The visitors started brightly against a team that at first glance seemed to have been thrown together, with Hibbert and Cahill back from suspension and Pienaar and Fellaini back from injury trying to gel in the absence of Arteta and Rodwell... plus Lescott on the bench due to avoiding another yellow card or a whim of the manager to give Yobo a game (Neville was risked).
For the first 20 minutes it was WBA causing the problems with Fortune having a shot fielded by Howard and one passing the far post, as well as quite a few set pieces that came to nought.
Fellaini made a cats in midfield and allowed a shot on goal that Howard saved and after the twenty minute mark things got worse for the Blues when Hibbert was taken off with what was deemed to be a thigh strain. Cue Osman to midfield and Neville to right back.
WBA still pressed and Howard had to parry a forward run and shot for a corner; and from the resultant corner a shot found the side netting.
Just when we were thinking, "Could this be a game to far for an injury ridden team without adequate resources?", Pienaar was fouled, Baines delivered a cross of Arteta proportions, and Cahill powered home.
We looked a bit livelier after the fillip of a goal and Pienaar, after a great one-two with Jo, unfortunately scuffed his shot when better was expected. Half-time and the chat centred mainly on the deficiencies of adequate squad numbers and the relience of senior pro's to play when not really fit.
Second half and the visitors continued to play football that had us defending and causing disquiet among the faithful as shots went skidding just wide. They gained a corner that was headed goalwards and, after someone cleared from the line, Howard grabbed the ball, much to the relief of all assembled.
Just before this action Fellaini had picked up his regulation yellow card for a clumsy barge, this in a way was a blessing in disguise as, with about half hour to go, the manager swapped him for Saha who at first flattered to decieve.
The visitors sent on Moore and he caused a few flutters with some enthusiastic efforts. Then, with 20 mins to go, Saha benefitted from a Pienaar trademark flick that for once came off, he brought it down and in one movement turned and found the bottom corner... Oh! if only we could keep this guy fit.
You just knew it was all over and the manager took off the ineffectual Jo for the added insurance of Castillo but fair play to Albion, they plugged away and, with us willing to soak up, allowed Moore to fire against the bar plus a few shots wide as they tried to salvage something.
We saw it out but no-one seemed to be leaving the ground with anything other than a good three points from an injury-ravaged squad and how the manager might reorganise for the cup-tie next Sunday that means so much to all Blues fans. Overall, I thought it was a most strange situation when one injury, although to a top and influential player, can have disrupted the whole outlook of both players and manager. For the run-in and the cup competition, I feel we must put the Arteta thing to bed and use who is fit and available to best use.
On today's performance, I have to say that when the chips are down both Jo and Fellaini leave something to be desired. A sign of the times might also be determined when I counted FIVE different midfield combinations in the space of one match, which means to me the manager and his staff have a job and a half to do to steer us through not only next week's cup game but the remainder of the season.
This is the now, and manager and players must respond, but I wonder if the club can cope financially to rectify the shortage of squad that seems to blight us at the business end of not only this but recent seasons.
Still a win today and as always I like to look for my man of the match, well anyone across the back four would get a shout as would Pienaar for his industry and Cahill, well, for being Cahill a true competitor but today I am going for Saha who gave me my highlight of the day with his quite exquisite finish and a warm glow of 'what if' he could stay fit.
The cup next — we always beat Boro at home... Don't we? See you there. UP THE BLUES!
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