2008: A Year's Review

After the delights of hammering the Dingles time and time again back in 2007, the last twelve months will live long in the memory of each and every Albion fan. After winning our first league title in 88 years and reaching our first semi-final in 26 years, 2008 is one which will long be talked about throughout the Black Country and beyond - for both good and bad reasons. Here WBA Mad takes a look back at the last twelve months...

January

On the back of free-scoring victories over Bristol City and Scunthorpe United at The Hawthorns the Baggies travelled to fortress Portman Road sitting pretty at the top of the Championship. Ishmael Miller made his first start in five games with Roman Bednar making way for the powerful forward despite scoring three goals in his last four games. Miller was guilty of missing Albion's best chance from a diving header from close range as Ipswich continued their impressive home form to register a 2-0 victory over the lead leaders. Despite losing to Ipswich, Tony Mowbray was nominated for the Coca Cola Championship Manager-of-the-Month award after collecting 13 points from a possible 21 and smashing 19 goals in the process.

Misfit striker Bartosz Slusarki extended his loan spell at Blackpool for an additional month after scoring once in four appearances, plus two from the subs' bench, with Albion exercising their option to purchase Sherjill MacDonald on a permanent basis paying AGOVV Apeldorm £200,000 for his services on a two-and-a-half year contract, plus a further year in the club's favour. Czech goalkeeper, Michal Danek, took a step closer to joining the Baggies after agreeing to visit for training with Ronnie Wallwork also returning from his loan spell at Huddersfield. The opening of the transfer window also saw Shelton Martis depart for Scunthorpe for a month's loan.

Albion travelled to The Valley to face Charlton in the FA Cup third round with Martin Albrechtsen making his first start in more than two months - replacing Paul Robinson at left-back. Filipe Teixeria and Chris Brunt made their first starts in four games with Leon Barnett making his first start in five replacing Pele. Despite conceding early Albion struck back to earn a replay with Ishmael Miller scoring a rare header in the 34th minute after a trademark cross from Chris Brunt.

Neil Clement stepped up his injury comeback for the second-string against Nottingham Forest although the returning defender couldn't stop a 5-1 hammering. Kevin Phillips celebrated his return from a career threatening knee injury by winning the December Powerade Player-of-the-Month Award after scoring five goals in four games.

Speculation linked Richard Chaplow with a move back to his former club Burnley with Tony Mowbray also admitting Neil Clement would be allowed to move on loan to increase his match fitness. Days after Chaplow moved to Lancashire rivals Preston North End for £1.35 million. Although starting the opening day of the season, Chaplow made only one appearance in the Carling Cup that term, and in total, made 58 appearances, including 21 as sub, scoring three times.

A host of clubs chased the signature of Ronnie Wallwork with Michal Danek continuing training with the Baggies trying to manoeuvre a permanent transfer. Eventually Wallwork was released from his Hawthorns' contract and made the move north until the end of the season to Sheffield Wednesday. Wallwork made 107 appearances, including 8 as a sub, during his five-and-a-half years at Albion scoring three times.

Kevin Phillips and Paul Robinson were both included in the starting XI for the trip to Hull City. The two endured mixed fortunes at the KC Stadium with Phillips scoring after only 2 minutes to give the Baggies the lead. James Morrison increased the visitor's lead with a cool finish with the outside of his foot in the 32nd minute. Minutes after Richard Garcia had halved Albion's lead, Paul Robinson was controversially sent off for a second bookable offence - despite seeming to win the ball in a challenge. The sending off prompted Mowbray to introduce Roman Bednar and Bostjan Cesar with the former Hearts striker securing all three points deep into injury time with a long range effort.

Tininho exited The Hawthorns to join Barnsley for a month on loan with Jonathan Greening and Kevin Phillips included in the Championship Team-of-the-Week for their performances against the Tigers.

