2008: A Year's Review

April

While fans from across the world were hastily making their travel arrangements down to Wembley, April Fools ' Day meant a trip to Ninian Park to face Cardiff City. Tony Mowbray opted for a 4-5-1 formation with Ishmael Miller up front on his own. Neil Clement made his first start in a striped shirt since August, and although playing out an exciting 3-3 draw back in January, both sides drew a blank on a Tuesday evening in front of 13,915 fans. The point moved the Baggies within two points of the automatic spots and extended their away record to five games without being beaten.

With semi-final places up for grabs Tony Mowbray admitted he'd already picked his starting XI at Wembley hinting Neil Clement would make his first FA Cup appearance of the season.

Albion reserves fought back from two goals down to draw with their neighbours from Staffordshire with youngster Lateef Elford-Alliyu scoring two late goals.

The Baggies' final home game of the season was moved back two days to a Monday night for Sky TV with Tony Mowbray and Paul Robinson making battle-cries on the eve of Albion's clash against Pompey at Wembley.

Ishmael Miller and Pele were the unlucky two to make way for the first FA Cup semi-final with Kevin Phillips and Roman Bednar restored to the starting XI. Kiely; Hoefkens, Clement, Albrechtsen, Robinson; Morrison, Greening, Koren, Gera; Phillips and Bednar were the men out to get Albion to their first FA Cup final in 40 years. In front of a record 83,584 fans at Wembley, West Brom outplayed Portsmouth for the majority of the game with former Baggie Kanu scoring a controversial winner after Milan Baros had handled. Robert Koren came the closet to equalising with an 18-yard strike hitting the bar with Ishmael Miller also going close in the final stages.

After the final whistle Tony Mowbray insisted the Baggies had nothing to be ashamed off and hoped there was "still a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" at the end of the season.

The comforts of Wembley were a million miles away from a cold Tuesday evening at Blackpool with Albion again coming back from the dead to keep their promotion hopes alive. Luke Moore, Chris Brunt, Pele and Ishmael Miller were all recalled to the starting line-up but were unable to stop Ben Burgess giving the hosts the lead against a poor Albion side in the first-half. Albion's woes continued well into the second half until the introduction of Kevin Phillips in the 67th minute brought fresh hopes for Albion's season. Nine minutes from time and Albion still trailed until Carl Hoefkens danced into the Blackpool area and was brought down with Super-Kev smashing the ball into the corner to equalise from the resulting penalty. Three minutes later Hoefkens was back in the action feeding Ishmael Miller down the right with the powerhouse skipping past one challenge to square for Phillips to score his second of the night. Now heading towards the top of the table for the first time since the start of February, Ishmael Miller put the icing on the cake in the 87th minute after collecting a long ball from Robert Koren before cutting inside and curling a left-foot shot into the top corner.

After the victory Mowbray paid homage to the impact Kevin Phillips made at Bloomfield Road and insisted nobody in the Albion camp would be getting carried away with their new found position at the summit of the Championship table.

Former England Under-19 international Stuart Nicholson was told his Hawthorns contract would not be renewed in the summer and would be released.

Jeremy Peace revealed that contract talks were on-going with Kevin Phillips although no new deal had been agreed.

The match-day programme won another accolade this time being awarded the Championship Programme-of-the-Year by The Football Programme Directory.

Tony Mowbray made another four changes to the starting XI which faced Blackpool for the televised visit of Watford. Zoltan Gera earned a recall after being rested the previous Tuesday with James Morrison, Kevin Phillips and Leon Barnett all called upon to start. Albion's inability to defend set-pieces again came back to haunt them with Leigh Bromby making them pay after only 6 minutes when left in acres of space from a corner. Despite bossing proceedings and Neil Clement hitting the bar with a trademark pile-driver, Albion had to wait until four minutes after the break to equalise through Leon Barnett's third goal of the campaign heading home a free kick from Zoltan Gera. Roman Bednar thought he had given the home side the lead in the 76th minute when he latched on to Chris Brunt's through ball to score but was alleged to be offside. Replays later showed both he and Kevin Phillips were on-side. The draw left Albion a point behind leaders Stoke City in second place with Wolves next on the fixture list.

