A year's review: 2011 - January to March

Last updated : 30 December 2011 By Iain Bate - Wba-mad Editor

WBA-MAD Editor, Iain Bate, gives an in-depth look back on an eventful twelve months for the Baggies.

January

The Baggies kicked off the New Year with one of the biggest tests after Manchester United visited The Hawthorns. Roberto Di Matteo made four changes to the side that lost 3-1 to Blackburn with Steven Reid, Pablo Ibanez, Marek Cech and Chris Brunt all included. But in typical Albion fashion, the Baggies allowed Wayne Rooney a free header inside the six yard box in the third minute to give the visitors the lead. But Albion bounced back and were level through a wonderful curling volley from James Morrison in the 14th minute. Controversy then reigned when Graham Dorrans was clearly felled when through on goal by Gary Neville. However, referee Chris Foy somehow missed the clear goalscoring opportunity and waved play-on. Boos rang around the ground.

Albion enjoyed the lion’s share of possession against United and were finally rewarded a spot kick in the 63rd minute when Jerome Thomas danced his way into the area and was tripped by Rio Ferdinand. The usually reliable Peter Odemwingie stepped up but fired his effort wide of Tomasz Kuszczak’s post. Javier Hernandez then broke Albion hearts 15 minutes from time when he rose unmarked from a corner to give United the lead and ultimately the three points. The defeat left the Baggies in 14th place with 22 points from twenty games moving into 2011.

Roberto Di Matteo declared his interest in United forward Federico Macheda on loan for the remainder of the season as the Italian looked to increase his forward options.

Injured defender Jonas Olsson returned to full training after being sidelined since October with an Achilles problem. However Albion’s frail backline was again exposed when Steven Reid was ruled out for six weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

Three changes were made as Albion travelled to Fulham with a patched up defence. Gianni Zuiverloon made his first start of the season alongside Gonzalo Jara in the centre of defence. Young James Hurst made his first Premier League debut at right back. Abdoulaye Meite was also amongst the first team squad for the first time of the season. Despite Albion’s unrecognisable back four, it was the Baggies who had the best chance of the game when Jerome Thomas raced through on goal but tamely shot at Fulham ‘keeper Stockdale when a goal seemed easier. The makeshift backline had done well until Scott Carson gifted Fulham the lead a minute into first-half stoppage time. Simon Davies’ speculative 30-yard effort was ‘flapped’ at by Albion’s captain and went weakly through his grasp into the net.

Albion pressed forward for an equaliser but fell further behind when Clint Dempsey headed past Carson from a corner to put the Baggies two behind. Hangeland then compounded Albion’s misery on a miserable night next to the Thames when he headed a third unmarked from another left-wing corner. The second defeat inside four days saw Albion drop down to 16th – one place above Aston Villa – and two points above the relegation zone.

Afterwards, Roberto Di Matteo bemoaned the timing of Fulham’s first goal, seconds before half time and pointed towards a lack of height in Albion’s defence for conceding two set-piece headers.

Young stopper Luke Daniels rejoined Bristol Rovers on loan until the end of the season. Lateef Elford-Alliyu extended his spell on the Wirral at Tranmere for another month. Fellow forward Chris Wood also extended his spell with Brighton until the end of the season.

Roberto Di Matteo revealed that the Baggies were close to signing Aston Villa and Norwegian international John Carew after the club were in negotiations with clubs for the services of Roman Bednar. Albion fans raised a glass around the world when Luke Moore ended his unproductive and goalless stay at The Hawthorns when he signed for Swansea City. The former Aston Villa frontman scored only 5 goals in 64 appearances for the club after a £3.5 million switch.

Baggies boss Roberto Di Matteo revealed he intended to drop club captain Scott Carson ahead of Albion’s trip to Reading in the FA Cup third round. Ishmael Miller returned from injury in favour of Peter Odemwingie in one of four changes by the Italian. Paul Scharner replaced Jerome Thomas with Giles Barnes and Boaz Myhill given rare starts. Miller’s pace caused the Royals’ defence problems early on with the pacy striker having claims for a penalty denied in the 20th minute. Miller then had a goal disallowed for a shove on Reading ‘keeper Federici. The decision would come back to haunt the Baggies as future signing Shane Long opened the scoring in the 40th minute.

