All the misery seems misplaced now. Central midfield problem? Not when the back-up back-up plan can run a game against decent opposition. Chris Baird and his messier partner, Steve Sidwell, proved once again that at a stable club no single player is indispensible, no five players even. We can lament the mislaying of Dempsey, Dembele, Murphy, Etuhu and all the other stalwarts of days of yore, but there is much to be excited about, too.
Dimitar Berbatov for one. We had been very excited about him, of course, but today he proved that the strolling reputation is partly an exaggeration: he cares, as witnessed when he showed his frustration with his new, non-Champions League team-mates.
Equally, he shared the love when others’ play merited it. Alex Kacaniklic, thrown away by an increasingly hilarious Liverpool, was in rare form on the left wing, and his jinking directness set up Berbatov’s goals. For the first he drew three players, passed inside, and Berbatov only needed the second he got to control aim fire. Ha. Class.
The second was a penalty after Kacaniklic had sped outside his full-back and been tripped. At first it looked like Hugo Rodallega wanted it but there is a pecking order for these things and that begins with the superstar, who made Ben Foster fly in the wrong direction and putted home.
Berbatov said thank you to his friend on the wing, which is how it should be.
West Brom also had a man sent off, Peter Odemwingie swinging a boot into a space that Sascha Riether occupied. Riether exploded into the air as if he’d trodden on a landmine, and it looked as if Odemwingie had to go. I have my doubts, even after seeing the replay. I think it might just have been a really unfortunate accident, but perhaps not. Either way, it more or less killed the game, if not Riether, who was able to regain his composure and soldiered on.
The second half was okay. Foster made some splendid saves, especially from Duff after the latter walloped a trademark howitzer from the edge of the box, which may have deflected on the way. He made a handful of further saves to keep the game tight, but was ultimately powerless to stop a Steve Sidwell strike from close in, Kasami and Rodallega (both trying far too hard to make an impression in the second half) both having a go before Sidwell bundled a bouncing ball into an empty net.
Another good home win. We kept the ball fabulously well at times, and in Riise we have a full-back at the top of his game. Duff is putting in a Simon Davies c.2007 season whereby he’s 8/10 every match, and the other attacking players all did well enough. Berbatov visibly slowed towards the end but his debut was all we might dared have hope for. It’s hard to describe how exciting it is to have a player like this in front of you. It didn’t all work out for him but the class is shining through already. Fantastic.
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