Paying the Penalty
Monday 23rd November 2015
In a season that gives a sense of ‘stuttering’ rather than ‘motoring’ it feels strange that we are only a couple of points from the very summit of English football. We could and should have been at the very top, even now after the dust has settled on Saturday afternoon’s disappointment but even though it was definitely one of ‘those’ days where everything works against you, we took nothing from a game we definitely should have won.
For today’s corresponding nostalgia trip I’m taking you back to April 1971 and a huge match at The Hawthorns. An O.G and a goal from captain Frank Mclintock secured what was to be an absolutely crucial point with just 3 league matches remaining.
Those of an age to remember that season have plenty of stories to tell and rightly so it what was a momentous time in the history of our great club. One of those refers to The Baggies’ previous match away at title favourites Leeds United. After not winning away from home for an incredible 16 months and sitting just above the relegation zone the Albion went to Elland Road and won 2-1, a result that had it gone the other way could and probably would have changed our whole history. The amusing part to that story was West Brom’s winner was apparently offside. In fact if you believe some people’s description (especially those from Yorkshire), he was so far offside “feckin’ Usain Bolt wouldn’t have caught him”!
In the matchday programme for our visit and amongst the news that the 1971 ‘Queen of the Clubs’ beauty contest would be taking place at the Tipton Club on Wednesday (surely something that should be re-introduced 😉 ), there is an interesting interview between West Brom captain and a local journo. John Wile said, “I don’t really know what all the fuss is about. Maybe Leeds have some reason to be unhappy about the outcome of the game which was vital to their championship hopes, but whatever else is said, Albion fully deserved to win the game!”
Journo replied’ “My sentiments entirely. I thought Albion created enough chances to have won the match by a four or five goal margin.”
So there we have it. Leeds were rubbish.
After we lost at Leeds 2 days later, with 2 games to go (1 in hand on Leeds), our point at The Hawthorns meant if we won them both, whatever Leeds did in their last game, we would be Champions. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Rather than the Leeds (and other) fans always talking about that ‘offside’ incident robbing them of the title there is very little ever said about the fact up to our visit to the Black country that April afternoon we had won our previous 9 games on the bounce, conceding just ONE goal along the way.
And that leads me back to our most recent encounter…..
There are some out there that believe a professional footballer should never miss a penalty. Although I agree to a certain extent, the sheer athleticism of goalkeepers these days and the availability of various kinds of media enabling them to study how every player takes a penalty evens those odds up in the modern game for me. The one thing you cannot allow for however, is if your standing foot slips away from you at the crucial moment. Even the world’s greatest players have experienced that down the years and it is down to nothing but bad luck. Crucially for us on Saturday afternoon, Santi experienced one of those unfortunate moments.
A win would have put the icing on the cake of a very fine weekender. Our usual pre-match haunt was enjoyed in the expected fashion, the sun was shining on a bitterly cold day and we enjoyed a fine night out in Britain’s 2nd city after. The reason and ‘excuse’ for us being there however, was very disappointing and frustrating.
Even though we totally dominated virtually all of the game and came close time and time again, it is the few moments where we conceded goals that concerns and disappoints me. I compare defending to a test match cricket batsman a little bit. You can be in the form of your life and not looking under any threat of losing your wicket for hours on end. Yet one second where you show a lapse of concentration and all your hard work can be undone in an instant. If we are going to challenge for the title this season, it is an element we need to eradicate from our game. And fast.
I can’t help but look back to that 1971 double winning season and that 9 match unbeaten run. 8 times our opponents got nil. That takes among many many things huge concentration along the way. And if The Baggies had got nil on Saturday we would have won. And probably by an even more handsome margin.
Tomorrow night is huge. Whatever our opinion as to whether we are good enough there is no other way to describe it. And I don’t just mean our game. If things go well for us in London N5 and in Munich we still have a chance, hope and probably most importantly, positive momentum.
And we can do our bit as always.
Come on you mighty reds!