Where are you going? It’s not over yet!
While all is quiet at The Hawthorns during the international break, Publications Editor Dave Bowler chooses his ten favourite games from 45 years of visiting the home of football, some of them obvious, some very personal.
3. 29 March 2008 - Albion 4 Colchester United 3
The end of March is always a pivotal time in any football season, a point at which teams can make their move for titles, can pull away from the danger zone or can plummet towards relegation. It’s a time when a lot of the promotion issues tend to become clearer to, a moment when you need to make a statement of intent and show the rest of the division that you’re not going to be messed with, that you can hold your nerve and go and collect the prize you’re after.
As we reached the end of March 2008, the fixtures were piling up for Albion courtesy of our FA Cup run that would go to the semi-finals, meaning that we were outside the automatic promotion slots, but with games in hand.
Even so, our previous two games at The Hawthorns had ended in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace followed by a 4-1 defeat at home to about to be relegated Leicester, during which anything that could go wrong had done. A 1-1 draw away at Charlton on Good Friday did little to calm the nerves, but next up the following Saturday was Colchester United, a team in even worse trouble than Leicester, sitting on the bottom of the league.
A week away from the trip to Wembley to take on Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final, The Hawthorns was gripped with a sense of excitement but also one of dread because this Colchester game was simply immense. If we wanted automatic promotion, we really needed the three points. But so did Colchester, the drop beckoning them.
Just 17 minutes in, Albion were 2-0 down. After 14 minutes, Hammond put a free-kick to the back post, the ball headed back into the six yard area where it bounced twice amid a scrum of bodies, Coyne watching the second bounce before acrobatically hooking it over his shoulder and into the far corner of the net. And within three minutes, it got a lot worse, Ifil crossing, Dean Kiely and Bostjan Cesar getting in each other’s way as Kiely could only palm the ball to the edge of the box where Elito was in space to get the ball down and wallop it into the top corner of the net.
We took some time to get back into our stride thereafter but, as so often that season, cometh the hour, cometh a Kevin Phillips goal, and so it came to pass on 36 minutes. Zoltan Gera started the move, setting Carl Hoefkens away on a marauding run down the right, his low cross reaching the unmarked Phillips at the back post on the edge of the six yard box. You don’t need to be on “A Question of Sport” to know what happened next in those situations.
And within three minutes, we were starting to wonder just what it was we’d all been so worried about as Chris Brunt drifted inside from the right before wrapping his left foot round the ball and curling a sumptuous strike into the bottom corner, a technically magnificent piece of football.
Colchester simply couldn’t get the ball off the Throstles until the break and twice in injury time we came close to going in ahead. First Phillips and Gera combined before Gerken pulled off a brilliant reflex save from Albion’s top scorer, then Robert Koren drilled a 10 yard volley straight into the goalkeeper’s hands. Things got better yet at the break, Neil Clement coming on as a sub for Cesar after a season long absence, returning to try and make it a third promotion with the club.
The second half started with Albion on the rampage again, Gerken dealing uncertainly with a Brunt cross that nobody followed in on, then Gera delayed a little too long in striking a superb pass from Phillips that had put him in the clear. Robinson was disgusted with himself after 52 minutes when he got on the end of a fine Greening corner only to divert his header wide from close range, then Bednar missed an even better opportunity, Clement’s raking pass switching the play, Gera firing in a lovely cross, Bednar stretching to put the ball over the bar from eight yards out.
Within a minute, the Czech had chance to make amends, a powerful header back across goal from another Gera cross brilliantly saved by Gerken. It was all too much for Colchester boss Geraint Williams who got himself sent to the stand – the row behind the dugout actually – after 55 minutes, but he must have been thanking the referee rather than berating him on the hour mark after he missed a blatant push on Phillips in the penalty area.
minute reached Jackson at the far post. Kiely saved from him at point blank range but Lisbie was on hand to knock in the rebound.thYet nothing is ever straightforward, despite the siege. The goal that was coming came at the wrong end, from Albion’s Achilles heel at the time, a set piece. A corner swung into the box in the 76
The Throstles struggled to regain their fluency and The Hawthorns emptied, less than half the fans still in there as injury time approached and defeat looked on the cards. But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over and that side just kept going.
Into the first moments of time added on, Brunt played a neat pass to substitute James Morrison who spun his defender on the edge of the box before bulleting a low shot past Gerken at the near post. More than enough to be happy with? No, not quite. Let’s go and win it.
Three minutes into injury time, we did. Ishmael Miller went chasing a long ball out to the right and slung in a cross with his right foot, Robinson helping the ball on to Brunt on the left. One wave of that left foot later and Bednar was there to glance his header across the face of goal and into the far corner. Cue mayhem. And cue a near equaliser as well, Vernon whacking a shot at goal that Martin Albrechtsen deflected wide off the line to preserve the points.
From there, we just kept on building and building all the way to that final day at Loftus Road and the lifting of the Championship trophy. But without Morrison’s drilled goal, Brunt’s left foot and the stubble on Bednar’s bonce, who knows where it would have all ended?