By Ed Dove
What a week for Peter Odemwingie. No stranger to success and celebration, I have written extensively recently about the Nigerian striker’s impressive spell in the Black Country. Indeed, as West Bromwich Albion enjoy their best start to the season for many years, the frontman is perhaps on the brink of a glorious phase in his career.
Odemwingie’s red card some weeks ago, earned in an away defeat to Fulham, threatened to derail Albion’s decent start to the campaign. The dismissal, for a silly flash of anger directed towards Cottagers' right back Sascha Riether, was exactly the kind of demonstration of ego and petulance that can undermine the kind of ethic and unity fostered at the Hawthorns. Instead, the resulting suspension has failed to derail the Throstles’ bright early form, in fact, the team seem revitalised, and a comfortable home win against Southampton on Monday night pushes Steve Clarke’s side to fifth place.
These are heady times for the Baggies. Not traditionally to be found towards the top end of the table, the last decade has seen the team fighting the perception that they are little more than a ‘yo-yo’ club, flopping aimlessly between England’s top two divisions. Founded in 1878, Albion enjoy a long history, but this is not matched by extensive honours: a league win back in 1920, and a respectable 5 FA Cups is all Albion fans have to show for over 130 years of history.
I can’t promise the trophy cabinet will be filling up any time soon, the upper echelons of English football are awash with cash and credibility these days, but Albion’s bright early form, and a genuine class throughout the first eleven, suggests that this year might be their best for some time.
Far from undermining this competent start, Odemwingie’s suspension opened the doors for two of West Brom’s other attackers to showcase their abilities. Shane Long has, for years, been considered a Premiership Leading man in the making, and over the last few seasons has begun to demonstrate that he indeed has all the capabilities to trouble the very best defences in the league. Romelu Lukaku is enjoying a season on loan in the West Midlands after being deemed not ready for first team duties at Chelsea. The towering frontman offers a more physical presence up top, and has the ability to change the pace of an attack from his position as the side’s pinnacle.
However, Odemwingie’s performance against Soton on Monday demonstrates just what the canny Nigerian offers the Baggies. His brace, each goal coming either side of half time, illustrated his versatile capacity to influence proceedings. The first was a shot from outside the box. Defensive laxity contributed perhaps, but the forward’s positioning was good, and the strike demonstrated his capacity to prompt the action with his instinctive finishing.
Nigeria return | Odemwingie will fight for his Super Eagles place
The second goal, on sixty minutes, confirmed the class of Odemwingie’s all round game, as the frontman leapt to meet Long’s sumptuous cross. The movement and the jump smacked of an opportunist’s vision, and the header, of a predator’s ruthlessness: two - nil, and the points belonged to the Albion.
Currently in fifth, with seventeen points already on the board, West Bromwich sit ahead of the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Liverpool, and whilst this form isn’t sustainable across the season, their bold attacking and composed defence augers well for the year ahead.
The brace marked the end of an important week for the Nigerian. National team boss Stephen Keshi appeared to reveal recently that the Uzbek-born frontman had announced his retirement from the Super Eagles set-up. This news prompted a mixed response from fans of the national side, some congratulated Odemwingie on his decision, suggesting that without the will to be involved for Nigeria, the player would be no longer of use to Keshi. There were others who bemoaned his decision however, arguing that the striker’s predatory nature, work rate, and personality were invaluable to the national side, and ought to be retained at all costs.
In light of the publicity surrounding Odemwingie’s supposed retirement, Keshi was forced to clarify his comments. In a statement released by the FA last week, the head coach revealed that his previous announcement had been misinterpreted – far from retirement, Odemwingie had been merely expressing his concerns over being misused in the past by the Super Eagles. The statement concluded with Keshi confirming that Odemwingie still had a place in the squad, and would be likely to return to the fold ahead of the 2013 Afcon in South Africa. Good news for all those with a vested concern in Nigerian soccer – imagining the possible combinations of Moses, Martins, Emenike, Brown, Utaka, and Odemwingie up front - but not, perhaps, for Albion fans who could well be without their talismanic striker for much of January and February.
With the Afcon looming, The Albion flying high, and Odemwingie entering the latter stages of his career, there may well be the makings of an Indian summer on the cards. Nigeria and Baggies fans will certainly be hoping that glorious performances like Monday’s will be forthcoming for some time yet.