Game of the Week – Blackpool vs. West Bromwich Albion
For all you hear of the excitement of the Premier League 'brand' there is an unfortunately high number of supporters who are finding the product somewhat 'same old, same old'. With a familiar clique of half a dozen clubs competing for honours and the rest battling beneath the glass ceiling, the meeting of two promoted teams by the seaside should provide a refreshing and entertaining reminder that just occasionally, the Premier League is the best in the world. It pits two evenly matched sides against each other that have both pleasantly surprised us with their start to the season and with some positive, crowd-pleasing football. This is a game which promises action at both ends and hopefully a few goals.
Ian Holloway is an immensely popular man in football for his combination of honesty, quirky humour and a sense that he never lost touch with the common man. Whether you agree or not with his observations on Wayne Rooney and the Bosman ruling last week, one cannot help but feel that the game needs more like him to spark debate. Though his personality has never changed, his approach to football certainly did during his post-Leicester sabbatical. During a season out of the game, Olly was converted to the virtues of a 4-3-3 system and the attacking mindset first pioneered at the elite level by Zdenek Zeman. It is a far cry from his sides at Bristol Rovers and Plymouth, who while not exactly primitive Charles Hughes types, certainly relied on the physical as much as the technical, and probably more so. For over a season, the trick has worked, leaving the Seasiders punching so far above their weight even Jimmy Wilde probably gives an envious glance from beyond the grave. That they won at Anfield was impressive, that they thoroughly deserved to was truly incredible, and the focus on Liverpool's miserable day at the office has unfairly masked just how vibrant and energetic Blackpool were this afternoon. Their next task is to record a first home win, with their last outing at Bloomfield resulting in a 2-3 reverse by Manchester City where in truth they deserved something.
It is fantastic that Blackpool’s opponents have joined them in dispelling the notion that the jump to the elite level is unassailable. Momentum is key, and so West Brom's most impressive achievement has been the way they did not let the 6-0 shellacking by Chelsea on the opening day send them spinning into their collective shell. Their own entry into the 'barely believable results' category was a superb 2-3 success at the Emirates where it was actually 0-3 plus a missed penalty at one point. What Roberto Di Matteo has managed to maintain is the commitment to attack that the Baggies had last time they were here. Meanwhile, there is a sense that while their defence is not quite George Graham circa 1991, they are not going to haemorrhage soft goals and points like they did two seasons ago. In truth, they played some superb football back then and were only relegated because of costly forays into hari-kari. If they continue to make the opposition work for openings, their recent history of boing-boing between the top two divisions could well be over. Their players look more seasoned and ready for what lies ahead, and likeable as Tony Mowbray is, Roberto Di Matteo seems an altogether more shrewd and pragmatic man.
Two sides playing without fear and seeking to score goals should result in football's equivalent of what Nigel Benn used to call 'a good old-fashioned tear-up'. The outcome could well come down to which of the two sides' star turns provides the best individual performance. Charlie Adam was strangely subdued in the defeat at Birmingham, and will want to remind us all of the folly that Glasgow Rangers surely committed in cashing £500,000 for him. Meanwhile, Peter Odemwingie has the ability to wreak havoc in many an established defence, and if the Seasiders' back line is at anything other than their best, he could well be heavily involved in moments that determine where the points end up. This is a close call, and the positive outlook of both sides means that a 2-2 draw is highly possible.