What a day! What a glorious day to be an Albion fan, like a 20 stone man at a Sunday lunchtime eat all you can carvery buffet, Albion gorged themselves with three helpings of the most divine sustenance. Not since the Doncaster game that opened the new chapter in our history has the Amex hit such levels of noise and euphoria. March 17th 2013 will long be remembered by all the 28,499 fans who attended although I imagine 3,000 of those would probably like to forget it as soon as possible.
Football fans on the whole have never been ones to pay much heed to the ‘glass houses’ idiom and it seems those that reside in crystal palaces are similarly unaware that those verbal stones directed at your neighbours will come back to haunt you…and did they ever on Sunday lunchtime. Palace fans are rightly proud of Glenn Murray’s fantastic scoring record this season but as his name reverberated around the stadium during the opening 20 minutes you did get a sense that this wasn’t going to be his or Palace’s day. Murray looked strangely isolated and uninvolved and despite good work from Bolasie and Dikgacoi in midfield nothing found its way to the 30 goal striker.
Indeed chances for both sides were rare in the opening exchanges. Palace appeared to settle the quicker and Albion’s ultra attacking midfield, Hammond had been sacrificed for a more creative threat, despite some cute interplay was failing to find the cutting edge. On 25 minutes some excellent work from Zaha set up the full-back Parr with a clear sight of goal but his tame effort from 15 yards was comfortably dealt with by Kuszczak in the Albion goal.
This threat though appeared to wake Albion up. The passing became more fluid and Buckley in particular was beginning to get the better of the left full back and it was from this source that Albion found the thrust to take what was at the time perhaps an undeserved lead. A long clearance from the back was headed wide by Ulloa into the path of Buckley who delayed his cross just enough to give Ulloa time to be on the receiving end and power his header into the far corner via the back of a Palace defender. If scoring a goal just before half time is the perfect way to demoralise your opponents then scoring two is like a rapier thrust to the heart. Barely two minutes after Ulloa’s 43rd minute strike Albion scored again. A terrible challenge from Dikgacoi on Buckley 25 yards out from goal was rightly penalised and from the resulting free kick David Lopez curled an unstoppable shot in off the underside of the bar to send the crowd into rapture. It was one of those perfect moments…a freeze frame moment etched indelibly on the brain and there for instant recall whenever one is feeling down and in need of a lift.
The second half began and it was evident that all the early doubts in Albion’s play had now been replaced with a confident bravado inspired by the goals and this period of dominance continued and a third goal was not long in the waiting. An exquisite move down the right fed Bridcutt inside and his cross to the far post was headed back across goal by Orlandi into the path of the unmarked Ulloa who crashed a volley past the helpless Speroni from eight yards to once again raise the roof of the bouncing Amex. Game over. Palace made changes to try and effect a response but when Gus replaced Orlandi with Andrew Crofts on the hour what was already a waning supply line to the Palace forwards became non-existent as the Welshman and the soon-to-be Scotsman Bridcutt snuffed out any hope. Ulloa had a chance to complete back to back Amex hat-tricks when he intercepted a pass on halfway and ran unchallenged to the edge of the box only to be thwarted by an excellent save from Speroni who recovered well enough to repeat the feat from Buckley’s follow up. It really didn’t matter though. Ulloa had already added to his fast becoming legendary status and one can but wonder where we would be now had we had the services of the Argentine hit-man throughout this season.
The final whistle brought more scenes of joy as the Albion players soaked up the adulation from the heaving thousands that stayed long after the final whistle to stretch the joy as far as it would extend. This was more than 3 points, we had waited 25 years for a home win over our fiercest of rivals and after the recent travails on the road our play-off hopes had received a timely and perhaps critical boost. With no game now for the best part of two weeks we can enjoy the St Patrick’s Day massacre at our leisure before the recommencement of the run-in at Forest…how massive is that game now?