For the replay against Charlton Athletic, Martin Albrechtsen, Zoltan Gera, Filipe Teixeria and Roman Bednar all made the starting XI. In front of 12,691 fans at The Hawthorns, Roman Bednar and James Morrison put Albion two goals to the good, however in typical Baggies fashion, let the two goal lead slip with Darren Ambrose and Chris Dickson in the first minute of time-added on to extend the tie for a further 30 minutes. Neither side managed to trouble the scorers ensuring a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Charlton striker Luke Varney opened the shoot-out with a miss after smashing his effort against the crossbar with Chris Brunt putting the home side 1-0 up. Chris Dickson made it 1-1 with Jonathan Greening missing the chance to put Albion ahead. Jerome Thomas and Robert Koren both scored to make it 2-2 with James Morrison giving Albion the advantage after Zheng Zhi had missed. Future transfer target, Madjid Bougherra, kept Charlton in the tie but Roman Bednar ensured Albion would have their name in the hat for the fourth round for the first time in four years keeping his cool to score the winning penalty in front of the Smethwick End and cap a memorable night.

Young striker Stuart Nicholson made a temporary switch to League Two Wrexham until April the day before Cardiff's visit to The Hawthorns. Chris Brunt and Robert Koren were recalled in midfield with Kevin Phillips replacing Roman Bednar up front. Paul Parry gave the visitors the best possible start after 29-seconds with a deflected long range effort with the Welshman doubling his team's advantage with a solo effort in the 33rd minute. Ishmael Miller limped off after 13 minutes with substitute Roman Bednar heading Albion back into the match two minutes after Parry's second. Joe Ledley capped off a fine move down Albion's right 7 minutes after half-time to put Cardiff 3-1 ahead with Martin Albrechtsen scoring a looping header after 72 minutes to set up an exciting finish. The Baggies applied the pressure with Roger Johnson slicing a clearance into his home net to send the Hawthorns wild two minutes from time. The Baggies also came within a whisker of winning the tie in the last few seconds after Zoltan Gera slashed a volley just inches wide of the Birmingham Road goal. The comeback left Albion three points clear of second place Watford.

Dean Kiely extending his Baggies stay until June 2009 signing a one year extension as Graeme Dorrans arrived for a week's training from Livingston after topping the Scottish First Division scoring charts from right midfield. The Baggies also extended their kit deal with UMBRO for a further three years.

Shelton Martis was recalled from his loan spell after Jared Hodgkiss was set for the surgeon's knife to solve a hernia problem. Young stopper Luke Daniels made the switch north of the border to Motherwell on loan until the end of the season with fifteen year old striker Lateef 'Pans' Elford-Alliyu earning a call up to the first-team squad for the fourth round FA Cup visit to Peterborough.

Martin Albrechtsen opened contract talks to extend his Hawthorns stay and partnered Bostjan Cesar in the heart of defence against the Posh. Craig Beattie made his first appearance in more than three months with Paul Robinson and James Morrison also starting for the Stripes. Unfortunately Lateef Elford-Alliyu couldn't find a place in the 16 man squad. The Baggies cruised into round five with goals from Roman Bednar and Robert Koren, followed by a penalty in the 58th minute by Kevin Phillips. Mowbray later praised the Baggies' professional attitude and predicted a bright future for young 'Pans' Elford-Alliyu. Albion's reward was a trip to Midland's rivals Coventry.

Albion secured loan deals for both Michal Danek and midfielder Kim Do-Heon until the end of the season as Mowbray increased his options as the Baggies headed north to Preston hoping to extend their Championship lead. Mowbray made just one change from the starting XI at Peterborough with Zoltan Gera replacing Craig Beattie in attack. Albion old boy, Darren Carter, faced his old club with Richard Chaplow selected amongst North End's subs. The Baggies had not beaten Preston at home for 49 years, and despite being reduced to 9 men, Albion failed to end that record with two goals from set-pieces enough to beat the Baggies. Zoltan Gera's thunderbolt was not enough to salvage anything for Albion who remained top despite the reverse.

The day after the Preston defeat burly striker John Hartson was finally released from his Hawthorns' contract. Aged just 32, the former Arsenal, West Ham and Celtic striker retired from professional football immediately. In total, 'Big Bad John' scored six goals in 24 appearances, including eight as a sub, after his switch south of the border.

On the final day of the January Transfer window Ishmael Miller surprisingly made his loan switch permanently from Manchester City for an initial fee of £900,000 rising to £1.4 million depending on add-ons. The Baggies also agreed a deal to sign Scotland Under-21 international midfielder, Graeme Dorrans, at the end of the season.

