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STARS IN STRIPES: 2000/2001

23 November 2015

The resurrection shuffle

These, for the most part, are the gentlemen who had saved Albion from relegation to the third tier of English football at the end of the 1999/2000 season, and who were then charged with bringing better times back to The Hawthorns.


All smiles they might have been - what did Des Lyttle find so hilarious? - but little did they know just what a pre-season left to the tender mercies of Gary Megson and Frank Burrows would entail.


Between this picture being taken as the players returned for the campaign ahead and the first balls actually being kicked in anger, the likes of Paul Mardon, Fabian De Freitas, Danny Gabbidon, Justin Richards and Mickey Evans would all fall by the wayside whilst in would come Ruel Fox, Jordao and new skipper Derek McInnes.


As it turned out, this would be the Rubicon season for the Throstles as we crossed from being a comatose giant into a side that once again could take full and proper possession of its heritage and begin to be seen as an football club that could justify hopes of Premier League football once more.


Fitter, more aggressive, more determined than in recent years gone by, Albion didn’t open as though things had changed. In a pattern that was to become the norm under Gary Megson, the campaign started dreadfully with three straight defeats as the rigours of pre-season took their toll on weary bodies.


But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that counts and once they were out of the starting blocks, Albion were transformed.


They weathered injury to McInnes, bringing in Michael Appleton to mitigate that loss, added Igor Balis, Phil Gilchrist and Russell Hoult over the season and gradually moved from an open, attacking style of football to something rather more direct and cagey, built on a solid back five, particularly in the wake of a backs to the wall 1-0 win at Bolton’s Reebok on Christmas Saturday.


The season was ultimately to end there too, but not before Albion had clinched sixth place and a spot in the play-offs, unthinkable a year earlier. Indeed, at 2-0 up with a handful of minutes to go in the first leg at The Hawthorns, Wembley beckoned, but two late Bolton goals turned the tie on its head and they finished the job in Lancashire, going on to win promotion thereafter.


But we were victorious in our own way too. As thousands of Albion fans greeted the players as if they were the ones going to Wembley after the Bolton defeat, it was clear West Brom were back.


Why? Attitude. As Michael Appleton said afterwards, “I’ve said to the players in the dressing room, remember this feeling when you come back next season, and never let it happen again”. They didn’t.

 


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