Terry Wills is a happy Baggie.
Baggies fans left the Hawthorns in high spirits last week, and with with good cause. A third successive win against Stoke City, so long our bogey side, after beating Newcastle United just three days earlier meant that we really could enjoy Happy New Year celebrations. For me both games underlined that whatever criticism can be levelled at Tony Pulis he’s assembled a squad prepared to give 100% effort until the final whistle.
First Newcastle. It took a late goal from inspirational skipper Darren Fletcher to seal the win, helped by a mistake from the United keeper and for once we had the rub of the green when United weren’t awarded a spot kick. Recalling the almost forgotten Victor Anichebe was a masterstroke; a player possessing talent in abundance but prone to suffer a never-ending run of injuries and true too form he failed to finish the game. Then there was Stephan Sessegnon, and what a mercurial display he gave. Pace, ball control and trickery. Where had he been hiding? A welcome deserved three points.
On to Stoke for the game against Tony Pulis’ ex-club, and when he was their manager Baggies supporters moaned and groaned at his unrelenting success rate. Again Stephane Sessegnon stole the show. A constant threat, a cracking goal and a tribute from Darren Fletcher: “I’d rather be playing with Stephane in a team rather than one playing against him.”
Second half full of drama. A Stoke equaliser led to both teams going flat out for a winner. A red card, obligatory when a physical Potters are the opposition. Yes Claudio Yacob made a meal of the challenge and his reaction was unsporting, which sadly appears too be the trait in the modern game. But why the decision could be overruled on appeal is a mystery. Cameron was sent off for raising an arm and grabbing Yacob round the neck, not for Claudio’s reaction.
Five minutes added on time, melee in the Stoke box, up pops Jonny Evans to tap home the winner – and how the Baggie fans responded. The volume of support had been growing and never more so than celebrating this late winner.
Evans had been magnificent throughout, together with another inspired display from Stephane Sesseggnon that deserved all the plaudits lavished via the media and the fans’ summing up. It has to be said that this Mark Hughes Stoke side played a brand of football unrecognisable from that we’d been accustomed to watching down the years, which made the three points more the welcome.
This week sees FA Cup third round action with Bristol City visiting the Hawthorns. On form Albion should win but as all fans know cup matches can often provide shock results. It’s more than likely that Tony Pulis will name a very different team, to include fringe and/or youth players, so we’ll have to wait and see who eventually is chosen.
Finally I have to pay tribute to the finest Albion full-back I have ever seen, Don Howe, who died a few days ago. His displays for both the Baggies and England can never be forgotten by those fortunate to have seen him play.