February

Kevin Phillips was drafted back into the starting XI in place of Filipe Teixeria for the visit of Burnley. The visitors took the lead through ex-Baggie James O'Connor after just three minutes as the hosts again failed to deal with a set-piece. Bostjan Cesar equalled the scores on 26 minutes with a rasping volley for his first Albion goal with Roman Bednar securing all three points with an unstoppable header at the back post on the hour mark. The victory over the Clarets extended Albion's lead at the top of the Championship to two points over second place Watford.

Albion decided against constructing a new west stand in favour of refurbishing the existing Halfords Lane stand at a cost of £3 million pounds. Construction work was due to start at the end of the season and was expected to be completed before Albion's annual final pre-season fixture at The Hawthorns. Although improving the concourses and supporters' amenities; plus dressing rooms and hospitality areas, the refurbishments would see a decrease in the capacity by approximately 700 seats.

On the eve of the Baggies' trip to 17th place Barnsley, Jeremy Peace said he: "can't praise enough" the work of Tony Mowbray as the Baggies sat proudly at the top of the table. The Chairman also revealed the club had offered Zoltan Gera a new contract and described his professional attitude as "exemplary".

Only a matter of days after signing permanently Sherjill MacDonald exited The Hawthorns for Hereford for a month's loan.

The club supplied 40 free coaches for supporters travelling to Oakwell with more than 3,500 fans set to follow the Baggies north. Albion also revealed a white shirt which they were due to play in. Chris Brunt and Filipe Teixeria were recalled to the starting XI but were unable to prevent a 2-1defeat at Barnsley in possibly the Baggies' most disappointing result of the whole season. The loss signalled Albion's reign at the top of the table for the first time since late December with Mowbray admitting his side got what they deserved and called for a response at home to Bryan Robson's Sheffield United the following Tuesday.

Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus both signed improved contracts at The Hawthorns with the Baggies boss penning a new deal until June 2011 and his assistant signing a new 12-month rolling deal.

Tininho returned from his loan spell at Barnsley with youngster Jack Compton heading south to join Blue Square Premier outfit Weymouth for a month.

Cyrille Regis celebrated his 50th birthday with Albion commemorating the landmark with a special feature in the match-day programme against the Blades.

Bryan Robson returned with his Sheffield United team 17-months after he was dismissed by Jeremy Peace. The former Baggies boss' new team had drew three games prior to visiting The Hawthorns and made it four in a row on a frustrating night in front of 22,643 fans. Ishmael Miller returned after four games out with a hamstring injury to partner Kevin Phillips up front with Bostjan Cesar dropped altogether with Leon Barnett replacing the giant Slovenian. Although on the front-foot for the majority of the game with Filipe Teixeria hitting a post and Kevin Phillips coming close, the Baggies could not find a way past Paddy Kenny and had to settle for a 0-0 stalemate. The blank saw Albion drop down to fourth and three points behind leaders Watford.

Luke Steele joined Barnsley for a month and made a heroic debut at Anfield keeping Gerrard et al at bay to record a famous victory for the Tykes.

The Baggies recorded their own impressive fourth-round victory over managerless Coventry City at The Ricoh Arena. Followed by some 6,000 fans down the M6, Albion went goal-crazy with Chris Brunt opening the scoring with a header in the 12th minute, Roman Bednar getting a brace in the 59th and 69th minute with Ishmael Miller scoring his first goal since his injury and Zoltan Gera waltzing through the City defence late on to record a memorable 5-0 victory. Kim Do-Heon also made his first start in England replacing Filipe Teixeria after 74 minutes.

Albion's reward for their demolition of Coventry City was a tricky quarter-final trip to face Bristol Rovers in the last eight. The Baggies were only 90 minutes away from Wembley!

Neil Clement increased his comeback from a serious knee injury to join the Baggies next opposition Hull City on a 93 day loan 24 hours after the game had finished. Albion wisely included a 24-hour recall after the first 28 days had passed.

Aston Villa youngster Luke Moore underwent a medical at The Hawthorns with a view to joining initially on loan until the end of the season and then permanently in the summer for £3 million, which could eventually rise to £3.5 million. On the same day, Adrian Manchester's contract was cancelled by mutual consent.

