Moore recalls a Wembley meeting ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie
How odd that on one of our darkest days of the 21st century, one of our greatest heroes from that same period should be on the other side, giving a magnificent performance and condemning us to our grisly fate.
Such was the way the cookies crumbled at Wembley Stadium at the end of the 2006/07 campaign when the Throstles took on Derby County underneath the arch in the Play-Off Final.
All seemed set fair for the Albion to march back into the Premier League at the first attempt but standing in our path was a man whose utter determination to succeed we already knew plenty about. Darren Moore did not possess the natural footballing skills of a Rio Ferdinand, nor did he have pace to burn – but her had heart.
OLD PALS: 'Mooro' embraces Neil Clement at Wembley
Never knowing when to give up, always willing to wring the last bit of effort out of himself, ready to cajole those around him, utterly unwilling to accept second best, the big man made the absolute most of what God gave him – and then some.
His biggest challenge on the big day wasn’t what Albion might do. It was whether Darren could handle the big occasion and if he could cope with the team he was looking to destroy.
“I remember that game at Wembley so vividly. When we got to the ground, we got off the bus, went down the tunnel, looked round. It was a beautiful place, lovely. We went on the pitch, I must have had two minutes out there, and that was it, I went back in the dressing room. My thinking was that I wasn’t there to look at the stadium, I was there to play.
“But the other thing was, I really didn’t want to see anybody from West Brom because I was so nervous! I’ve never been as nervous in my life as I was that day.
“So I went off to go and do my pre-match routine, getting my head into it, thinking what I was going to do. But I was so nervous, it actually made my body feel heavy. My legs were heavy. I did the warm up on front of a full Wembley Stadium, everybody’s cheering, and I felt heavy. I was in the furthest corner warming up, over by the corner flag. I was just saying to myself, “Come on Mooro, just get these legs going! Not now, don’t let me down now!”
“We came out at the start of the game, the teams walked out together, and I only had a quick look up and saw the guys from West Brom as we shook hands, because for me, I’d only been left a season, and then we end up playing against each other in the biggest club game in the world. I was just thinking, “Anybody but Albion!” I was looking at the lads, the players on the team and I just had to switch off from who they were.”
MOBBED: Darren celebrates promotion with Albion
Darren had plenty of inside knowledge on Albion and put that to good use.
“I spoke to our boys before we started, and I said, “Lads, they’re a good team. Don’t get frustrated, they’ll have a lot of the ball and they won’t give it away. They’re better players individually, but don’t get caught up in that. We will get two or three chances in the game and we have to be prepared to take them.
“We have to be prepared to have one on one battles all over the pitch and make sure that we win them. We can’t afford to have two players on one of theirs because it will only free somebody else up, and he’s just as good. There’s Greening, Koumas, Koren, Gera, Phillips. Be responsible for your man and win your battle.”
“That was it, and then the game was going to start. Just before the whistle blew, I felt so heavy and then, the second the ref started the game, it was just like going into a tunnel, a zone. I could only see the pitch, I was completely focused.
“Pesch should have scored after 12 minutes, he had a great chance. He said afterwards that he rushed it a bit and Deano made the save. He said, “Daz, if I’d scored that, it might have been a different game because we’d have maybe scored too early. Maybe we couldn’t have held on for 80 minutes”. In hindsight he’s maybe right, but at the time, I looked at it as one of those few chances we were going to get.
“I just felt the force of Albion coming at us and I thought we were going to get completely overrun. So I said to Tyrone Mears, “Wherever Koumas goes, you go with him. Just go. Leave your position, we’ll deal with the rest.” Then I said to Seth Johnson, “Do me a favour, just sit in front of us. Don’t go chasing, please just sit in front of me for 20 minutes”.
“Then I asked Jay McEveley to tuck round because I knew Dio Kamara liked to run the wings and I think that was a big, significant moment in the game because we got through that early storm. Afterwards, we went and saw all the boys and I spoke to Koumas and he said, “We went for you those first 20 minutes and if we’d scored then, you’d have gone like a house of cards. The pitch would have opened up, we’d have kept the ball and we’d have picked you off.”
“He was right, because after 25 minutes, that was the first time I felt comfortable in the game. From there, it was just getting to half-time and when the whistle blew at 0-0, I knew we were going to see the pendulum go our way.
“That gave us breathing space, time to calm down a bit and then we went on and scored after an hour and I felt we were going to do it. Tyrone made a couple of great last ditch tackles on Jason Koumas, little moments where games turn.”
Darren was right. Albion ran out of ideas, the goalscoring machine that had coughed up a century of goals that season ran dry just at the moment we needed it most.
“I’ve got all the pictures of the game at home, and after it’s all over, my face is a real mixture of emotions. You can see I was delighted but I’m not really with it either and I think I was drained of energy and emotion, and that was to do with us beating Albion. It wasn’t quite as joyous as it would have been if we’d beaten somebody else!
“When the whistle went, we were all jumping around but I looked across at the Albion lads and in a split second from being elated when the whistle went and thinking it was job done, I was crushed for lads like Clem and Jono. I just told them that they’d given their best and there was nothing more they could have done, that they could be satisfied with their efforts, nobody could have any questions about them. And I felt that about Derby as well.
“On the day, anything less than what we gave and we would have lost. We needed all 11 to perform. Ten wouldn’t have been enough. Thankfully we got it. I felt we deserved it but at the same time I was absolutely gutted for everybody connected with the club, the supporters, players, staff, everybody.
“Afterwards, I turned to the players and the Albion fans to sympathise with them and there’s a picture of the Derby lads celebrating and me looking towards the Albion end and watching the supporters streaming out. I was delighted to win but I couldn’t really celebrate because I still felt like I should have been on the other side.”