Jonas Olsson made his return after the break and was cautioned only two minutes into his return after a foul on Long. Ishmael Miller limped out of the action in the 52nd minute and was replaced by Roman Bednar – back at the club after his loan spell with Leicester. Albion thought they had equalised in the 54th minute when James Morrison’s curling effort beat Federici but saw his shot hit the crossbar. Olsson’s return lasted only 15 minutes when he was shown a second yellow card for a challenge on Long. The dismissal saw Reading take advantage and Albion crash out for the FA second consecutive season to the Royals.

Ahead of the must-win game against Blackpool at The Hawthorns, No.2 Eddie Newton insisted the players must be “brave” and ruled out any significant changes following a third straight defeat inside 8 days.

Roman Bednar declared his love for the Baggies after his spell away from the club with Leicester and insisted he was fully focused on fighting for a first team place and helping the club avoid relegation.

Joe Mattock left the club to join Sheffield United on loan until the end of the season as the England Under-21 international went in search of first team football.

Peter Odemwingie returned to the starting line-up against the Tangerines with Youssouf Mulubmu, Jerome Thomas and Gabriel Tamas all recalled to face Blackpool. In a nervy opening, it was the visitors who took the lead when David Vaughan curled home from 20-yards after 11 minutes. Albion were shaky in defence with Blackpool missing a number of changes before Peter Odemwingie controlled Graham Dorrans’ long pass to equalise in the 37th minute.

The teams went into the break level, but Albion were given another let-off when DJ Campbell somehow missed when through on goal. The Baggies took advantage of the good fortune when James Morrison poked home in the 51st minute to give Albion the lead for the first time of the game. Odemwingie then missed a glorious chance when put through clean on goal but the Nigerian fired straight at Blackpool goalkeeper Kingston. But it was Albion’s turn to rue missed opportunities when Phillips raced down the right and crossed for a simple tap-in for Taylor-Fletcher. The Baggies fought back again when a long clearance was misjudged by Cathcart in the 87th minute with Odemwingie capitalising to fire home a left-foot volley to make it 3-2. Blackpool almost equalised again when Albion survived a goalmouth scramble but held on to record their first win in five league games. The much needed victory took Albion up to 14th and on to 25 points.

New captain Chris Brunt admitted it was a “huge monkey off our back” to record a first victory since early December. Roberto Di Matteo said his players had given their all and reserved praise for the energy of Youssouf Mulumbu in midfield against Blackpool.

Youngsters Kayleden Brown and Romaine Sawyers joined Port Vale on loan to gain first team experience.

Youssouf Mulumbu was rewarded for his excellent form by signing a new-and-improved contract – his second inside seven months. The African ace committed his future until June 2014. James Hurst also penned a new two-and-a-half year deal for his impressive break through into the first team.

Albion had to switch their attention for attacking options elsewhere after seeing John Carew join Stoke City on loan until the end of the season instead of the Baggies. Albion dallied over signing the frontman and Roberto Di Matteo missed out on his main target. Despite missing out on Carew, the club sanctioned Ishmael Miller’s three-month loan spell with Queens Park Rangers.

Jonas Olsson was given an immediate recall for the trip to Blackburn Rovers in the only change to the side which beat Blackpool. Graham Dorrans was ruled out with an ankle injury with Paul Scharner moving forward into midfield. Albion looked to have regained their confidence early on and Peter Odemwingie forced Paul Robinson into a smart save after a long-range volley. Robinson then kept out Jerome Thomas as Albion searched for an opener. But it was Rovers who scored first in comical fashion when Gabriel Tamas scored a freak own goal. The Romanian defender was unmarked as he looked to clear a straightforward cross but inexplicably headed past Boaz Myhill into his own net.

It got worse for Albion after the break when Tamas allowed Hoilett to cut inside and fire home an unstoppable 20-yard effort past Myhill. The second so close after the break ended Albion’s hopes of getting back into the game and the Baggies were denied any chance back when Peter Odemwingie was denied a clear penalty when felled inside the area. Referee Mark Clattenburg however deemed the foul to be outside the area and ordered a free kick. The defeat left Albion three points away from the relegation zone in 15th place.

