Many West Bromwich Albion fans will have probably thought Saturday was the perfect time to play Birmingham City after the Blues’ heroics in the Carling Cup final.
After an uneventful first half, the second half sparked into life once Youssouf Mulumbu put the Baggies in front.
Five points out of a possible nine for Roy Hodgson in his first three games as Head Coach. Not a bad start at all and its obvious that Albion have reaped benefits from what Hodgson has done.
Still plenty of work to be done but the signs look good for West Brom.
Not many teams will go to Stoke and Birmingham and get anything so for Albion to get four points is pretty impressive.
I’m sure the point against Stoke will have given Hodgson’s side a lot more confidence heading into the game against Blues.
The Baggies could so easily have gone on to win the game against The Potters but still a point against Stoke is not a bad result.
The last two games have given me optimism that West Brom can get themselves out of trouble. In both the games against Stoke and Birmingham, Albion kept plugging away and you could not question the commitment and desire the players showed.
For me it was no major surprise on Saturday that Hodgson stuck with the same starting eleven who were in the line-up to play Stoke. Only Graham Dorrans failed to start against Birmingham after picking up an injury in training.
The first half was a non-event although Hodgson would probably have taken 0-0 at half-time. Both sides did not create any clear cut chances although West Brom did have the better of the possession.
Jerome Thomas looked threatening once again but the one thing I was frustrated about was his final ball. On one occasion in the first half, he could have sprayed the ball out to the right for James Morrison and Morrison could have had a clear shot on goal. But Thomas opted not to and the chance was gone.
Still 0-0 at half-time, I’m sure West Brom will have been happy with that scoreline and they limited Birmingham to a small number of chances in the first 45.
Peter Odemwingie came on for Marc-Antoine Fortune at half-time and the Nigerian made an immediate impact. Odemwingie’s pace caused problems for the Birmingham defence and his persistence led to Albion opening the scoring.
The Nigerian managed to keep hold on to the ball and through luck the ball reached the oncoming Mulumbu who managed to poke the ball past Ben Foster from 10 yards and Albion went 1-0 up.
Birmingham however went up the other end and equalised which will have been frustrating for Hodgson and the Baggies fans. A swift counter attack from Blues and Jean Beausejour met Lee Bowyer’s pin point ball to score his first goal in Birmingham colours.
West Brom heads could so easily have dropped but did that happen. No! Steven Reid was able to make his way deep into the Blues half with no challenge and fed Morrison who made no mistake from 20 yards with yet another screamer.
Odemwingie should have made it 3-1 after Chris Brunt’s effort hit the inside of the post and went straight to the striker. Odemwingie unfortunately put his effort over the bar when really he should have found the back of the net although the ball did come quickly at him.
The Nigerian’s blushes were spared as Paul Scharner headed home a third to help Albion secure their third away win of the season. After a quick corner, Scharner met Morrison’s cross on the back post after slack marking.
I have to admit, Scharner had a cracking game by putting in crunching tackles, looking calm in possession as well as scoring West Brom’s third goal. Apart from giving the ball away in the first half in a dangerous position to Cameron Jerome, the Austrian never put a foot wrong and had a fine game.
Every single Albion player had a great game and the resilience and desire shown by the players was great to see. If West Brom continue to play like they did against Stoke and Birmingham, then Albion will stay up.
Scott Carson did not have much to do and you have to give credit to the Baggies for limiting the number of chances Birmingham had. Abdoulaye Meite seems to be a different player all of a sudden and on Saturday he put in yet another assured performance.
The 3-1 win saw Albion climb to 16th in the league and above Blues who moved into the relegation zone after West Ham beat Stoke 3-0. It is still very tight in the battle to avoid relegation and anyone from Stoke downwards could still go down.
West Brom’s next three fixtures do look daunting (Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea at home) but then again there is no reason why Albion cannot get anything out of those games.
If Wolves can beat Manchester United and Chelsea at home and if Birmingham can beat Chelsea then there is no reason why West Brom cannot get any results against the big boys. This season has been unpredictable and there have been a lot of shock results including Albion’s win at the Emirates against Arsenal.
Looking at Albion’s next three games, the three points against Birmingham were a massive three points and West Brom do need at least another three or four wins to guarantee themselves a place in the Premier League next season in my view.
But from what we have seen so far under Roy Hodgson, things are on the up for Albion and there now appears to be a sense of optimism amongst Baggies fans that they can stay up.