Only days after the 2012/13 fixtures were released, Tom Harper looks back on last season as Albion established themselves as a Premier League side and gained Midlands dominance.
Few people would have predicted such an impressive finish at the start of the season after we lost our first three Premier League games to leave us playing catch-up after the first few weeks of the season.
Our performances against Manchester United and Chelsea were fairly encouraging with summer signing Shane Long scoring in both games as we suffered back-to-back 2-1 defeats to start the season. Many people tipped the Republic of Ireland international for a big season after these two goals and all-round impressive performances, but a series of injuries and health problems from October onwards saw him struggle to produce the kind of performances he showed himself to be capable of on a regular basis.
After being under very little pressure to get a result against two of the biggest clubs in the league, we then faced Stoke City at The Hawthorns. Despite having a squad which is arguably better than Stoke's on paper, our record against them in recent years had been nothing short of abysmal. Unfortunately this continued, as a defensive mix-up allowed Ryan Shotton to score in the closing stages for Stoke to continue their incredible record against us.
Sandwiched between the Chelsea and Stoke league games, we travelled to Bournemouth in the Carling Cup for a game which we comfortably won 4-1, with a brace from Marc-Antoine Fortune and a goal apiece for Jerome Thomas and Simon Cox helped a second-string Albion side progress to the next round of the competition.
After the disappointment of losing so late against Stoke, we had to wait two weeks to try and put the result behind us due to the first of what seemed like far too many international breaks.
Our first game after this two-week break saw us travel to Carrow Road to take on Norwich City. Despite spending most of the game camped in our own half, an early goal from Peter Odemwingie and a combination of last-ditch defending and poor Norwich finishing saw us just about pick up the three points and get our season off and running.
However, the following weekend at Swansea City saw us put in what I still consider to be our worst performance of the season by some distance. We lost 3-0 and very few players seemed to play anywhere near their best, making the long journey home even worse.
Just four days later, we faced a tough trip to Everton in the Carling Cup and, despite taking the lead through a second-half penalty from Chris Brunt, ended up losing the game in extra-time to end our dreams of reaching Wembley in at least one cup competition.
Our next Premier League game saw us host Fulham in what was a disappointing 0-0 draw, with neither side creating many clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes.
Our run of tough games continued at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, even though Steve Bruce was being put under increasing pressure to pick up results after being one of the most active managers in the transfer market over the summer. We were 2-0 up inside the first five minutes thanks to goals from James Morrison and Long, but it was 2-2 by the half-hour mark and, in the end, most Albion fans were probably fairly happy to leave the North East with a respectable point in the bag.
Thanks to yet another international break, we had to wait two weeks for our next game, which was the small matter of a local derby against Wolves at The Hawthorns. Thankfully, we produced what was undoubtedly our best performance of the season so far to pick up a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Brunt and Odemwingie.
If the celebrations after this game were euphoric, then they were pushed up several notches after our next game – a 2-1 victory at Villa Park. This was our first win at Aston Villa for three decades, as goals from Jonas Olsson and Paul Scharner, as well as a very solid defensive performance from the entire team, ensuring that we had guaranteed local bragging rights over the whole of the West Midlands in the space of just a week.
Our next game saw us brought back down to earth by a dominant Liverpool side as we suffered a 2-0 defeat at The Hawthorns, despite not playing particularly badly.
What was your biggest highlight last season? Have your say here at Baggies Banter.