Roberto Di Matteo claimed he was bemused at the decision to award Albion a free kick instead of a penalty and vowed to work on his side’s leaky defence ahead of the visit of Wigan.

Despite the first team struggling, Albion’s second-string gave the fans something to cheer about when a Roman Bednar penalty and a Jody Craddock own-goal saw the reserves beat Wolves 2-0 away.

Winger Reuben Reid left the club and signed for Oldham Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Reid made just two starts for the Baggies, plus five appearances from the bench, but failed to score for the Stripes. Young defender Paul Downing joined Shrewsbury Town on an initial 28-day youth loan. On the same day, Carlos Vela – the Mexican superstar – signed for the rest of the season from Arsenal.

February

Vela made an immediate appearance against Wigan Athletic in one of two changes. Simon Cox came in for James Morrison in RDM’s other change. The decision brought immediate results when Cox fed Odemwingie in the fifth minute with the Nigerian poking the ball past Ali Al Habsi. Albion pressed for a second but their shaky rearguard was exposed in the 20th minute when Charlie N’Zogbia’s free kick was deflected past Boaz Myhill. After Carlos Vela had missed a clear chance to score on his debut, Albion were behind from another free kick in the 43rd minute when former Baggies’ midfielder Ben Watson curled home from the edge of the area.

Albion were almost level inside the first minute after the break but Marek’s Cech volley went inches over the crossbar. But the Baggies struggled to create any clear-cut chances and called upon substitute Marc Antoine Fortune. The striker gave Albion a different attacking option and hit the post with his first input in the 73rd minute. Two minutes later, Brunt hit the same woodwork as the Baggies faithful became frustrated. But luck finally favoured Albion in the 79th minute when Fortune headed home a Thomas cross. The Throstles pushed forward for a winner but could not find a way past Al Habsi who brilliantly denied Olsson and Mulumbu late on.

Baggies boss Roberto Di Matteo praised the battling qualities of his side after their comeback against Wigan. The draw saw Albion move three points clear of the relegation zone.

Albion’s reserves earned a battling 1-1 draw with West Ham with Mani O’Sullivan taking his opportunity.

Marc Antonie Fortune spoke of his relief of being involved in first team action again and amongst the goals. The former Celtic man said he’d spoken to RDM about his lack of game time and hoped to be involved more in the future.

Roman Bednar again left the club on loan – this time to Turkish club MKE Ankaragucu with a view to a permanent deal. Despite bringing only Carlos Vela into the club, Di Matteo claimed the decision was made in an attempt to give the Czech forward more game time.

In his final game in charge of the Baggies, Di Matteo made four changes to the side which drew with Wigan. In came Fortune and Morrison, plus Reid and Shorey as the Italian swapped both his full backs. The changes helped little though as Albion struggled to cope with City’s creativity and attacking flair. But it was Chris Brunt who came the closest to opening the scoring with Joe Hart pushing his effort around the post for a corner. City soon came back at the Baggies and a quick free kick saw Steven Reid bring down Aleksandar Kolarov for a spot kick. Carlos Tevez stepped up to tuck the ball away and give the hosts the lead. It was two five minutes later when Tevez side-stepped Jonas Olsson to slot the ball past Boaz Myhill. Albion then conceded a second spot-kick of the afternoon when Jerome Thomas handled in the area. Tevez made no mistake from the spot for his hat-trick.

After witnessing City score three times and hit the post twice, Roberto Di Matteo bought on Carlos Vela for Jerome Thomas and changed Albion’s shape in an attempt to stop the Sky Blue onslaught. The changes worked as City played out the remainder in the half with Vela coming close to consolation strike. The heavy defeat saw Albion slip just two points away from the relegation zone.

Di Matteo admitted Albion were outclassed by moneybags Manchester City and pointed towards important home fixtures against West Ham and Wolves as an opportunity to move up the table.

But just 24 hours, later the Italian, along with Eddie Newton and Ade Mafe, were relieved of their duties after losing 13 out of the last 18 games. Chairman Jeremy Peace said the decision to sack the Italian was a “tough” but one to “give the Club the best possible chance of remaining in the Barclays Premier League”. Michael Appleton was put in temporary control.

