Last on MOTD: The BRMB derby and the royal who wasn’t there

THERE’S a commercial radio station in Birmingham where they’re convinced that their local Premier League teams are last on Match of the Day every week. So they’ve made a billboard slogan out of it.

Regular readers of this blog will know that BRMB’s claim is not strictly accurate. For a start, West Brom, Wolves, Aston Villa and Birmingham have no chance of claiming the Gubbometer title for being last on MOTD the most times this season.

And those regular readers will also know that, since I first fired up the Gubbometer in that heady, optimistic late summer of 2007, that the two teams who have appeared last on MOTD the most often are Fulham and Wigan, neither of whom are anywhere near the West Midlands, even if you’ve got dodgy sat nav.

These aggrieved feelings over the MOTD pecking order in the West Midlands persist, however. Earlier this season, I noted BRMB sports overlord Tom Ross’ argument that the area was not well served in the Saturday night highlights department. Shortly afterwards, Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann’s claim that his team were always on last resulted in my first (and almost certainly last) appearance in the Observer arts section.

More fuel to the fire for Ross and Hahnemann this weekend, as it’s turned out: The final game featured two West Midlands teams. Neither of them are going to catch the usual suspects in the Gubbometer stakes. But if you got to this page by typing “why are West Brom / Aston Villa always last on MOTD” into Google, hello anyway. I hope this is an education for you.

MOTD’s final match: West Brom 2 Aston Villa 1
Commentator: Steve Wilson

I was at The Hawthorns yesterday, and can reveal that, wherever renowned Aston Villa fan Prince William and Kate Middleton (or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as we should now call them) spent their first Saturday as a married couple, it wasn’t there.

And so the most high-profile husband and wife in attendance as Albion and Villa went head-to-head were Mr and Mrs Roy Hodgson, the new first couple of the parish of West Bromwich.

“I looked up five minutes before the end of the game and saw my wife in the stand,” Hodgson said after a win that pretty much ensured Albion’s Premier League survival. “I’d not seen her before the game, so I didn’t know where she was. I happened to look up, and she looked so worried, so nervous. And I thought: ‘My God, she’s taking it worse than me.’”

Sheila Hodgson could be excused a few worry lines at the end of a season that has seen her husband’s managerial reputation demolished and rebuilt. It seems a lot more than 12 months since he was named Manager of the Year and led Fulham to the Europa League final.

His six months at Liverpool were a nightmare. When he pitched up at West Brom in mid-February, he faced the prospect of rounding off a testing season with relegation. Instead, he gave an entertaining but wobbly Albion side some much-needed discipline.

Albion have lost just one of nine matches since he officially took charge, two days after a three-goal lead had been squandered in a home draw with West Ham. Survival was all but secured with a first win over Villa in 26 years. Mrs Hodgson was no doubt relieved to hear the final whistle. Her husband celebrated with an understated pumping of the fist.

That they beat Villa yesterday was a testament to the strength of character they have developed under their new manager – particularly as they got off to an awful start, and then, having got back into the game, lost midfielder Paul Scharner to a red card.

First, the awful start – and surely a contender for own goal of the season. (Come on MOTD, it’s a competition waiting to happen.) Peter Odemwingie’s sloppy pass gave Stewart Downing the chance to build an attack. When he crossed in from the right, a little aimlessly, Abdoulaye Meite stuck out a right leg and somehow sliced the ball into his own net. Keeper Scott Carson looked as if his favourite tea cup had just been accidentally smashed by a work colleague.

And yet, even then, I had a feeling that Albion might turn it round. I was convinced they would stay up comfortably after watching them come from a goal down to beat Liverpool four weeks ago. Under Hodgson, West Brom are not a team who fold.

They deserved to draw level on the hour when Odemwingie turned in from close-range after Villa failed to read a free-kick routine that West Brom had tried on them a few moments earlier. The first time around, Carlos Vela had played a ball from the right towards the far post, where Scharner had pulled away to escape his marker but headed straight at the keeper.

The second time around, it worked better. James Morrison’s ball from the right found Jonas Olsson unmarked at the back post to head back across goal, Simon Cox and then Scharner stabbed the ball towards the Villa line before Odemwingie finished.

It was the striker’s 14th goal of the season. He has, it would appear, been offered a big hamper full of chocolates if he gets to 15 goals before the end of the season – a challenge I’m sure has been lifted direct from an old Hot Shot Hamish and Mighty Mouse comic strip.

He has crumbled under pressure at times – his awful penalty against Manchester United on New Year’s Day stands out in that respect – but Odemwingie had been terrific of late. This was his fourth goal in four games. The chocolate, I am sure, will be his.

Scharner then let the side down, getting himself a sent off by picking up a second yellow card for grabbing Stiliyan Petrov round the waist. But Gary McAllister, continuing to stand in as manager Gerard Houllier recuperates following heart problems, made Albion’s job easier by taking off Nigel Reo-Coker with 20 minutes left and replacing him with the aging Robert Pires.

The Albion winner came with six minutes left. Cox’s ball through found Youssouf Mulumbu, who turned away from substitute defender Ciaran Clark to loop a shot over Brad Friedel. Not the tidiest goal, but surely the most vociferously celebrated at The Hawthorns this season. Well, OK, Vela’s late equaliser against Wolves in February might have run it close.

There was a little confusion amid the goal celebration, actually. A group of Albion players jumped on top of Mulumbu, resulting in one or two sources initially crediting the goal to Marc Antoine Fortune. Weirdly, MOTD’s screen graphic immediately after the goal did this, and commentator Steve Wilson may well have done the same, as his description of the goal sounded as if it may have been redone afterwards.

(If I’m doing you a disservice there, Steve, I apologise. If not, I can assure you that you weren’t the only one who got in a muddle over the scorer.)

After the game, it was put to Hodgson that, by consigning Villa to defeat, he had ruined Prince William’s weekend.

“I don’t think anything could have ruined his weekend,” Hodgson laughed. “Certainly, he’s made a lot of people’s weekends with a marriage that was such an incredible spectacle, and enchanted so many billions of people all over the world.

“To suggest we should discuss a football match in relation to a royal wedding is probably a bit strong. And I’m pretty sure that if ever there was going to be a weekend when he wouldn’t be devastated by an Aston Villa defeat, this would be it.

“But this result has made a few people’s weekends, not least my own. From a selfish viewpoint, I’m going to have a wonderful weekend.”

Not even being last on Match of the Day would spoil it, I’d bet.

Gubbometer

1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 10 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. West Brom: 6 (2L: 7, 3L: 1)
4. Stoke: 6 (2L: 6, 3L: 9)
5. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
6. Everton: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 4)
7. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 5, 3L: 8)
8. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 6)
9. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
11. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
12. Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
13. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 7, 3L: 2)
14. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
15. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
16. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
17. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)

2L=On second last (Sunderland 0 Fulham 3)
3L=On third last (Blackpool 0 Stoke 0)

(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony right on the goalline, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Frank Lampard, Heurelho Gomes and Tony Gubba, with music from Aztec Camera.)

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