December and January has always been a helter-skelter period in English football. Even when we still had the old European competitions these two months would be free for domestic competition whether it be the League, the FA Cup or the League Cup.
At the end of November there is a feeling that after 15 or so games we are beginning to get a feel for the league and how it may pan out. Six or seven weeks later and it seems that the final stretch is on the horizon and approaching at a rate of knots.
A poor start to the season can be rectified during December or January but conversely it is not a good time to hit a slump with so many games coming in quick succession.
A look at the lower half of the Premier League makes it very clear that this is a very poor time for clubs from the West Midlands. With only 8 points covering all the bottom half teams and West Brom, Birmingham, Aston Villa and Wolves all sitting in the bottom seven it seems almost certain that safety for some will come at a severe cost for their neighbours.
This past weekend allowed us a look at all four West Midlands clubs as they scrambled for precious points. As far as current form is concerned the lowest of the four, Wolves, have been enjoying the best run of current form with 12 points from their last eight games.
On Saturday they were going for an unlikely double after beating Manchester City 2-1 at Molineux earlier this season.
Saturday’s game was an odd mixture. Wolves played some very good football for large stretches of the match but were caught wanting when City raised their game and scored four in relatively quick succession.
When Mick McCarthy opts to play Nenad Milijas Wolves play with more poise and purpose and it is interesting to note that of their 6 wins this season, Milijas has appeared in 5 of them while only playing in 14 Premier League games so far.
But by including a more enterprising Milijas, Manager Mick McCarthy is sacrificing depth and defensive cover in midfield. Wolves were very susceptible to City breaking quickly and with some sharper finishing City could have – really should have – scored more than the four they did.
However, you could also argue that by committing to a more subtle attacking approach Wolves got them back to 4-3 and could have even left with a point.
West Brom’s current form has them with 9 points from their last 8 games and three of the points came against Blackpool on Saturday.
These two sides played out one of the most entertaining games of the season so far and the frailties and strengths of West Brom were on show for all to see. A series of blunders over the last few games saw Manager Roberto Di Matteo drop former England goalkeeper Scott Carson and replace him with Boaz Myhill.
Based on the display of the West Brom back four whoever keeps goal for the rest of the season is going to be a busy man……or maybe not. West Brom have gone with Jara at right back with Nicky Shorey or Marek Cech sliding in on the opposite side so far this season.
At centre back Gabriel Tamas has been a regular starter while Paul Scharner and Pablo Ibañez have spotted each other since the end of October. However, the news that Sweden international Jonas Olsson has returned to training could be a season-changer for the Baggies.
The big centre back has been out since the end of October and the difference in West Brom’s results with or without Olsson is staggering. Before his injury Olsson played 8 games, WBA won four, drew 3 and only lost 1. In his absence only three wins, one draw and ten defeats.
As long as Peter Odemwingie stays fit West Brom carries a legitimate scoring threat up front but there are only so many goals that a player can score – at some point goals have to be stopped and for West Brom that is where Jonas Olsson comes in.
Tomorrow – Birmingham and Aston Villa
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