A day out with Tony Gubba

A DILEMMA faced me in the press room at The Hawthorns, around 2pm. I was reading the match programme ahead of West Brom’s game against Blackburn, when who should I see sitting opposite me but Tony Gubba?

How is one supposed to react when confronted with Tony Gubba? Should one gawp? Should one keep one’s distance and observe him in his natural habitat, as Sir David Attenborough would if alighting on a particularly rare breed of bird? Should one introduce oneself as a fellow journalist, and attempt to engage him in a profession-related conversation?

And if one writes a blog which contains a weekly tally of the games which feature last on Match of the Day, and this tally is collated in a league table known as the Gubbometer, should one mention this fact on encountering the man it is named after?

You’ll be relieved to hear that I did none of these things. (Just as, on encountering Sky co-commentator Trevor Francis in the gents’ toilets at The Hawthorns this afternoon, I didn’t ask him if he remembered throwing me out of a press conference at Birmingham eight years ago – quite rightly – when I stupidly tried to make a phone call to my office while he was talking.) One has to maintain a level of professionalism in these matters. It really is the only way.

What I did was continue reading the match programme, while overhearing a very loud-voiced journalist about three feet away describe in great detail just how much he would like to have sex with Holly Willoughby.

I’m not sure if the loud-voiced journalist realised that Willoughby and Gubba have worked together on all three series of Dancing On Ice. Perhaps he was hoping that Gubba would overhear his proclamations of not-exactly-love, and put in a word for him.

If that was his plan, I don’t think it’s going to work.

You might wonder how the game could possibly have lived up to such extraordinary pre-match events. Well, it did.

The match was extraordinary. West Brom and Blackburn are both – all things being equal – likely to spend much of the season hovering in The Middlesbrough Zone: that area of the Premier League between 11th and 15th, where neither European qualification nor relegation is ever a distinct possibility.

I say ‘all things being equal’. If I was a West Brom fan, I’d be worried. The Albion seem to be playing the same game as they did in the Championship last season; not realising their full potential. That might sound churlish given that they won the Championship last season. But they only won it on the last day, despite being the best team in that division by a mile.

This season, I believe they are good enough to stay up. The problem is, again, that they are not winning matches when they should. Today was one of those matches.

That point will probably get lost, though, amid all the fury directed by West Brom boss Tony Mowbray and his Blackburn counterpart Paul Ince at referee Mike Jones. (What happened to the Respect campaign, by the way? Referee abuse seems to be worse than ever now. I can’t switch on the TV, attend a press conference or listen to the radio these days without some manager or other blaming all the world’s ills on some balding bloke from Orpington or Waterlooville with a whistle and frown lines.)

Jones is a newcomer to the Premier League. This was only his third game in the top flight, and the other two were straight-forward, one-sided matches involving Wigan. This was his baptism.

In the 12th minute, he awarded Blackburn a penalty that both managers felt was harsh, when Albion centre-back Ryan Donk tugged Jaosn Roberts’s shirt in the area. Benni McCarthy fired in the spot-kick.

Ten minutes before half-time, he sent McCarthy off. The striker, already booked, stretched out for a clearance from his goalkeeper and handled the ball. Again, both managers insisted the decision was ludicrous.

Me? I thought the ref was just applying the rules. It’s football law-makers they should be complaining to.

The refereeing controversy dropped away after the break, but the game got even crazier as West Brom threw everything at the 10 men. And a bizarre 60-second spell ended with Albion equalising.

First, Ishmael Miller latched on to the impressive James Morrison’s through ball, lifted it over the keeper, and hit the post. As the ball ran loose, Ryan Nelsen smashed a clearance against his own bar. As it bounced down, it hit the post again.

Blackburn cleared their lines for a matter of seconds, before Robert Koren hit a 20-yard shot which Paul Robinson flew across to beat out.

Second after that, Miller played Roman Bednar through, and the Czech striker slotted his shot into the far corner to equalise.

A second Albion goal was coming, and Miller got it with a lovely shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty area after Jonathan Greening had played the ball to him.

West Brom should have gone on to win the game from there. But Ince threw on Morten Gamst Pedersen in search of an equaliser, and after a couple of close shaves, it came with two minutes left. Keith Andrews, who followed Ince to Blackburn from MK Dons in the summer, drove in his first Rovers goal from 20 yards. 2-2.

Even then, there was still time for Robinson to make a flying save to keep out Bednar. That would have impressed the watching Ray Clemence, who still has a role among the England backroom staff, even though he is no longer the goalkeeping coach. West Brom keeper Scott Carson, another England contender, had a less certain afternoon.

Ince said the draw felt like a victory. Mowbray admitted it felt like a defeat. Their teams both left with a point. But if Albion don’t start winning the games they should do soon, they might be the best side in the Championship again next season.


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