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Nationwide Division One, 05/03/02, 7.45pm
West Bromwich Albion
Hell in a flatpack
By Matt Rowson

I'd never done Ikea before. Such are the necessities of moving into a new place, however, that last Sunday was spent measuring up, heading to Brent Cross, heading home and measuring again and finally jumping through the hoops required to obtain a set of wardrobes. I'd much rather have been shopping for CDs.

Anyhow, for the uninitiated the routine is that you place your order on the shop floor, take a printout down to the warehouse and hand it to the guys who load up a trolley of flatpacks for you. You heave the trolley through the checkouts and then, assuming that you don't have your own open-top van sitting outside, queue up at the home delivery desk where you pay £25 to deposit your flatpacks and be told when they will be delivered.

On the way out of the store, dodging the trolleys queuing to be picked up in the biting wind and rain, an Australian murmured as we passed "Aaah, the misery that is Ikea".

One week on... a week of hauling flatpacks up and down stairs, hammering and screwing, realising that we had been given the wrong flatpacks, pulling and unscrewing, arguing for days with Customer Services, receiving a replacement delivery, also incorrect... the full weight of the gentleman's words is fully appreciated.

Such is the deal. Decent furniture at a reasonable price... in return for the certainty of a draining, numbing experience that leaves one without the sensory wherewithal to appreciate the wardrobes when they are finally complete. A dilemma to be wrestled with at any similar future juncture.

Similar, then, to the quandary surrounding Tuesday evening. There are certainly less accessible grounds to reach from Watford on a Tuesday evening... and a game of football is by and large an attractive proposition or else we wouldn't do it -the possibility of a win yet more so.

On the other hand, there comes with Tuesday evening a certain aching toothache-like inevitability. We always lose at the Hawthorns. It's the law. Our last five visits have seen us ship fifteen goals verus six scored (four of which in the loopy 4-4 draw in the relegation season). The context is quite irrelevant - we lost 4-1 in the promotion season too - but for what it's worth Albion have a home record in 2002 of played 5, won 5, scored 12, conceded 0. Indeed they've only conceded two goals home or away in ten games since the turn of the year. Rarely has an away trip looked so utterly futile.

Much of the credit for Albion's sound defensive record must go to keeper Russell Hoult, lauded by his manager this weekend as the best stopper outside of the Premiership. He has set a new club record with twenty-two clean sheets already this season. His deputy, the enormous Brian Jensen, is out with a broken foot, so Chris Adamson will be on the bench.

Gary Megson has found success playing a wing-back system with three central defenders. The most imposing of these is Darren Moore, highly rated wherever he has played but the fifteen-stone defender has missed the last four games with a calf problem and may not return for Tuesday. Tony Butler will continue to deputise if he doesn't make it... the lumbering stopper, sent off at Vicarage Road in September, is strong in the air but dodgy on the deck. And his real christian name is Philip, apparently. Alongside him will be former Leicester defender Phil Gilchrist, solid defensively but with dodgy distribution, and Heidar's compatriot Larus Sigurdsson. James Chambers' speed is also a valuable option although his lack of height appears to limit his effectiveness in central positions.

Slovak Igor Balis appears to have displaced Des Lyttle at right wing-back... he can be devastating going forward and had a fine game in the pit that is Selhurst on Saturday, but has been exposed defensively in the past. On the left, dead-ball man Neil Clement has not been reproducing the form that saw him being linked with Premiership clubs earlier in the season. Chelsea loanee Warren Cummings is probably his first deputy here.

In midfield, skipper Derek McInnes missed Saturday's game through suspension but will probably return on Tuesday in place of the talented but flaky Portuguese Jordão. With Michael Appleton out long-term with a cruciate ligament problem, Adam Chambers has played an effective role in midfield alongside the dynamic Andy Johnson, finally fulfilling the promise he showed at Norwich and stand-in captain at the weekend. Ruel Fox, another former charge of Megson at Carrow Road, is another option here, but his involvement in the first team has been limited to substitute appearances recently - his last start was in mid-October.

Up front, the Baggies' promotion aspirations were given a bit of a kicking last week with the news that Jason Roberts has broken his foot for the third time this season and will miss the rest of the campaign. This leaves a front line of lanky Daniele Dichio, who has taken a while to win over fans at the Hawthorns, with Scott Dobie, so impressive in the match at Vicarage Road. Dobie was recently responsible for Albion's eighth penalty miss of the season.

Hardy veteran Bob Taylor is likely to be on standby from the bench, but Albion's relatively small squad is badly stretched. The club are rumoured to be trying to tie up FIVE transfers in at the time of writing which could, obviously, impact team selection on Tuesday. All things considered, a solid-looking third place with nine games to go is a safer hand to gamble on promotion with than a blank page at the start of the season.

With Watford's latest resurgence fizzling out as unexpectedly as it started on Saturday, only the hardy few will be making the trip to the Hawthorns. Having already taken on Ikea within the last week, I'm not sure that I have the stamina...