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International Soccer
West Brom continues to show resilience

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Saturday's 2-1 win over Fulham helped West Bromwich finish the weekend in sixth place in the Premiership table, which is a lofty spot for any newly promoted club at this point in the season.

But Saturday's win also served as an example of how the Baggies have been able to earn 15 points from their first nine games: resilience.

West Brom fell behind just nine minutes into the game when Zoltan Gera's shot was tipped onto the post by goalkeeper Scott Carson. It was a good save from Carson, but unfortunately, the ball rebounded off the post and hit the goalie in the back before deflecting into the net.

However, like the club has done all season, West Brom picked itself up and scored twice before halftime to take a 2-1 lead, which it never relinquished.

In fact, West Brom has conceded the first goal in seven of its nine games in the league so far, but has rallied to earn at least a draw in five of them.

None was more impressive than two weeks ago at Old Trafford when the club fell behind 2-0 before halftime to Manchester United and looked well on its way to a heavy defeat.

Roberto Di Matteo's men have performed well beyond the manager's own expectations.
Yet, the team continued to battle and got a bit of luck as an own goal and a goalkeeping error allowed West Brom to claim a stunning 2-2 draw.

One of the most impressive things about West Brom to this point has been a belief that the club is never out of a game, an attitude that manager Roberto Di Matteo must get credit for instilling in the club.

The unflappable Italian seems to have a calming presence over his squad, never letting a poor start or a bad mistake disrupt the attitude of the team.

And it is even more impressive considering the fact that Di Matteo is still admittedly learning on the job.

Following a successful playing career that included a good six-year run with Chelsea, Di Matteo's days as a player were cut short at just 31 after he suffered a horrific triple leg fracture in a UEFA Cup match.

After spending some time away from the game, Di Matteo returned as a manager with MK Dons in 2008, where he nearly helped the club earn promotion into the Championship.

Yet, after just one year of experience, Di Matteo took over at West Brom, which was hoping to earn promotion to the Premiership.

The move was viewed as a gamble by many considering the lack of experience that Di Matteo was bringing to the job, but he defied the odds by helping the Baggies reach England's top flight on his first attempt.

But even Di Matteo had to be questioning a few things after his first match in charge of a Premiership team.

The manager led the Baggies back to his old stomping grounds at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea handed its former midfielder a humbling 6-0 defeat.

"I can't tell you what I thought after the Chelsea game," Di Matteo told the Birmingham Mail. "Oh my God - I can't begin to say.

"It wasn't that bad because there are other issues in the world, but yes, I was concerned."

And with good reason. as the loss dropped West Brom instantly to the bottom of the table, and with away games at Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United in the next two months, things didn't look good.

However, Di Matteo's men have performed well beyond the manager's own expectations since the Chelsea debacle, taking four points from those three games as well as a draw with Champions League participants Tottenham.

With so many games to still to come, Di Matteo is keeping expectations in check, talking about how the team will take things game-by-game and just wait to see where they stand at the end of the season.

And it is hard to blame him for not getting too excited at his team's current place in the table, because Di Matteo only has to look as far as the 2008-09 season to Hull City to see how a good start can mean so little.

The Tigers stunned the Premiership with 20 points from their first nine games, putting them level at the top of the league with Chelsea and Liverpool.

Yet, Hull won only twice in its final 29 games of the season, finishing the campaign just one point clear of relegation, which is something that West Brom has become all too familiar with this decade.

Since the club was promoted to the Premiership following the 2001-02 season, the Baggies have either been relegated back to the Championship or promoted back to the Premiership on six different occasions.

Only once in that time did West Brom spend more than one season in the top flight before being sent back down, so avoiding relegation is obviously the main priority for Di Matteo and company this time around.

Like Hull, there are many games still to be played, but having already survived trips to four of the toughest grounds in England - Anfield, the Emirates Stadium, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford - Di Matteo has to feel optimistic about his team's chances.

West Brom has established a strong record to this point at The Hawthorns, where the club has earned 11 of a possible 15 points, and if all else fails and the club does lose a few games in a row, don't expect Di Matteo or anyone else to press the panic button.

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