Never thought I would have typed the following words, but I was incredibly pumped up to watch Blackpool take on West Brom earlier today. Longtime readers of this blog (i.e., those of you who go back more than a day or two) will be familiar with my complimentary attitude toward all three teams that were promoted this year from the Championship. Newcastle (5-1 winners yesterday over arch-rival Sunderland), West Brom and Blackpool have all been winning, and maybe even more importantly, winning the fun way: by scoring loads of goals and playing attractive, flowing, attacking football. Quite the opposite of the usual approach (Hello, Burnley; actually, make that Goodbye, Burnley), and maybe that says it all. Is it possible there might be the slightest bit of connection between how these three teams are playing and why they're succeeding?
There's likely another factor helping the newly promoted teams, as well: they're accustomed to winning. I know there are several managers who would prefer to play a steady mid- to bottom-table EPL team (think Stoke City and Sunderland) because they are content in their current position, and don't hope for too much against the "bigger" sides.
But the teams coming up don't know they're not supposed to win. Sure, they're aware of the bigger teams' reputations, but they're not necessarily afraid, and they're confident of winning because they've done it so much over the course of the prior season. Winning is habitual, and confidence matters. So today's battle should have been lots of fun to watch, between two sides used to winning (at least in the recent past) and playing the kind of attacking football we like to see. And so it was that I found myself all jazzed up to watch what promised to be a great night of football, but after watching the game, some observations about the sorry affair I witnessed follow herewith: After Seeing the Weather for the Game, I can understand why Blackpool's status as a tourist destination might have waned slightly over the last several years. The weather there makes Atlantic City look like Shangri-La. Second, I Love ESPN3. Mostly. It allows me to see games I might not otherwise be able to watch, and to see them on replay later that same night without having to see the results first on the web page where the games are stored. Today's game was not broadcast in the States on FSC, FSC+ or the Deuce, so unless it had been on ESPN3 I wouldn't have been able to watch (and you, consequently, would have been reading about yesterday's blah Atleti draw against Almeria). The only thing I don't like about ESPN-Trey is that the video signal seems to get stuck. A lot. Necessitating. Pauses. In. My. Viewing. Oh, well, better slow than never. Third, and More Importantly, Michael Oliver, the 25-year Old Referee Overseeing the Game, Completely Bollocksed it Right Off the Bat. First off, who made the decision to let a 25 year old run a Premier League game? This isn't Little League. In fact, we may have been better off with Jamie Oliver in charge of tonight's affair rather than his younger namesake.
Oliver looked totally out of his league, like a nervous school boy on prom night. Certainly, his handling of several important points in the game didn't inspire confidence, or lead anyone watching (including the players and coaches) to believe that he had control of the game in any way, shape or form. Fourth, the Very Questionable Penalty that Oliver saw against DJ Campbell in the box could have easily been a yellow card going the other way for diving. Even IF you assume a penalty should have been given, there's absolutely no way it's a red card offense. By sending Ibanez off, Oliver utterly and irretrievably changed the course of game, necessitating a quick re-shuffling of personnel and strategy on the part of Roberto DiMatteo's team. That was very unfortunate from this neutral's point of view.
When another West Brom player was sent off 20 minutes later, the result of the game was no longer in doubt; the only question seemingly remaining was how many goals Blackburn would score against a 9-man West Brom squad. In fact, though, West Brom were able to apply a surprising amount of pressure on Blackpool after they were depleted by two men. Somewhat incredibly, they had the better of the attack for much of the game, and gave at least as good as they got. One can only imagine what they would have been capable of with a full compliment of players at their disposal. That a 9 man West Brom was able to hold the final damage to 2-1 after being undermanned for a full two-thirds of the game speaks volumes about the inspiration and commitment that Roberto Di Matteo has been able to instill in his troops. I wonder, though, if tonight will be a case of a Bridge Too Far for West Brom going forward....
Is referee Oliver to blame for making Di Matteo's troops lose the battle AND the war? You have to wonder how much playing two men down for most of the night will take out of West Brom in its next few games. Although they may have survived tonight on a collective rush of adrenaline, there are going to be some very tired legs in the West Midlands over the next couple of weeks. We'll have to wait and see. And I'm a tired out farlieonfootie, as well, for November 2.