The last time West Bromwich Albion entertained Liverpool on an opening day of the season was back in 1982 which saw Liverpool come away with a 2-0 win. Since that game, Liverpool have won numerous trophies, been an ever-present team in the Premier League and West Bromwich Albion have been up and down across the divisions. Yet judging by yesterday’s 3-0 win, Liverpool’s worst opening day top flight defeat since 1937, West Bromwich Albion can look forward to another entertaining season here in the Premier League.
The game saw two managers make their league debuts for their respective clubs, Brendan Rodgers for Liverpool and former Liverpool second in command, Steve Clarke for West Bromwich Albion. Both had tough acts to follow in different ways, Clarke taking over the reign of Hodgson who had made West Brom into a top 10 side and gone onto manage England and Rodgers taking over the reins of ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish after another unsettling season for Liverpool.
Both managers had previously worked together at Chelsea and after this game, it was Clarke who would have the bragging rights for the time being, playing Liverpool off the park throughout the game; a game where there could have been a lot more goals for the home side. Both teams handed out debuts to summer signings, West Brom giving Argentine Claudio Yakob a starting place alongside Mulumbu and Ben Foster making his first appearance as an official West Brom player after securing him from Birmingham. Yassine El Ghanassy and Romelu Lukaku were given places on the bench. Liverpool handed out Premier League debuts to Fabio Borini and Joe Allen.
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Liverpool looked like they would be a tough team to break down, with the ever-controversial Luis Suarez causing numerous problems for the Baggies, but firing wide, high and into the keeper on numerous occasions; he looked like today would not be his day. The Albion were looking very bright, starting off where we had left off under Hodgson, passing the ball around neatly and creating a few chances. Liam Ridgewell had the first chance of the game after three minutes when he fired over from 17 yards following a neat bit of play with the returning Zoltan Gera. Following this there was a lot of end-to-end action, with the Albion taking shots and Suarez misfiring from different areas of the pitch.
Just after a quarter of an hour had been played, Glen Johnson looked to have carried the ball over the line only for the referee, Phil Dowd, to wave play on, ending with Borini chipping a shot just wide. Then just before the half hour mark, Suarez should have really put Liverpool in front when he headed over a cross from Johnson.
Then two minutes before the end of the first half, the Hawthorns erupted when one of our favourite sons, Zoltan Gera, scored a goal of the season contender when he fired the ball into the top corner of the net from 25 yards out after chesting it down and volleying it past the helpless Reina.
Half-time and 1-0 to the Albion. Most fans were happy with this, but had the niggling worry of whether we could keep the score like this. No one expected what would happen in the next 45 minutes.
Just before the hour mark saw Shane Long bundled over by Daniel Agger in the box with Dowd pointing to the spot and drawing out a red card for the Dane. Shane Long stepped up to take the penalty against Reina but it was a weak effort and easily saved by the Spaniard.
No worries, for just three minutes later the Albion were awarded another penalty when Martin Skrtel clattered into Long. Two penalties in one game? We probably won’t have another penalty this side of Christmas now. Peter Odemwingie stepped up this time to take the penalty and he made sure the Albion would double their advantage, accurately blazing home from the spot, sending the crowd into a party atmosphere. There were a couple of subs in the ensuing minutes with on-loan Chelsea star Lukaku making his Baggie debut in place of Shane Long. The Belgian international soon made an impact squaring the ball to Morrison, who one-on-one from ten yards fired well over the bar.
Lukaku soon opened his Albion account a few minutes later when Ridgewell sent the ball to the back post for the young star to head past Reina. He very nearly doubled his tally when he shot just wide of the post on the 80th minute. Just a minute later Suarez had another chance after Borini crossed to him, but headed inches wide. Before the whistle was to go, Fortune and Mulumbu would both have chances to extend the Albion lead.
The whistle went and the season had started better than most could have imagined. I believed a win was a possibility before the match, but it would be a very close game. How wrong I was. It shows how far we have come as a club when teams such as Liverpool are wiped away 3-0 and it also shows that Liverpool have some serious questions to ask themselves these next few weeks.
A trip to White Hart Lane is next, and I for one cannot wait for it. Football is back, and my word aren’t we glad it is?
Man of the Match: Zoltan Gera: His appearance was almost like that of a new signing following his injury last season. He has had a lot of time to work on his fitness and he showed this for all to see yesterday, including a good reading of the game and a goal of the season contender already.