Long shows his spirit of adventure
West Bromwich Albion 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
Sunday 20 November 2011
This game looked such a hard sell that the home club felt moved to slash ticket prices by almost two thirds and the visitors to lay on free coach travel for their fans. In the event, it drew the biggest Hawthorns crowd of the season – more than watched Manchester United and Liverpool. And those with an eye for a bargain should be applauded for their judgement.
They saw a fine contest, shaded deservedly by Albion, who took an early lead, threw it away with a needless penalty but then dominated the second half, during which Shane Long, the Republic of Ireland striker who suffered a chipped bone in his knee only a month ago, capped an unexpectedly swift return by heading the winning goal.
Naturally, Roy Hodgson, their manager, was delighted. He had supervised a performance full of energy and decisive, intelligent movement, illuminated with perceptive passing that even Owen Coyle, a manager who appreciates quality football, might have admired, had he not been naturally swayed by partiality and the disappointment that his side had been unable to build on their 5-0 thumping of Stoke two weeks ago.
There were so many candidates for man of the match it was difficult to decide who merited it most. The sponsors chose Zoltan Gera, whose performance in his first home gameof the season justified Hodgson's decision to return to Fulham for the 32-year-old Hungarian and offer him the chance to resurrect his Hawthorns career. But there were others who might equally have got the nod.
Jerome Thomas, apart from giving away the penalty with a clumsy tumble into Fabrice Muamba, gave an excellent display on the left flank and kept his cool, with Bolton defenders looking for offside, to take the ball around Jussi Jaaskelainen and score when Gera's sweet pass slipped him clear after 16 minutes.
Nicky Shorey, recalled at left-back supplied a string of probing passes and delivered an inch-perfect cross for the 56th-minute winner that Long guided home. Chris Brunt worked diligently on the other wing and no one was more pivotal in keeping Bolton running this way and that than James Morrison.
And then there was Long, who had been expected to be out for up to eight weeks after a challenge from Alan Hutton – described at the time by Hodgson as "wicked" – led to him limping out of the win at Aston Villa.
Hodgson revealed that Long had been putting in double shifts in training to accelerate his return and that there had been no hesitation in allowing him back. "Doctors are cautious but players are adventurous and in Shane you have someone who is on the adventurous side of adventurous," he said. "He is Tintin-plus. He was determined he was going to play and the doctors did not try to stop him."
Enthused though he was with Albion – "if we can do the same for the next 26 games I will be a very happy man" – Hodgson was unwilling to forgive referee Neil Swarbrick for giving the penalty against Thomas from which Ivan Klasnic scored.
"I just don't like this new wave of penalties," he said, referring at the same time to one conceded, by Thomas again, against Liverpool. "I was furious about it, as I was about the Liverpool one, and I will use my 64 years and my experience to justify not changing my position. I don't think penalties should be awarded in those circumstances."
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Shorey; Brunt, Morrison, Mulumbu (Cox, 90), Thomas (Dorrans, 80); Gera, Long.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Riley, Cahill, Wheater, Robinson; M Davies, Reo-Coker, Muamba (Kakuta, 81), Eagles (Petrov, 70); K Davies (Ngog, 69), Klasnic.
Referee Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match Morrison (West Bromwich).
Match rating 8/10.
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