Youssouf Mulumbu ended his self-imposed exile from his national team as he announced his intention to be selected for DR Congo.

Lateef Elford-Alliyu again extended his spell with Tranmere for a further month after impressing for the Whites.

Michael Appleton signalled his intention to get the Hawthorns hot-seat on a permanent basis with a victory over West Ham. ‘Appy’ also revealed he had spoken to the players about the significance of the game against the Hammers and how it would give Albion a much needed boost. The caretaker boss also took advice from Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Sir Gary Megson.

In an omen for the Baggies, Albion’s second string were  beaten by West Ham in a 4-1 behind-closed-doors defeat. Mani O’Sullivan again netting.

On the eve of the West Ham game, Albion pulled off a significant coup by securing the services of Roy Hodgson as the club’s new head coach. The 63-year-old former Inter Milan, Liverpool and Switzerland boss committed to the club until June 2012. Albion fans were delighted with the appointment – despite his recent failure at Liverpool. Chairman Jeremy Peace said the club were equally delighted to appoint his “number 1 target”.

Hodgson was in the stand to watch West Ham United visit The Hawthorns. Appleton adopted a 4-4-2 formation against Avram Grant’s men with Peter Odemwingie paired with Marc Antonie Fortune up front and the recalled Gonzalo Jara and Graham Dorrans in defence and midfield, respectively. The switch had an immediate effect as Dorrans fired in his first goal of the season from 20 yards into the top corner giving England international stopper Rob Green no chance. Chris Brunt was denied a tap-in when his effort was unwittingly blocked on the line by Fortune. But it was 2-0 minutes later when Fortune made up for his error when teeing up Jerome Thomas who curled home into the bottom corner. Thomas almost doubled his tally when rounding Rob Green but lost his balance at the vital moment and allowing Da Costa to clear off the line. But it was 3-0 after 32 minutes when Hammers defender Winston Reid deflected a Graham Dorrans free kick into the net. But it was not all one-way traffic with Boaz Myhill palming Demba Ba’s effort onto the post before Gary O’Neill also hit the woodwork to end a breathtaking 45-minutes.

But in a true game of two halves, West Ham fought back to break Albion hearts after the break. Inspired by a Scott Parker half-time team talk, the Hammers came out refreshed and eager to reduce the scoreline. It took the visitors just five minutes to pull a goal back when Demba Ba controlled a high ball into the box to fire past Myhill. It was 3-2 in the 58th minute when Piquionne was left unmarked after coming on as a substitute at the back post to head across for Carlton Cole to nod home. Piquionne then headed against the crossbar as the Hammers searched for an equaliser. It was 3-3 in the 85th minute when Demba Ba scored his second of the game when he volleyed into the ground and over the despairing Myhill.

Caretaker boss Appleton insisted new boss Roy Hodgson had seen the “good, bad and ugly” of his new side after throwing away three goals and, more importantly, three points. The draw saw Albion drop a place to 17th – level with 18th place Wigan on 27 points.

James Morrison said a victory over local rivals Wolves would make up for the disappointment of the West Ham game as Roy Hodgson got down to work on the training field. Hodgson claimed he had nothing to prove after being dismissed from Liverpool, and insisted every minute of the 12 games left of the season were pivotal if the club were to avoid relegation.

Sporting and Technical Director Dan Ashworth revealed that the club missed out on an amazing 29 targets in the January transfer window and that Hodgson had scope to add to his backroom staff, if he wished.

Young midfielder Sam Mantom joined promotion chasing Oldham Athletic on a month’s loan.

Captain Chris Brunt insisted the players were ready for the Black Country derby against Wolves and that his teammates wanted to repay the faith Roy Hodgson had shown in them when joining the club. Brunt also declared the side would improve under the former Liverpool boss and avoid relegation.

In front of more than 26,000 fans at The Hawthorns, Roy Hodgson made just one enforced change to the starting line-up with Gabriel Tamas coming in for the injured Youssouf Mulumbu to face rivals Wolves. Peter Odemwingie had the first chance in a tight opening when ‘keeper Hennessey dropped Nicky Shorey’s cross, but the striker was unable to spin and hook the ball into the net. Olsson, Odemwingie and Scharner both came close with headers yet it was Wanderers who took the lead in the 40th minute. Jamie O’Hara curled home after a free kick was cut-back to the midfielder.