In the build-up to the Black Country/Staffordshire derby Baggies boss Tony Mowbray insisted that three points were all that mattered and warned his players not to be distracted by derby fever.

For the first time in four months Mowbray named an unchanged team for the visit to the Molineux against Wolves. Zoltan Gera made up for his penalty miss in the corresponding home fixture after firing home, much to the delight of the travelling hoards, on the hour mark to secure three valuable points as per usual against the old enemy. As expected the Baggies controlled possession and enjoyed more shots on and off target with Gera and Kevin Phillips both hitting the woodwork before the Black Country's finest took the lead. The win put Albion two points ahead of second placed Hull with only three games left of the 2007/2008 season.

Kevin Phillips insisted Albion were timing their promotion push just at the right time with goal-scoring hero Zoltan Gera claiming his derby winner was the most important of his career. Thirty-four-year-old Phillips also scooped the West Bromwich Albion Disabled Supporters' Club's Player-of-the-Year award after another season filled with goals. Albion's victory on the dark-side also earned them the F&C Performance-of-the-Week Award.

On the eve of the Baggies' trip to Carrow Road, James Morrison declared his switch from Middlesbrough to Albion has made him twice the player and had no regrets making the summer transfer south.

Roman Bednar replaced Ishmael Miller in the only change Tony Mowbray made to his side to face Norwich with the Baggies hoping to take one step closer to automatic promotion. The visitors started like a house on fire and were ahead inside 90 seconds with Robert Koren poking home after David Marshall spilled Kevin Phillips' shot. Paul Robinson was replaced by Martin Albrechtsen in the 69th minute after receiving a nasty cut to the back of his head before Zoltan Gera volleyed a second goal from 20-yards in the 71st minute. Albion's two goal advantage was short lived after Leon Barnett was harshly adjudged to have handled in the box with Ched Evans making no mistake from the resulting penalty. Ishmael Miller looked to have wrapped up the points in the 90th minute, however his effort was ruled out for offside before five minutes of nerve-jangling stoppage time. The victory ensured Albion would need only a point at home against Southampton to secure automatic promotion back to the Premiership thanks to their superior goal difference!

Michal Danek, Jared Hodgkiss and Sherjill MacDonald were the only first-team members included in the reserves' line-up for the Pontin's Holiday League Cup Final at Morecombe; and after a spirited performance from the Baggies' youngsters they lost out on penalties after drawing 1-1 after extra-time.

Jonathan Greening's performance at Norwich earned him a place in the official Coca-Cola Championship Team-of-the-Week with Tony Mowbray expressing his desire to extend the loan contracts of Michal Danek and Kim Do-Heon. The Baggies boss also revealed Albion are well equipped to cope with the task of bringing in new faces if they were promoted.

Kevin Phillips described speculation that he had turned down a new contract as "nonsense" with Jeremy Peace again insisting negotiations were on-going with Albion's top scorer.

Zoltan Gera's impressive performances against Wolves and Norwich saw him record the best Actim Index points score that week with Kevin Phillips in overall second place and Paul Robinson in third for the season.

Young stopper Gavin Carlin earned a call up to the Ireland Under-17s squad for the UEFA Under-17 Championship in May.

Albion trio Paul Robinson, Kevin Phillips and Jonathan Greening were all included in the PFA Championship Team-of-the-Year with young left-back Lee Baker set for his long awaited injury comeback after injuring his knee back in July.

Roman Bednar made way for Ishmael Miller for the all-important visit of Southampton on an expectant Monday night at The Hawthorns. On the last home game of the season for the Baggies, Albion left if late to clinch promotion back to the Premier League with Chris Brunt scoring an all important equaliser after 84 minutes after Adam Lallana's strike midway through the second-half. In front of a sell-out Hawthorns crowd Albion could not find a way past Richard Wright in the Southampton goal before the Saints' sucker-punch gave former assistant, Nigel Pearson, a shock lead. However, the Baggies battled back and the final whistle saw the pitch invaded by thousands of excited fans and Albion within touching distance of their first league trophy in 88 years.