Moore had to settle for a watching berth during his game as a Baggie as Mowbray named him amongst the subs for his first game. Robert Koren and Jonathan Greening were both restored to the first team with Kevin Phillips also recalled in place of Filipe Teixeria for the visit of Hull City. Just weeks after beating the Tigers at the KC Stadium, goals from Frazier Campbell and Caleb Folan were enough to record a 2-1 victory for the Baggies. With Mowbray operating a strange formation which saw free-scoring Kevin Phillips playing wide-right, it was the evergreen striker who crossed for Roman Bednar to power home a header for his 15th goal in just 18 appearances. Despite the introduction on the hour mark of new boy Luke Moore, Zoltan Gera volleyed a last minute chance high into the Birmingham Road from close range with the reverse leaving Albion seven points behind leaders Stoke City in fourth place.

Albion mourned the loss of Jimmy Dugdale on Wednesday 27th February with the sad news that the 1954 FA Cup winner had passed away. Born in Liverpool in 1932, Dugdale made an impressive start marking Nat Lofthouse out of the game on debut. After leaving for Aston Villa in 1965, Dugdale won his second FA Cup medal in 1957 after beating Manchester United.

Craig Beattie was told he could go out on loan after failing to impress since his summer move from Celtic with Chris Brunt nominated for the Mitre Goal of the Season for his strike against Leeds United for his former club Sheffield Wednesday back in March. The match-day programme was also recognised with the acclaimed Championship Programme of the Year title for the second consecutive year.

March

After the defeat to Hull, Mowbray made three changes for the visit of Plymouth Argyle with Ishmael Miller stepping in for Kevin Phillips, Chris Brunt in for James Morrison and Filipe Teixeria in for Zoltan Gera. The Baggies ended their three-game winless streak with goals from Gera, Miller and Bednar enough to see off the Pilgrims. Both teams wore black armbands to mark the passing of Jimmy Dugdale with Albion handed more bad news when Filipe Teixeria was stretchered off after just 18 minutes with an injury which would rule him out for the rest of the season and well into next.

A day after the Plymouth victory, Kevin Phillips was crowed the FourFourTwo Player-of-the-Year in the Coca Cola Championship - a year after former Baggie Jason Koumas scooped the prize. Jonathan Greening, Zoltan Gera, Robert Koren, Paul Robinson and Filipe Teixeria were also included in the top 50 players outside the Premiership.

Dean Kiely and Chris Brunt were rewarded for their performances against Plymouth after being placed in the official Team-of-the-Week.

Craig Beattie exited the Hawthorns for Preston North End until the end of season on loan after failing to break in to Tony Mowbray starting XI and the arrival of Luke Moore from Aston Villa pushed him down the pecking order.

Just days after strolling to victory against Plymouth, Albion left it late to beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough with Super-Kevin Phillips heading in a 94th minute winner against the 10-men Owls. Luke Moore was handed his full debut up front alongside Roman Bednar with Zoltan Gera replacing the injured Teixeria. Jermaine Johnson was given his marching orders 12 minutes from time after appearing to elbow Baggies' skipper Jonathan Greening in a close encounter with the victory moving Albion within four points of leaders Bristol City.

Albion reserves went goal crazy against Barnsley to book their place in the Pontin's Holiday League Cup Final with a 6-1 victory featuring four goals from Bartosz Slusarski.

Jared Hodgkiss celebrated his return from hernia surgery with a place in Albion's staring XI for their quarter-final tie at Bristol Rovers. Tony Mowbray made two other changes from the team which faced Sheffield Wednesday only five days ago with James Morrison replacing Zoltan Gera and Roman Bednar hoping to continue his FA Cup scoring run in place of the cup-tied Luke Moore. It was Morrison who opened the scoring in the 16th minute after pouncing on an error from home 'keeper Steve Phillips before Ishmael Miller stole the show. The January signing smashed home his first on 30 minutes before netting again on 69 minutes then sealing his hat-trick with a cool finish five minutes from time. Kevin Phillip's goal on 73 minutes ensured the Baggies notched up five goals in consecutive away rounds.

The victory at Bristol Rovers ensured a trip to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final against Premiership outfit Portsmouth. Albion's reserves also learned their own cup fate being drawn away against Morecombe.

