A supreme display from Shane Long was the catalyst for Albion's first top-flight victory in the Black Country derby for 28 years. Long terrorised Roger Johnson and Christophe Berra at the back, his impact on the game being so significant even the Match of The Day team picked up on it! The fans were certainly delighted with the victory, and also the performance to go with it.
Once more, Albion had less possession in the game and at times did persist with a more long-ball tactic. However on this occasion, it seemed that this tactic was a plan rather than just panic on the ball. This was clearly a ploy by Hodgson to get Somen Tchoyi and Long in behind a Wolves defence seriously lacking in pace, and the plan worked a treat. But unlike previous weeks, Albion also showed a return to the more attractive football that they have become known for, with the 2nd goal the main example of this, Paul Scharner's sublime back heel the stand-out moment.
Roy Hodgson must take a lot of credit for Albion's victory at the weekend, he made some big calls and all of them paid off. I have been slightly critical of Hodgson in previous blogs for his tactics, but he was absolutely spot on this time. Paul Scharner was brought back into the centre of midfield and he looked back to his best, winning the ball in midfield and also pushing on into attacking position. Scharner clearly thrives on the big-game atmosphere created at the Hawthorns, geeing them on and then delighting them by revealing his under-shirt with an Albion badge drawn on. This didn't go down well with Stephen Hunt but the Baggies fans clearly enjoyed the bravado of it all.
It was one of Hodgson’s other changes that led to the first goal. Billy Jones was brought in at left back for Nicky Shorey, who has not lived up to his standards of last season. The ex Preston North End star enjoyed a good debut and went off to a standing ovation from the Hawthorns crowd. It was his over-lapping run and then pull back to Chris Brunt that led to the first goal, with Brunt showing exactly why he is deployed on the right hand side of midfield, running onto the ball and driving an unstoppable left-footed shot past Hennessey.
However, Jones also enjoyed a good game defensively as did his defensive colleagues. Jonas Olsson lived up to his very high standards and also pulled off a magnificent block from Kevin Doyle, the striker seeing his effort diverted for a corner by Olsson from 2 yards out. This is the sort of defending that really gets the crowd excited, and Albion have shown a lot more defensive tenacity than last year putting their body on the line. Steven Reid performed well again at Right Back, duelling with Matt Jarvis throughout the game. Though Jarvis had the initial advantage, Reid quickly asserted himself on the game so much so that the England International(I don’t know how that happened) was replaced by Mick McCarthy.
But it was another of Albion’s summer signings that impressed me. I was apprehensive about the signing of Gareth McAuley in the summer. A free transfer from Ipswich, an experienced international yet I questioned how at 30, he had yet to play in the Premier League. He can’t be that good can he? Let me tell you, he is that good. This is the first time I have seen him in the flesh and he was faultless. McAuley did what a centre half has to, head the ball, tackle, block and get rid of it. He did all of this with aplomb. I have longed for the day that I saw someone capable of partnering the long-suffering Olsson at the back, well Albion have found that man. The one glaring issue McAuley has is his lack of pace, but this will only be shown-up by the very best in the game, and only if he is exposed one on one which happened very little yesterday.
Hodgson again must take a huge amount of credit for the 2nd goal. He has been criticised for how late he makes his substitutions but yesterday, he brought on Peter Odemwingie at just the right time. The Wolves defenders were tiring and the last player they would have wanted to see coming on was Odemwingie, roared on by vociferous support from the Albion crowd. Less than 4 minutes later, he was spinning off to celebrate in front of the Birmingham Road End. Scharner received the ball down the line, back-heeled to Brunt who played it square to Mulumbu. Scharner stayed wide and received the ball from Mulumbu. He drove inside past Stephen Ward and looked as though he was about to square the ball, only to again pull off a superb back heel to Odemwingie who drove a left-footed shot into the corner. The goal was met with delight by Albion fans who could sit back and bask in the ole football being played at the end, and Scharner’s revealing of the shirt.
Foster 7- Two great saves from Hammill and commanded his box well.
Reid 7-After early problems with Jarvis, kept him quiet and brought the ball forward well.
McAuley 9-A monumental display from the big Irishman, unlucky not to be my man of the match.
Olsson 8-Couple of poor clearances, but overall a great game and an even better block.
Jones 7-Again shaky early on, but assist did him the world of good. Coped well on the wrong side.
Brunt 8-His best performance for a long-time. The skipper passed well, tackled and of course scored a great opening goal.
Mulumbu 7- Sloppy in possession in the first half, second half he came into the game more. Pressed and harried the Wolves players until the end.
Scharner 8-A return to form for the Austrian. Contributed going forward and back, and will be remembered fondly for the shirt. His Facebook page will be glowing with tributes from the fans, myself included.
Thomas 7-Poor against Fulham, more like his old self here.
Tchoyi 7-Unpredictable, annoying and exciting. Does he know what he’s doing? Do the fans? No, but it sure is fun to watch.
Long 9 MAN OF THE MATCH- A quite brilliant display from Long, Berra and Johnson will be having nightmares about him. Shame he didn’t get the chance to add a goal to the performance.
Odemwingie 7-Came on and did what was required, score. A great reception from the fans which he clearly appreciated, hopefully he will kick on from here.
Morrison and Shorey N/A-Not enough time on pitch.
Roy Hodgson 9-Some brave decisions, but ultimately the right ones. More of this please Roy!