After the game Tony Mowbray laid praise on his squad for clinching promotion in his first full season in charge at The Hawthorns with Neil Clement admitting his third promotion with the Baggies was his finest.

The players decided to wear special t-shirts with Filipe Teixeria's name on the back during their warm up against Queens Park Rangers as a mark of respect to the injured midfielder who was recovering in his homeland after surgery on his knee.

May

For the final game of the season Tony Mowbray recalled Roman Bednar and Chris Brunt in place of Ishmael Miller and James Morrison who both featured on the subs' bench. Followed by thousands of travelling Albion fans in super-hero costumes paying homage to super-Kevin Phillips, Albion edged the first-half against Q.P.R. with Roman Bednar coming closest to opening the scoring for the visitors before Martin Rowlands was sent off for a high challenge on Jonathan Greening in the 37th minute. After the break, Kim Do-Heon scored his first goal in English football with a diving header to give Albion one-hand on the trophy before Chris Brunt capped off the "best week of his life" after witnessing the birth of his first child with an unstoppable free-kick in the 77th minute. At the final whistle Albion were presented with the Coca-Cola Championship trophy in front of the 2,800 visiting supporters.

Tony Mowbray revealed he would do everything in his power to keep Zoltan Gera at The Hawthorns as his contract quickly expired with no signs that either he, Kevin Phillips or Martin Albrechtsen would be penning new deals.

Paul Robinson and Jonathan Greening were included in the final Coca-Cola Championship Team-of-the-Week with the club opting not to parade the trophy around the streets of West Brom in favour of taking an early holiday in a move which angered many fans.

Albion arranged a pre-season fixture at Shrewsbury's new Pro-Star Stadium with James Morrison included in the Scotland squad to face the Czech Republic for the first time. Tony Mowbray was also nominated for the fourth time for the Manager-of-the-Month gong.

Cheltenham and Walsall were arranged for pre-season fixtures with Mowbray scooping the April Manager-of-the-Month award for masterminding Albion's return to the Promised Land. Although reportedly winning tens of millions of pounds after promotion, Mowbray insisted Albion would have to be shrewd in the loan market if they were to have any success.

Kevin Phillips was voted the top rated striker in the Actim Index with Paul Robinson the best rated defender in the division. Overall, Phillips was ranked the 2nd best player behind Stoke's Liam Lawrence with Paul Robinson in fourth.

Mowbray admitted 'fringe' players at The Hawthorns would be sold to finance new signings before collecting the Football League Managers' Championship Manager-of-the-Year Award by Fabio Capello.

Albion collected £400,000 after Paul McShane and Jason Koumas helped their new clubs maintain their league position but then paid Luton, Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday £250,000 each as part of the deals which brought Leon Barnett; Ishmael Miller and Chris Brunt to The Hawthorns.

The Player-of-the-Year Award went to Kevin Phillips after the former England striker smashed home 24 goals for the Baggies. Paul Robinson and Robert Koren shared the runner's up spot.

Dean Kiely came out of retirement for the Republic of Ireland to be included in Giovanni Trapattoni's first squad as manager and collected the Championship's 2007/08 PUMA Golden Glove award for his 18 shut-outs last term. Albion set up another friendly with Northampton with Tony Mowbray out to shake off the Baggies' 'yo-yo' tag next season.

Demand for season tickets reached record breaking proportions with more than 1,000 supporters adding their names to a waiting list. After only mid-May, Albion had sold almost 20,000 seats for the forthcoming season.

Visits to Hereford and Ipswich were arranged as Tim Gardiner left his post as Sales & Marketing Director after two-and-a-half years at the club.

Tony Mowbray revealed he hoped new signings would be in place before his players returned to pre-season training with Jonathan Greening revealing he kept a double-hernia injury under wraps in order to help Albion finish the season in style.