On the back of a number of rearranged fixtures, the Baggies welcomed Crystal Palace to The Hawthorns. Jared Hodgkiss made only his third Championship start as Carl Hoefkens failed to recover from a hamstring injury with Kevin Phillips making his first start in four games and Zoltan Gera replacing James Morrison. Phillips coolly netted his 200th career league goal following a killer through-ball from Paul Robinson. However, seventeen year old winger Victor Moses scored his first senior goal to give Palace a share of the points. The draw, in front of 20,378 fans, left Albion in fourth place.

Just four days after the draw with Palace, struggling Leicester City were the next opponents at The Hawthorns with Albion hoping to close the five point deficit between themselves and Bristol City. Kim Do-Heon was given his first start in an Albion shirt with Shelton Martis coming in at right-back in favour of Jared Hodgkiss. Roman Bednar and Luke Moore were also favoured in attack in place of Kevin Phillips and Ishmael Miller. Mowbray's decision dramatically backfired with Luke Moore being sent off after 35 minutes after Robert Koren had seen a deflected effort to give the Baggies the lead 13 minutes earlier. Albion's advantage didn't last long with Gareth McAuley heading in a corner to level the scores three minutes after Moore received his marching orders. The Baggies' day then went from bad to worse as third-from-bottom Leicester wrapped up all three points thanks to a hat-trick from Steve Howard. Before Howard's third in the 86th minute Albion were left to play with only nine men after Leon Barnett was forced to hobble off with an injury after the Baggies had made their allocated number of changes. The heavy defeat left Albion in fourth still five points behind Stoke with less than ten games to play.

Although having to work with a squad gripped by injury and suspension Tony Mowbray backed his fringe players and admitted he wouldn't be dipping into the loan market to bolster the ranks at The Hawthorns.

Albion duo Ishmael Miller and Luke Moore were both called up for the England Under-21 squad to face Poland in Staffordshire at the Molineux.

Luke Steele converted his temporary loan deal at Oakwell into a permanent transfer at Barnsley after making just two appearances for the Throstles after joining from Manchester United. Although not receiving a fee, Albion included a 50% sell-on clause for the 23-year-old.

Luke Moore started the first of his three game suspension against Charlton Athletic at The Valley on Good Friday with Bostjan Cesar making his first appearance in nine games due to Leon Barnett's injury. Carl Hoefkens returned in defence after his own injury with Pele drafted in in place of Kim Do-Heon. Despite going behind after 30 minutes to Greg Halford's weak header which somehow trickled over the line, the Baggies hit back three minutes before the break with Kevin Phillips squeezing in a shot from a tight angle to hand Albion a share of the points. Zoltan Gera almost snatched all three points with a thunderous volley in the last minute however his effort cannoned back off the bar to the leave the Baggies still in fourth.

Tony Mowbray insisted Albion deserved all three points from The Valley as Zoltan Gera celebrated the birth of his child.

Bartosz Slusarski again left The Hawthorns on loan - this time heading to Sheffield Wednesday until the end of the season despite his prolific form for the second-string. On the same day Neil Clement was recalled from his loan spell at Hull.

In one of the more dramatic matches of 2008, Clem had to settle for a place on the bench after his return to the shrine. Chris Brunt returned from a hamstring injury in place of Pele with Ishmael Miller and James Morrison having to settle for watching berths. Albion's promotion push seemed to be dead in the water after Colchester went two goals up inside 17 minutes before Chris Brunt and Kevin Phillips levelled the scores before half-time. Despite Albion's mini-comeback Mowbray saw fit to replace Bostjan Cesar with Neil Clement although the returning hero couldn't stop Kevin Lisbie again putting struggling Colchester into the lead in the 76th minute. James Morrison replaced Robert Koren before the restart as the Baggies tried and tried again to find an equaliser. Finally, in the first minute of time added on James Morrison twisted and turned on the edge of the penalty area and saw a deflected effort find a way past Dean Gerkin in the visitor's goal. With Albion back in the game at 3-3 the real drama was just about to begin with Chris Brunt finding a yard to whip in a glorious centre which Roman Bednar nodded home to send the majority of the 20,433 crowd home joyfully happy. The three points moved Albion within a win of Bristol City with two games in-hand of the league leaders.