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Apr 7, 2014

Olsson return crucial in West Brom win


West Brom put another week of controversy behind them to secure a huge win 1-0 win over relegation rivals Norwich at Carrow Road and add another name to the list of managers who have been sacked after losing to The Baggies. - Report: Norwich City 0-1 West Brom - Report: Mel unsure about West Brom stay It is the second time Chris Hughton has been sacked after a loss to Albion and that should tell you all you need to know about how big a win this was for West Brom and how significant it could be in their battle to secure Premier League football for a fifth consecutive season. The 1-0 win brought them level on points with Norwich, and one place above them due to Albion's superior goal difference. It was just the morale boost needed after yet another difficult week for the club. The widely-reported fracas between Saido Berahino and James Morrison after the 3-3 draw with Cardiff, followed by comments from Peter Odewingie about the situation and the club, seemed to suggest there was a division in the dressing room. Well if there is, it certainly didn't seem like it on Saturday, as all of the players and staff pulled together, as could be seen in the celebrations post-match, which even included a somewhat awkward hug between Morrison and Berahino. West Brom's players were roundly criticised after the 3-3 draw with Cardiff last weekend, when they twice threw away leads against their relegation rivals. I was one of those who questioned whether these players had the guts, the nerve, the bottle to drag Albion out of this situation. They went some way to disproving those doubts at Carrow Road, and the presence of Jonas Olsson certainly had an influence on that. The Swedish international returned from a two game suspension to play his 200th game for The Baggies and his importance can't be under-stated. Olsson is a reliable, consistent, proven Premier League performer who seems to bring out the best in those alongside him in defence. But perhaps the most important quality he showed on Saturday was his leadership. It's what West Brom seemed to be lacking on the pitch against Cardiff with him and regular captain Chris Brunt absent. Against Norwich, you could see Olsson organising his team-mates, keeping them focused, particularly towards the end of the game to ensure West Brom avoided a repeat of the Cardiff situation. With Brunt and Claudio Yacob also close to returning to the first team picture, West Brom are seeing some important, influential figures coming back just at the right time. While their returns will no doubt give manager Pepe Mel some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks, he will no doubt be thankful to see some of his leaders, as well as best performers, returning at such a crucial time in the season. Not only must credit go to the leaders in the dressing room but also some of the other players who seem to be stepping up their games at a crucial time, in particular Morgan Amalfitano. The Frenchman started off his time at the club in electric form, with two goals in his first three games, including that stunning solo effort at Old Trafford. He has flattered to deceive for most of the time since then, chipping in with the odd assist and a couple of decent displays amid a string of average performances as well as picking up a few injuries in that time. Since returning from his latest injury, Amalfitano has contributed two fantastic goals including the winner against Norwich, which he finished beautifully after skipping past Martin Olsson on the edge of the box. He also put in a huge shift defensively, offering fantastic protection to Steven Reid and also demonstrated his experience by keeping the ball in the corner at the end. Prior to these two games, most Albion fans wouldn't have been overly bothered if Amalfitano returned to Marseille at the end of the season. Now they want him signed up as soon as possible. Another who is stepping up at a crucial time is the much-maligned Liam Ridgewell. It's fair to say the left-back hasn't had his best season and in all honesty, has only kept his place in the side because of how poor Goran Popov, the club's only other senior left back, is. However, against Cardiff and Norwich, Ridgewell has looked much better. He doesn't seem to be getting beaten as often by the winger he's marking, he's getting forward more and looks like the only defender who is really comfortable with Mel's philosophy of playing out from the back. At Carrow Road, West Brom fans chanted "Liam Ridgewell, he's off to Brazil" which seemed to put a smile on the face of the Albion left back. While it was very tongue in cheek, Ridgewell will soon get himself back into the fans good books if he continues to play at this level. Taking seven points from the last four games seem to show that the players are adapting to Mel's philosophy, and Mel to the players, and while they face a tougher run of games in the next few weeks, The Baggies are now firmly in control of their own destiny.