Carl Hoefkens, Kim Do-Heon, Zoltan Gera and Bostjan Cesar also received call-ups for their countries with Luke Steele formalising his switch to Barnsley.

Jonathan Greening revealed he'd be willing to swap the captaincy at The Hawthorns if it meant bringing success to the club with Albion exercising their option to sign Kim Do-Heon from Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma for £500,000 and turning Luke Moore's loan into a permanent deal for £3 million. On the same day, Michal Danek extended his loan deal until January 1st 2009 with Bostjan Cesar returning Marseille with Tony Mowbray deciding against signing the defender. In total, Cesar made 24 appearances for the Throstles scoring once against Burnley.

Dean Kiely earned the Man-of-the-Match Award on his return from international football for the Republic of Ireland with James Morrison also selected for Scotland for the first time against the Czech Republic.

Towards the end of May Albion took up their option to sign Roman Bednar from Hearts for £2.3 million. Bednar, who scored 17 goals in 34 appearances last season, signed a three-year contract at The Hawthorns.

June

Tony Mowbray reassured Jonathan Greening would not be stripped of the Albion captaincy despite the prospects of new faces arriving at The Hawthorns.

Albion made their final contract offer to Zoltan Gera in the hope the Hungarian international would sign a new deal and revealed the fans' favourite turned down an initial offer last October.

The Baggies boss also insisted Albion were not in the Premiership to simply make up the numbers and even hinted at a top-ten finish for the Championship champions next term using his time at Ipswich as a perfect example.

Zoltan Gera brought an end to his Baggies career by deciding to join Fulham on a free transfer after turning down Albion's best ever contract offer. Having joined from Ferencvaros in July 2004 for just £1.5 million pound, Gera became a true fans' favourite with his never-say-die attitude and high work ethic. In total, the influential midfielder made 155 appearances, including 39 as a sub, scoring 25 times.

Jeremy Peace all but put the club up for sale declaring the Baggies' board were seeking major investment in order for them to progress in the Premier League. In order for no negotiations to interrupt with the club's preparation for top-flight football a deadline of July 31st was set by Peace.

The club also announced they would commence their pre-season preparations during a seven day trip to Holland where they would face German opposition, Borussia Moenchengladbach and FC Koln.

Albion hero Cyrille Regis was awarded an MBE for 'services to the voluntary sector and to football' in the Queen's birthday honours list. The 50-year-old said: "It's fantastic to be awarded the MBE and I'm absolutely delighted." Regis, who celebrated his 50th birthday back in February, was named one of Albion's 16th greatest players and voted the club's Cult Hero in a BBC poll.

Kim Do-Heon scored a World Cup Qualifier hat-trick for the Korea Republic as Albion's fixtures for the 2008/09 season were released. The Baggies were given the daunting trip of visiting The Emirates Stadium to kick off the Premiership season followed by Everton at Home then Bolton away in the toughest of the three clubs' opening fixtures.

Albion announced Spanish outfit Real Mallorca would finish their pre-season preparations at The Hawthorns. The Baggies would also visit The Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City to complete their fixtures before the season would start.

After weeks of pursuance Albion ended their interest in Paddy McCourt after having a bid accepted by Derry City. The following day McCourt signed for Scottish giants, Celtic.

Craig Shakespeare ended a 12-year association with the club after standing down as first-team coach to join former assistant, Nigel Pearson, as his No.2 at The Walkers Stadium. The 44-year-old joined the club nine years ago initially as a recruitment officer before working his way up the coaching ranks, prior to gracing the Baggies shirt between 1987-1990 as a player.

Danish defender Martin Albrechtsen joined Zoltan Gera in leaving The Hawthorns on a free transfer by surprisingly joining the worst club in English Premiership history, Derby County. Despite making 41 appearances, including 4 as a sub, last term Albrechtsen saw his future back in the Championship with the Rams. In total, the Danish international made 138 appearances, including 20 as a sub, scoring just four times since his £2.5 million switch from FC Copenhagen in June 2004.