• Albion v Sheffield Wednesday, 09.08.2014

    Albion 0-1 Wednesday

    There's something special about the first day of the season. Not only, by decree of the laws of football tradition, is it always hot and sunny, but the air is so full of expectation. Even the most world-weary fan, rendered incapable of expectation, is at least full of hope. This might be the year. This might be our season.

    There is always excitement about how the new signings will get on, too. Even if they came from Barnsley. Hearing on a Wednesday fan's match preview, that Chris O'Grady 'always scores against us', boosted my hopes for our new number 11's Albion bow, and who could fail to be at least piqued by the prospect of a dangerously reckless, hard tackling, Congolese International?

    We arrived early at the Amex. Partly because of a fear of car park mayhem, and a slight lack of confidence that our new season ticket cards would actually work upon scanning at the turnstiles, but also to take a look at the outside 'fan zone'. The sterile area between the station and the ground itself has always seemed wasted, whether by planning-imposed necessity or by lack of club imagination. The news that this area was to be 'Albionised' was most welcome.

    The realisation that the additions (so far at least) amounted to a fish and chip van, with a two mile queue, was only the first of the afternoon's disappointments.

    The team announcement laid bare the holes in the current squad. New boys Stockdale, Hughes and O'Grady on show, with Toko on the bench. Development squad forward Shamir Fenelon, after good form in pre-season, was the most surprising inclusion. Quite what that means for Craig Mackail-Smith, who knows, but it's a long way from a vote of confidence.

    The pre-match video sequence has seen some changes too. Some great clips of Albion fans in black and white, and later marching through Mellor toward the lair of the demon Archer. Leon Knight took off his shirt, as did Leonardo Ulloa. Great moments of Albion folklore. Not sure I like Storer not being at the end, mind, and finishing on a reminder of Leo, will only serve to inflict pain, if we suffer too many more frustrating afternoons like this one.

    Wednesday are clearly also still working on their squad. They were seemingly reduced to fielding the winner of a fan competition in the big (read massive) guy up front role.

    There's not a huge amount to write, about the first 40 minutes of the game. Forster-Caskey's poor touch and subsequent lunge, could have seen him see red. O'Grady and Lualua each had shots on the turn, that failed to trouble Westwood in the Wednesday goal. Bruno produced a couple of decent moments down the right, without a telling cross at the end.

    Wednesday themselves threatened nothing, and were preparing to congratulate themselves for reaching the break scoreless, when out of very little, they found themselves ahead. A quick free kick taken 15 yards from the offence, near the halfway line, caught the Albion defence napping. A poor cross beyond the far post looked to have ended the immediate danger, but when the ball was pulled back to the edge of the box, Giles Coke met it first time with the inside of his left foot, and sent it curling over David Stockdale's outstretched left hand, into the far top corner.

    Coke's manic celebration suggests it's not the kind of finish he produces very often - certainly a moment to savour for the impressive 2,600 away fans.

    Whatever Sami discussed with the team at half time, whatever he had planned, to turn things around, was out the window three minutes after the restart. For reasons known only to himself, Andrew Crofts chose to launch into a tackle, lifting one leg dangerously high on the shin of his victim. Opinion in the stands was split on whether a red card was necessary, but honestly, the ball wasn't in a dangerous area, and the one experienced player in the Albion midfield, really didn't need to be giving the ref that decision to make.

    Two minutes later, a frustrated Forster-Caskey had a wild swing at a Wednesday knee, and I'm certain he'd have walked, had it not been for the Crofts dismissal moments before. On 60 minutes, Sami threw two of his dice. Buckley on for Fenelon, who'd shown promise, but came up a little short on this first showing, and Kemi Agustien for Forster-Caskey.

    Soon after, the Albion managed for a short period, to finally exert some pressure on the Wednesday defence. The one real chance came courtesy of a sprint to the corner by Buckley, who pulled the ball back to edge of the box, where an on-rushing Gordon Greer controlled well, and found O'Grady ten yards from goal. The big striker's first touch was good, and his shot on the turn looked destined for goal, but he was denied the dream debut, by a fine reaction save from Westwood.

    He did okay all round, in fairness. Inevitable comparisons with Leo will be unkind to O'Grady. We need to see him as exactly what he is - a decent squad acquisition, who will prove an effective option. The main man is surely yet to arrive.

    Little else in the way of chances were produced, and with 15 minutes remaining Sami went for broke, sacrificing Calderon at the back, to bring on another forward in Mackail-Smith.

    By now though, Wednesday had the game well under control, and if anything looked the likelier to score again. Their lumbering forward looked to have a clear sight of goal, only for the impressively composed Aaron Hughes to stroll past him and take the ball off his foot. Hughes looks to be exactly what we needed - a slot in replacement for last year's player of the season. If he could just buy some Copa Mundials, instead of the bright orange slippers, it would be like the excellent Upson never left.

    The 5 added minutes were infuriating - Wednesday exploiting their man advantage well, keeping the ball, and leaving the Albion players chasing shadows. The final whistle sparked huge celebrations in the away end. Poor as they look, they fully deserved the win, which is a damning summary of our efforts.

    Sami has got a big job on his hands. The player recruitment team need to get some deals completed to help him out, but that's not the full story. There's work to do on the training ground to get the best out of what we already have - because this was well short of it. We go again in three days, and the League Cup game has probably now assumed a touch more importance. Let's hope to see some signs of progress.

    Bring on Cheltenham.





    Comments 2 Comments
    1. cyberleech's Avatar
      cyberleech -
      Well written Exile, pretty perfect summary of a frustrating day. Who are you and where can I get more ?
    1. Exile's Avatar
      Exile -
      Thanks. The intention is to write one of these for each home game. I don't get to many aways, so @Bozza will ask somebody else to do those.
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