Morrison ready to break on through to the other sideWe’ve had cause to mark plenty of Albion milestones of late but as far as James Morrison goes at present, it’s hard to keep up.
Against Stoke City last Saturday, he clocked up the 300th club start of a career that started at Middlesbrough before his move to God’s country in the summer of 2007. Four more appearances of any kind and that will take him to 400 club games in total.
He’s just ten shy of 350 league games in his career, and six more Premier League games will see him following Darren Fletcher to 300 in the competition. Four more goals and he will have 50 in senior club football, while the winner against Stoke last Saturday was his 28th in the Premier League for the Throstles, leaving him only two behind Peter Odemwingie’s current club record of 30 in the competition.
Most important of all perhaps, if he’s involved in the game at West Ham on Saturday, James becomes only the 45th player in our history to have made 300 appearances for the Albion.
It’s a substantial landmark for a footballer who has grown into a substantial figure at this football club, one who has left a mark on us that will remain long after his career is over.
Along with Chris Brunt who joined in that same golden summer of 2007, Morrison has become emblematic of Albion’s return and entrenchment at the top level of the English game, the level where we belong, as any fule kno.
It’s been a long and winding road for a footballer who first impressed us with his player for the opposition, a game turning cameo for Middlesbrough as a substitute in a cup tie at The Hawthorns in February 2007 that ultimately saw us dumped out of the competition on penalties.
In those early days, Morrison was the archetype of the Tony Mowbray school of football, all soft feet and twinkling toes in the midfield company of Koren, Teixeira, Greening and Gera et al. Often required to play out wide to get into the team, Morrison had a lovely bit of acceleration which, allied to supreme close control, could take him away from markers and get him into great positions to create for the team.
But even then, back in those earliest days, James was always gravitating to a life in the centre, getting in the midst of the action, looking to influence the game most and to grab a goal or two, most crucially the injury time equaliser against Colchester in a game we ultimately won 4-3 and which paved the way to the Championship title in his first season.
From there, it’s been a career that has gone from strength to strength just as the club has done, adding fresh dimensions to an already terrific all-round game, year after year.
James is one of those players who, even though he can make the game look deceptively simple, he never makes it appear routine. However straightforward, there is always something to admire in a Morrison goal, some piece of artistry, of craftsmanship that bears a second, third, fourth look.
Yes, there are the obvious ones, the screamer at Blackburn, a joyous New Year strike against Manchester United, what should have been the goal of the season against West Ham in the cup, the opener at Middlesbrough last month.
But think back to the goal against Stoke last week, the perfection in both the timing of his run and the angle of the dinked finish. Or a string of headers when he has arrived in the right place at the right time, freeing himself of his marker with a deft change of direction or a checked run before planting the ball in the net with all the conviction of Rondon or McAuley.
Whether it’s scoring goals, winning tackles, oiling the midfield engine, Morrison has established himself as an Albion giant. Like all those who have been around a while, he suffers from being taken for granted at times, but if ever we needed illustration of his importance to the cause, we saw it as he missed the second half of last season with the injury sustained at Chelsea in January.
For Morrison is an integral part of what we have built at The Hawthorns over the last decade, a player of many and varied gifts, the kind we will always need at a club like ours.
He can play a number of roles, he will dig in when he has to, display that widescreen vision when the opportunity arises, can be on hand to destroy an opposition attack at one end then be in the right place at the right time to finish off an Albion move a minute later.
He passes the ball beautifully, scores goals and is a sometimes spiky, always committed voice that people listen to whenever he has a point to make. From youthful potential to fully rounded footballer who has delivered on it all, Morrison has been a magnificent servant to the club. And all for much less than £2million? God bless Middlesbrough.
In four or five years, when James Morrison is no longer putting on the stripes and pulling the strings, in days when there’ll be no Brunt nor Olsson either, dear God we will miss them, for they are the foundation stones of the Albion that has redefined itself in the 21st century footballing landscape.
Appreciate James Morrison, a wonderful footballer, easy on the eye, determined in the spirit, while you can. He’s one of the Albion immortals.