After the break, Jarvis missed a glorious chance when through on goal to make it 2-0. Back came Albion with Fortune forcing Hennessey into a save, Elokobi blocking Odemwingie’s goal-bound effort and Olsson having a header cleared off the line. As the game looked to be slipping away from the Baggies, James Morrison tried a speculative drive from the edge of the area. The flapping Hennessey palmed the ball back into the play and into the path of Carlos Vela who tapped home to send the Hawthorns into raptures.

Albion’s new boss Hodgson hailed his side’s battling qualities and paid tribute to Vela. Jonas Olsson admitted afterwards that the last-gasp draw felt like a win for the Baggies. The Baggies’ second consecutive home draw saw them move a point clear of the relegation zone.

George Thorne continued his development with a spectacular 25-yard screamer to earn the reserves a credible 1-1 draw at Arsenal.

Roy Hodgson believed that consistency was the key for the remainder of the season if Albion were to pull away from the relegation zone. The gaffer also opened the door to defenders Pablo Ibanez and Abdoulaye Meite to impress him in training.

In the final game of the month, Albion travelled to bogey side Stoke City on a Monday night in front of the TV cameras. Hodgson made four changes with a surprise call-up for Abdoulaye Meite for his first start of the season. Scott Carson was also recalled in goal with Steven Reid and Youssouf Mulumbu back in the starting line-up. Top-scorer Peter Odemwingie dropped to the bench. The Baggies started slowly and struggled to get to grips with Hodgson’s new 4-2-3-1 formation. Graham Dorrans recorded Albion’s first effort on goal in the 22nd minute when he drilled wide from the left. Thomas then tried his luck before Pennant hit the crossbar with a free kick.

The Baggies were behind eight minutes after the break when Rory Delap was left unmarked from a corner to head past Carson. Dorrans and Thomas tried in vain to equalise before Fortune hit the crossbar with a header which rebounded out of play. But, just as against Wolves, with the clock ticking down, Carlos Vela came to Albion’s rescue. Reid’s centre fell perfectly the for the Mexican who calmly slotted past Begovic in the 87th minute. Vela almost stole all three points for the Baggies when he found himself in a similar situation but saw his effort smothered by Begovic.

The point maintained Albion’s one point gap above the relegation zone with Hodgson claiming the draw was a “big step forward”.

March

Roy Hodgson was pleased his substitutions worked at The Britannia Stadium and played down the incident which saw Jonas Olsson break a glass pane after Ricardo Fuller had refused his handshake.

Abdoulaye Meite thanked Roy Hodgson for giving him a Hawthorns lifeline insisting that he “owes the fans”. After figuring only three times in the Carling Cup, Meite said he had to prove himself again as a Premier League player.

On the eve of Albion’s trip to Birmingham City, Graham Dorrans injured an ankle in training that would see him miss the remainder of the season. However, Peter Odemwingie was passed fit to face the Blues. The injury to the midfielder saw James Morrison come into the starting XI in Roy Hodgson’s only change. Albion went in search of only their second ever Premier League double against a City side fresh from their Carling Cup triumph against Arsenal at Wembley. But it was the Throstles who started the brighter with Jerome Thomas troubling future signing Ben Foster however, Albion couldn’t find the breakthrough they desperately needed.

Peter Odemwingie was brought on for Marc Antonie Fortune after the break as Hodgson searched for goals in the second half. The switch worked immediately as 90 seconds into the second half, Odemwingie robbed the ball off Jean Beausejour and poked the ball through for Youssouf Mulumbu to score the opening goal. But seconds later Blues were level. Lee Bowyer crossed from the right to find Beausejour to make amends for his earlier error. Back came Albion though with a wonderful strike from James Morrison. The Scottish midfielder controlled Steven Reid’s pass on the edge of the area. He turned, flicked the ball over Curtis Davies with his right foot before driving an unstoppable left foot shot past the helpless Foster. After Liam Ridgewell had been booked for manhandling Paul Scharner, the Austrian got his revenge by scoring Albion’s third in the 72nd minute when he headed Morrison’s deep cross inches over the line.

