A Tale from the Second City
I caught my first glimpse of West Brom yesterday, and I was mildly impressed by what I saw. After warming up for my first ever trip to the Hawthorns in the delightfully hoppy Wellington in Birmingham’s centre, I inevitably entered that myopic state where three pints transform a bunch of aimless wastrels into a squad of dynamoes, and my irrational expectation seemed inspired when Jamie Mackie, Argyle’s heart and soul, squeezed a low shot past England’s No. 6 Scott Carson to put the winless Pilgrims ahead for the third successive away game.
Following one crazed bodyrock which apparently incorporated a low punch to my Man Utd-supporting friend’s ribs, I joined the 1000-or-so strong Green Army in making the most of our fleeting lead and but for an inexplicable headed miss from left back Gary Sawyer, we probably would have gone into the interval on a high note. His miss may have helped galvanise the home team, but not as much as our ‘keeper’s panic-fuelled flap at the third of a sequence of West Brom corners: with no one marking up, Shelton Martis somethinged the ball into an empty goal to level the game.
My chum thought that we just needed to get to half-time without conceding another. How I wheezed: for about the 67th time out of, say, the last 74, we didn’t and us Devon gluttons trudged under the stand for a long hard think. Thankfully the Baggies do that thing where away fans are let outside in a small pen: catching some later afternoon rays through the trees, I reflected nonchalantly on another but what if half and wondered how the hell Argyle could get back into the ‘contest’. Joe Mattock and Marek Cech, the classy goalscorer of Albion’s second, had been combining well down the left, and our makeshift back-four couldn’t get anywhere near the reformed Roman Bednar, the same player who had given us such a torrid time in the first game of Paul Sturrock’s return to the helm just over two years ago.
The second half was a bit of a non-event: although the unsettled Karl Duguid stuck a leg out and hit the bar in a rare attack, Argyle never really looked like getting another and my apathy from the stands was matched by Mackie, who casually strolled forward when supporting striker Alan Gow was looking to play a killer pass through to the unmarked forward. It seemed like the players didn’t believe they could get another, a consequence of Sturrock’s shape-before-risk tactics, and instead of taking the game to a clearly transitional and nervy Albion side, the Pilgrims surrendered meekly and the outstanding Cech sealed the game with an easy header.
While maybe a tad hesitant, Roberto Di Matteo’s West Brom are above average for this division. The new Billy Sharp, £1.9m striker Simon Cox, was very quiet, but it was pleasing to see him get a good response from the home ends when he was substituted, and with a little more time he could yet be a decent player for the Baggies. In the meantime, Bednar, Luke Moore and the soon-to-return Ishmael Miller will keep the goals coming and I’d expect Albion to stay in the top-six all season. As for Argyle, this Pilgrim would be mighty surprised if Paul Sturrock were to remain should Argyle not beat Watford on Tuesday evening.