What a year 2012 has been for everybody at West Bromwich Albion.
In surviving with something to spare at the end of the 2011/12 season, there were many pundits who were more than happy to say that Roy Hodgson, who left to take the England job, couldn’t possibly be replaced by a novice like Steve Clarke, who had yet to take charge of a Premier League match as the main man.
Yet things have got even better for the Baggies and the fans at the Hawthorns can’t believe what they are seeing.
West Brom go into the final fixture of the calendar year in sixth place in the Premier League, level on points with Tottenham Hotspur in the final Champions League spot, with Clarke making a mockery of those who predicted Albion would struggle under his stewardship due to his lack of experience.
And looking at the entire 12 months, you can see that West Brom’s position in the table is no fluke.
The Baggies have amassed 33 points so far this term under Clarke and when you add that to the 25 they won under Hodgson from January 1st onwards, West Brom have amassed 58 points in 2012 and that is the sort of tally that can – and does – get a team to qualify for Europe.
It is quite a difference from all the years that West Brom lived up to their ‘boing boing’ nickname by yo-yoing between the top flight and the Championship, and all Baggies fans can look towards 2013 with real optimism.
There would have been a time when West Brom would have gone to Old Trafford to face Manchester United like lambs to the slaughter, just going to make up the numbers and taking an expected beating.
Odds of 8/1 on an away win when the two sides meet on Saturday suggest that could be the case again, but I’m not so sure about that and I think this could be closer than one might assume.
United are 3/10 (the draw is 17/4) and that is understandable in the sense that they have been, as they so often are under Sir Alex Ferguson, a winning machine, grinding out results even when the odds are stacked against them.
The 4-3 Boxing Day win over Newcastle United summed up the Red Devils’ Premier League campaign: falling behind on three separate occasions, Ferguson’s men still managed to find a way to claim the points and Javier Hernandez’s late winner, coupled with Manchester City’s loss against Sunderland, means the red half of Manchester are now seven points clear at the top of the table.
Being so far ahead of the chasing pack while being a shambles defensively makes you wonder about the state of the rest of the division, though, and it is absolutely incredible that United have conceded 28 goals in 19 games – that is more than any other side in the top half and only the bottom seven sides have let in more.
And while they continue to give their opponents a chance, we should be trying to make money out of it, so the 9/10 on West Brom with a two-goal head start looks a solid option to me.
Of United’s 15 league wins, ten have been by a single goal, which means that bet would have landed in 14 of their games this season. West Brom have enough about them to give United a decent game and only on three occasions would a bet on West Brom plus two goals have failed to come in.
Given the state of United’s defence, I think West Brom will score, which means United would need three for the bet not to land – and Clarke’s side have let in three goals just twice all season.
This may sound like I am ruling out West Brom getting a result – I am not by any means – but I think even in defeat they can stay within a goal and that is my play at 9/10.