Saturday 28th April.
For once the team selection was reasonably conventional with Kevin
Gray continuing alongside Chris Lucketti, allowing Craig Armstrong
to return to midfield where he looks far more comfortable. Macari
always seems to be able to spring at least one surprise selection,
and today’s was the inclusion of Chris Hay on the substitutes bench.
The reverse fixture at the McAlpine was one of the lowest ebbs of
the season as we let yet another 3 points slip from our grasp and
looked like real relegation material, and we needed to show the
fighting spirit today that has brought us back from the brink of
relegation. West Brom had their own agenda as they have transformed
themselves into play-off contenders this season and looked to secure
the win needed to secure a top six berth.
The Baggies started brightly applying pressure to the Town back
line as they looked to reward their fans who were in party mood,
but for once it was Town who made the first tangible contribution
to the game. A long punt out of the area was met by Simon Baldry
whose lunge propelled the ball over the home defence where it was
skilfully met by Andy Booth around 25 yards from goal. Booth needed
no second invitation as Russell Hoult raced from his line, and he
lobbed the ball into the back of the unguarded net. West Brom were
immediately spurred into action as they looked to restore parity
and could have equalised a few minutes after the goal but Nico Vaesen
saved well from Lee Hughes.
As it was, the lead only lasted around 10 minutes when ex-Bristol
Rovers striker levelled the score on 17 minutes. Richard Sneekes
touched on a ball out of defence, and with the defence out of position
the pass was collected by the suspiciously offside looking Roberts.
He evaded a challenge from Steve Jenkins and a balloon and as he
advanced towards goal knocked the ball around Nico Vaesen and tucked
a shot into the back of the net. Straight after the equaliser Des
Lyttle shot narrowly wide and then at the other end Delroy Facey
sliced his shot wide of the target.
Both defences began to take control of the game and chances were
at a premium although most of the opportunities went the way of
the home side. Town survived a scare on the half-hour mark when
the ever-dangerous Lee Hughes had a fierce shot blocked by the legs
of Lucketti, and then seconds later collected a loose ball but,
thankfully, his low shot was well collected by Vaesen. With the
half-time interval looming Michael Appleton scuffed his shot wide
when Vaesen was out of position and then Andy Booth had a glorious
chance to restore the lead from a Craig Armstrong corner but sent
his header the wrong side of the post. The remainder of the half
was safely negotiated and it was just to be hoped that we could
hold on for what could prove to be a vital point.
The second half served to illustrate how the gap between success
and failure is frustratingly small this season. Apart from Blackburn
and Fulham at the top of the table the rest of the division is very
ordinary, and Town took control of a game that the league standings
suggested they had no right to do. Town enjoyed periods of sustained
possession without really creating too many clear-cut openings,
with Andy Booth heading well over the bar and Delroy Facey having
his shooting opportunity well blocked by an Albion defender.
The home defence had to work hard to resist the pressure as they
continued to be outplayed, and Thornley was sacrificed for Kenny
Irons as Macari looked to try to add some creativity to midfield
with Armstrong and Holland having snuffed out much of the home threat.
Unfortunately it was to be one of those games of few real goal-scoring
chances, and the few that did prevail were wasted or were blocked
by the home defence who were in no mood to delay their play-off
party. On 76 minutes Kenny Irons created a good chance for Booth
but his shot over Russell Hoult was blocked well by Larus Sigurdsson,
it was a game of limited opportunities and a final shot tally of
just 3 on-target efforts for Town and 2 for West Brom told its own
It was a shame that Town couldn’t capitalise on their territorial
dominance as a win today would all but mathematically secured their
first division status, but West Brom weren’t quite finished and
as the final whistle approached could still have stolen all three
points. In the dying moments Albion won a corner and Larus Sigurdsson
saw his close range attempt pass narrowly wide of the post, and
then James Quinn who had only been on the pitch for a couple of
minutes pulled his shot wide from 15 yards having escaped the attentions
of Kevin Gray. The late onslaught was survived and Town and their
2,000 or so travelling faithful left for the M6 quite content with
a point when little had been expected of this fixture.
With Tranmere and QPR condemned to life in division 2 next season
and Portsmouth playing Blackburn tomorrow, the focus of attention
today was on Stockport, Grimsby and Crystal Palace. Stockport beat
doomed QPR to guarantee their own survival whilst Grimsby and Crystal
Palace lost to Birmingham and Wolves respectively. The Mariners
are almost safe although their terrible goal difference keeps them
interested, but most importantly of all if Crystal Palace fail to
win one of their last 2 fixtures, or if we win 1 of ours, then we
are safe. Roll on Tuesday and bring on the Wombles!
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Roberts 17)
TOWN 1 (Booth 6)
Position in table – 20th
Town – Vaesen; Jenkins; Lucketti; Gray;
Heary; Thornley (Irons 69); Armstrong; Holland; Facey; Booth;
Baldry (Gallen 90). Subs not used – Margetson; Moses; Hay.
West Bromwich Albion – Hoult; Lyttle (Chambers
66); Clement; Butler; Fox; Sneekes; Hughes (Taylor 66); Roberts
(Quinn 88); Sigurdsson; Appleton; Gilchrist. Subs not used
– Jensen; Jordao.
Referee – Barry Knight (Orpington). Attendance