The victory against the near neighbours moved Albion up to 16th and on to 32 points – two above the drop zone. Baggies boss Roy Hodgson credited his players for his first win in charge and said the fans deserved the derby win for their tremendous support since he has been at the club.

Paul Scharner said that Roy Hodgson had got his teammates believing in themselves once again since his arrival at the club. Nicky Shorey praised the efforts of the Austrian and the returning Abdoulaye Meite.

George Thorne scored for the second successive reserve game as Albion’s second XI came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Liverpool. The draw saw maintained the reserves’ unbeaten record away from home.

Adil Nabi was rewarded for his progress with the Academy with his first professional contract. The England Under-16 international signed a contract until June 2013 with the Baggies. Lateef Elford-Alliyu extended his spell with Tranmere for a further – and fourth -month.

Roy Hodgson decided not to make any changes to the coaching set-up at The Hawthorns with Michael Appleton confirmed as Assistant Manager and Keith Downing as First Team Coach until the end of the season.

A young Baggies reserve side made it three draws on the trot as they drew a stalemate against Wigan at home.

Both Scott Carson and Abdoulaye Meite said they were playing for their futures at the club after Roy Hodgson had given the two an Albion lifeline after being restored to the first team.

Albion favourite Bryan Robson was diagnosed with throat cancer. Robson, who was managing Thailand, was treated in a Bangkok hospital and would finally get the all clear 

The club’s official matchday programme was named the Programme of the Year for the second consecutive season. There was more reason to celebrate as Kit Man Dave Matthews celebrated 50years with the club.

In only the second game of the month, Peter Odemwingie was recalled for the visit of Arsenal as the Baggies searched for their first double over the Gunners in 49 years. Boosted by the win at St Andrews, Albion took only three minutes to take the lead when Steven Reid headed home Chris Brunt’s corner. Albion controlled the opening stages and were unlucky not to get a second when Peter Odemwingie failed to connect with Jerome Thomas’ centre. Arsenal thought they had equalised in the 25th minute when Robin Van Persie’s header cannoned back off the bar and kindly to the feet of Aaron Ramsey. But, just as the Welsh international looked certain to score, Scott Carson made an excellent point-blank save. Albion held on to the advantage into the break but were nursing head injuries to James Morrison and Paul Scharner.

The Austrian was substituted with concussion with Marek Cech coming on for the midfielder. Cech was involved in an excellent counter attack in the 52nd minute when the defender sprinted clear of the Gunners’ defence but his cross was slightly over-hit with the stretching Chris Brunt unable to score at the back post. But Albion did double their advantage in the 58th minute. Youssouf Mulumbu tried a long pass for Peter Odemwingie. The pass saw Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and Sebastien Squillacci collide and allow the Albion striker a simple tap-in. But back came Arsenal. In the 71st minute Andrey Arshavin controlled the ball in the Albion box and hit an unstoppable left-volley past Scott Carson. Eight minutes later they were level when Meite got the ball stuck under his feet allowing Van Persie to poke the ball in.

The unexpected point moved Albion on to 33 points to remain in 16th position. Roy Hodgson reserved praise for Albion’s fighters after seeing James Morrison and Paul Scharner suffer head injuries and Jonas Olsson suffer another Achilles injury.

Steven Reid revealed his delight at scoring his first Premier League goal in five years against the Gunners. Jonas Olsson was cleared of any major damage on his heel as the club provided free transport to fans visiting Sunderland.

In a behind-closed-doors friendly, Albion beat Leicester by a goal to nil after Simon Cox gave the watching Roy Hodgson food for thought.

Scott Carson’s revival continued as the stopper was called into the England Squad for the first time since September for games against Wales and Ghana.

The reserves made it four draws in a row as they were held 1-1 by Sunderland. Frazier Campbell scored in the first minute for the Black Cats before Saido Berahino equalised from the spot.

Albion arranged their first pre-season fixture ahead of the new season with a planned trip to Rochdale.

Roy Hodgson revealed he had turned down a number of enquiries for the services of Simon Cox and said the search for new players had already began.

Read about victories over Liverpool, Aston Villa and how the Baggies managed to finish in 11th in the next instalment of WBA-MAD’s 2011 review.