.  Filipe Teixeira was handed his first full Premier League start with new boy Juan Carlos Menseguez included amongst the substitutes for the game at Fulham.  The home side bombarded the Baggies in the early period and were denied three times by the woodwork in the first 45 minutes.  Albion rallied briefly after the break but it was only a matter of time before the Cottagers took the lead.  Bobby Zamora, who had earlier missed a number of chances, tapped in at the back post following a John Pantsil cross with Andy Johnson converting a rebound in the 72nd minute after Leon Barnett had again gone to sleep in the heart of Albion’s defence. 

Tony Mowbray had no complaints about Fulham’s deserved victory and defended his bizarre substitution of Filipe Teixeira just five minutes into the second half claiming a breakdown in communication with two of his players.

Youngster David Worrall joined League Two promotion hopefuls Shrewsbury Town on an initial 28-day loan.  Influential skipper Jonathan Greening returned to full training after missing the last five games through injury.  Jonas Olsson, Youssouf Mulumbu and Filipe Teixeira were all ruled out of the visit to Everton though.

Leon Barnett was finally dropped for the visit to Goodison Park with Ryan Donk replacing the error-prone defender.  Again the Baggies dominated the opening spell but were all at sea when Gianni Zuiverloon let Tim Cahill head home when unmarked in the 36th minute.  In front of the TV cameras Albion were again easy on the eye but lacked any cutting edge.  Sloppy defending again resulted in another goal conceded when Abdoulaye Meite failed to clear a long ball and Louis Saha smartly curled the ball around the out-of-position Carson.  Albion again tried to rally with Luke Moore almost breaking the crossbar during an eye-catching cameo but summed up a disappointing month where all four games ended in defeat.

March

As March started the club were quick to play down newspaper reports claiming the club had only spent £3 million since Tony Mowbray joined the club.  An official statement claimed that net spending since Mowbray’s appointment was in fact £9.25 million with the club investing £38.6 million on transfer fees since October 2006, including a record £23.3 million in the summer on 12 players.

Tony Mowbray compared Jonathan Greening to Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas after the skipper’s return from injury against Everton.  On the eve of Arsenal’s visit to The Hawthorns Arsene Wenger praised his counterpart for sticking to his football philosophies despite Albion’s lowly league position.

Following eye-catching performances from the bench against the Toffees Jonathan Greening and Luke Moore were restored to Albion’s starting XI against the Gunners.  Following four successive 0-0 Premier League draws Arsenal took no time in ending their drought when Nicklas Bendtner curled home in the fourth minute.  The Baggies levelled only three minutes later when Chris Brunt squeezed a low free-kick under the wall and inside Almunia’s post.  The hosts matched their more illustrious opponents for the rest of the half until two late first-half games effectively ended the game.

Albion’s inability to defend against set-pieces again reared its ugly head as, for the second game running, Gianni Zuiverloon let his man have a free header – this time Kolo Toure making no mistake from 9 yards past Scott Carson.  Worst was to come for Albion when Meite inexplicably let a long ball bounce over his head with Bendtner simply controlling the ball before passing it past the Baggies’ helpless stopper.  After the break Carson had to make a number of saves to keep the score at three.  However the introduction of Juan Carlos Menseguez for this Albion debut saw Almunia make smart saves from Koren and Fortuné.  The defeat against the Gunners was Albion’s fifth on the bounce.

Tony Mowbray admitted the catalogue of defensive errors was sapping The Hawthorns’ crowd of their energy with Chris Brunt urging his teammates to get ‘nasty’ if they were to have any chance of avoiding the drop.

Jonas Olsson declared himself fit for Albion’s trip to West Ham after missing two months through a knee injury.  The Swede featured in a 2-1 reserve victory over Stoke in which Chris Wood scored his first goal for the seconds.

Ahead of Albion’s trip to Upton Park chairman Jeremy Peace issued a rallying call for one final push to salvage the Stripes’ season.  Ishmael Miller revealed he was on course for a return to pre-season training following his operation on his knee injury.  The much-missed striker had been sidelined since early December.

Forgotten defender Shelton Martis was handed a surprise first Premier League start against West Ham as Tony Mowbray tried to find a winning formula – and more importantly, a defensive one.  The returning Jonas Olsson partnered Martis in defence with Graham Dorrans also handed his first league start.  The visitors again played well in front of the TV cameras with Paul Robinson unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when pulled down by Lucas Neill in the 24th minute.  James Morrison’s mazy run then tested Robert Green in the home goal as Albion pushed for an opener.  After the break Albion grew in confidence with Jonathan Greening lifting an effort over the crossbar after rounding Rob Green and Shelton Martis only inches away from scoring after seeing his header rebound back off the crossbar.  Albion’s first point in six games took them within two victories of safety. 

Baggies boss Mowbray praised the influence of Olsson, Martis and Dorrans against the Hammers and revealed record signing, Borja Valero, was suffering from a lack of confidence after being dropped.

On the eve of Gary Megson’s return to The Hawthorns Jonathan Greening thanked the former Baggies boss for bringing him to the club.  Graham Dorrans also hoped he’d done enough to warrant a second Premier League start.

The young Scotsman was left disappointed as Jay Simpson took his place as Mowbray reverted to a 4-4-2 against Bolton Wanderers.  The hype surrounding the return of Megson was quickly forgotten as Albion struggled to create any real chances against the battling Trotters.  Scott Carson denied Matt Taylor with a fine save from a thunderous free-kick in the first half as the visitors gradually had the best of the efforts.  It was Wanderers who took the lead midway through the second period when a long free kick fell kindly for Taylor who volleyed the ball home from 18 yards.  Albion were fortunate to equalise eight minutes from time when Robert Koren waltzed across the Bolton area and saw his shot deflected home off Danny Shittu’s leg.  Albion huffed-and-puffed for a winner but as hard they tried couldn’t find another goal. 

David Worrall had his loan spell at Shrewsbury extended until the end of the season with Roberto Koren and Jonas Olsson both claiming Albion’s battle against relegation was far from over.  Shelton Martis revealed he almost missed his Premier League bow by going out on loan.  Jared Hodgkiss did go out on loan though until the rest of season after joining Northampton Town.

Abdoulaye Meite had an international trip to forget as he was present when at least 22 people were crushed and more than 130 injured during a stampede as the Ivory Coast beat Malawi 5-0.

Tony Mowbray explored the option of extending the loan spells of Jay Simpson and Marc-Antonie Fortuné with Albion next season as he planned for next term and into the final two months of the campaign.