COCA-COLA CHAMPIONSHIP: Queens Park Rangers 0 West Bromwich Albion 2
Several generations have been born, lived and died since West Bromwich Albion last lifted a league title but now that wait has come to a wonderful end.
Second-half goals from Do-Heon Kim and Chris Brunt, two men separated by thousands of miles at birth but for the past few months united in a single navy and white cause, brought to a close the 88-year barren run. Tony Mowbray’s West Bromwich Albion are champions and deserve to be.
Of that there is no question. Not only do they play the best football in a division they are so happy to leave behind, they possess some of the best players, the deepest squad and the most potent attacking resources.
Even yesterday’s vanquished opponents agreed that. Having supported their resurgent team energetically throughout the entire afternoon virtually every one of the 18,000 in attendance stayed behind to recognise Albion as the winners they are. Even the scoreboard acknowledged as much CHAMPIONS — WEST BROM.
Inconceivable when they won the Football League in 1920, the current Baggie vintage are a veritable United Nations. Their most recent goal scorers hail from Northern Ireland and South Korea but they spoke one sporting language and it was only fitting that after recent stumbles, with the game won they reverted to their most beautiful pass and move football.
Kim’s bright display was rewarded with a close range headed goal and Brunt’s late curled free kick was worthy of winning any league in the world.
Albion’s first half showing was typical of their split personality, more true of no one than Robert Koren, the creative Slovenia international who demonstrated both the beauty and the beast he has to his game.
Koren’s deflected shot from the edge of the area in the opening seconds was the first attempt on goal and after half an hour the sumptuous, cushioned pass he lifted into Roman Bednar put the striker in an excellent position.
Bednar looked as though he would capitalise too with an excellent first touch that teed the ball up ready to be volleyed home. This he did but straight at Lee Camp who tipped over for a corner.
But as well as Koren can shoot at goal he can also shoot himself and his team in the foot — just as he did in the seventh minute when he flicked play back towards his own central defenders and released the dangerous Dexter Blackstock. Thankfully for Albion, the forward dragged his effort too far left.
His second opportunity came a matter of seconds later when Gavin Mahon flicked on down the right for Gareth Ainsworth to chase. The winger twisted inside Paul Robinson, leaving him flat on his backside and picked out Blackstock at the back post.
The former Southampton man powered his header into the ground and looked as though it had crept inside the post when Dean Kiely fumbled near his goal-line. Rangers’ contention it had crossed was rejected. Nevertheless it was symptomatic of a below par opening from Mowbray’s men.
The referee ruled against them again seven minutes before the interval when Martin Rowlands leapt with both feet at Jonathan Greening and left the Albion captain in apparent agony. Paul Taylor called Rowlands aside and produced a red card that sent Loftus Road into meltdown. Greening spent the rest of the afternoon as the most unpopular man in Shepherds Bush.
Within a few minutes of the restart it became a close run contest when Kim broke the deadlock. The 25-year-old was introduced at half time for the relatively ineffectual Bednar. His first contribution since coming off the bench in the FA Cup semi final defeat was to hand the visitors a piece of silverware.
A delightful chip released him in the area although when he lost control of the ball it looked as though the opening would come to nothing. Zoltan Gera picked up possession, however and jinked to the bye-line where he drew Camp from his goal. As a result Kim had an empty net into which to direct the driven cross.
Against ten men and a goal up West Brom began to give rein to their most flowing football. Koren skipped through the inside left channel and nearly went round the goalkeeper only to be blocked off. Phillips began to grow in prominence and Brunt and Kim drifted into the inevitable spaces.
The Korean was not Mowbray’s only inspired substitution. Though the withdrawal of Neil Clement and Paul Robinson did not shape the outcome directly the Albion manager recognised their continued participation might.
Clement had already been booked when he collided with Ainsworth inches outside the area in the 50th minute. Mowbray did not want anything to spoil his side’s afternoon and replaced his centre half with Martin Albrechtsen.
He took a similar attitude when Robinson was cautioned in the 70th minute and was brought off for Luke Moore. That pushed Brunt to left back — a position from where he would never score. Except he did.
Carl Hoefkens was barged over 20 yards from goal in a position that was perfect for the Ulsterman’s left foot. He proved as much when he found Camp’s top right hand corner with a curler worthy of any league title for his second goal in as many games.
The hosts had late pressure but this was to be Albion’s day and unlike so many times this season, they would not be denied and a new generation of supporters will have a title to call their own.
Scorers: Do Heon (52); Brunt (77).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-4-2): Camp; Mancienne, Rehman, Connolly, Delaney; Ainsworth, Mahon, Rowlands, Ephraim (Rose, 79); Blackstock, Balanta (Leigertwood, 37).
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-3-1-2): Kiely; Hoefkens, Barnett, Clement (Albrechtsen, 52), Robinson (Morrison, 72); Greening, Koren, Brunt; Gera; Bednar (Kim Do-Hoen, 45), Phillips. Subs: Miller, Morrison
Referee: Paul Taylor (Herts).
Bookings: Albion — Clement, Robinson (both fouls).
Sending-off: QPR — Rowlands (serious foul play).
Albion man of the match: Jonathan Greening - Could have gone into hiding after being involved in the sending off but led his team tirelessly.