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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 31/01/04, 3.00pm
West Bromwich Albion
Demolishing the shed
By Matt Rowson

I've never had my car nicked. Yes, I am touching wood as I type, and no, I have no desire to tempt fate. But no, I've never had my car nicked.

The stereo, yes. Some time on the day of the defeat to Ipswich in September, from the Gade Car Park. The bastards also nicked a Rolling Stones CD but chose to leave a "School Disco" compilation, purchased on a whim to make a trip back from Wigan marginally more tolerable a week earlier, on the back seat. Which kind of added insult to injury.

So, yes, your car being nicked. If it were to happen to me, I'm not sure I'd be terribly rational about it. In fact, scrub that, I know that I'd be perfectly irrational and stomp around wanting to hit something very hard and probably end up demolishing the garden shed.

But more of an insult, more aggravating still, would be to have the thing nicked and trashed by joyriders. Now, I know that it's "only" a Honda Civic, with close to 100,000 miles on the clock, but it's my car, it does a damn fine job and I like it, long may it continue. If some bastard is going to nick it, they might as well appreciate it, treat it with a bit of sodding dignity. Flog it, respray it...hell, even use it in a bank job and then leave it somewhere but don't sodding trash it. Have a bit of respect!

And so we come to Paul Robinson. I'm sure you'll all see where this is going, so I'll cut to the chase...


The most common appraisal of Robinson's signing from Baggies fans, messageboards, sites is along the lines of "Yes very nice, but why do we really need him...?"

So give him back!!! It's not complicated! And instead of repaying the three mouldy potatoes you gave us for him, we'll take Lee Marshall off your hands as well. We can tie him up round the back of the Rookery, and next time we're 5-1 down to Crystal Palace or whoever we can offer frustrated Hornets the right to throw bricks at him, £5 a go, all profits to LBBTV or something.

Seriously, it's not as if Albion don't already have a squad that really ought to be wandering off with the division casually stuffed in its back pocket. Having boxed clever in the Premiership, they've bought well over the summer and since. That they are "only" second is a problem for which Megson is being blamed in at least some quarters... his famously defensive approach may have been successful in achieving the Baggies' surprise promotion two years ago, but more is expected now.

Russell Hoult will be in goal for Albion, at only thirty-one (how?) one of the best stoppers in the division. His understudy isn't too bad either; Joe Murphy was Tranmere's first choice stopper in this division before their relegation.

Megson has at least occasionally departed from his previously unflinching 3-5-2 formation to field 4-4-2, albeit generally witn a deep-lying or man-marking midfielder. Bernt Haas is the regular right-sided back; more comfortable in a wing-back role, he'll be heading to Portugal with Switzerland in June. On the left, a man who needs little introduction. Not sure whether his hair still has a yellow flash dyed into the fringe, mind. Only one booking in fifteen starts for Albion... Robbo, what are they doing to you, son...?

Thomas Gaardsøe is the stand-out centre-back... elegant and composed, he was recruited from Ipswich for whom he was hugely impressive at Vicarage Road last season. Alongside him, big Darren Moore's long-injury lay-off may no longer be keeping him out of the team, but his form hasn't returned with him to the side. He picked up a knock in Albion's last game at Burnley, which may be used to justify him stepping down for a while. Other options at centre-back include big left-sided Dutcman Joost Volmer, experienced former Leicester man Phil Gilchrist and Sean Gregan, albeit the former Preston man, now noticably slowing up, is still used more frequently in midfield.

The jewel in the midfield crown is probably the enterprising Jason Koumas; stretchered off three weeks ago in the home victory over Walsall, he apparently failed a late fitness test to miss the draw at Turf Moor on the seventeenth so presumably will be back in contention and back in the side on Saturday. Neil Clement, forced further forward by his recent competition on the left-hand side, provided what little creativity the midfield offered in Koumas' absence, although the talented but "stilladjustingtothepaceofEnglishfootball" Artim Sakiri is another creative option down that flank. The experienced Mark Kinsella, signed until the end of the season from Aston Villa, is another experienced face who could come in for his first start for Albion.

James Chambers, one of a pair of identical twins on Albion's books, was employed to perform a stifling job on Robbie Blake at Burnley to reasonable effect. James O'Connor, who seems to have been largely a disappointment since his summer arrival from Stoke, comes back into contention following a one-match ban. Andy Johnson, more frequently a scurrier in the middle of the park, has been stuck slightly awkwardly out on the right, whilst the pace of youngster Lloyd Dyer down the flanks is a favourite weapon to bring off the bench. Not in contention are Ronnie Wallwork and Lee Marshall, who have both departed on loan to work under previous colleagues at Bradford and Hull respectively.

Up front, Albion have real problems. With Scott Dobie still out for a couple of weeks with a knee injury, Rob Hulse beginning a three-match ban for an elbowing incident at Burnley, Daniele Dichio on loan at Millwall and Jason Roberts finally on his way to Wigan - not the only player to have a spat with Megson - the Baggies are left with two senior strikers and a distinct lack of mystery going into Saturday's game.

Of the two, Lee Hughes may have half-an-eye on his forthcoming court case, and who could blame him... his form has not been overly impressive in any case. And then there's Geoff Horsfield, back in the West Midlands having had a bellyful of the motorway commute to Wigan. Plenty of hustle and bustle, strength and experience in that forward line but, at the risk of being made to eat my words, not an awful lot of pace.

This limitation may be resolved by mooted loan arrivals this week; one assumes attacking cover must be the priority and having missed out on Carl Cort, who opted instead for neighbours and friends Wolves (ha), strongest rumours seem to be linking the side to Matt Jansen. Should these prove accurate, Jansen's progress will be interesting... an undoubted talent, his form over the eighteen months since his motorbike accident has been less than impressive. The long-time "promising youngster" turned twenty-six last October, and needs to get his career back on track; he has started less than a hundred league games for Blackburn since joining them five years ago.

The importance of Saturday cannot be understated. A tall order, certainly, but with Albion's goals not flowing freely this may be a reasonable time to play them. The Baggies have reputedly struggled to impose themselves on the Division's weaker teams; the Crystal Palace fiasco kinda underlines that that's us. The rest of the season starts here.