Baggies crashed out, but at least they took the Capital One Cup seriously
12:56 GMT, 27 September 2012
It was a shame for West Brom that Steve Clarke's best intentions in the Capital One Cup were not rewarded on Wednesday night.
One glance down the team-sheet showed that the Scot was taking the competition seriously.
There were no wholesale changes. No real suggestion in his starting XI that the Baggies have the mother of all derby confrontations at Villa Park to look forward to this weekend.
Serious: Steve Clarke fielded a strong side to take on Liverpool
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Of course, Clarke could have taken another option. He could have fielded a below-strength West Brom side. (That on Wednesday night's evidence would have been taken to the cleaners by a very good, young Liverpool team.)
So on that basis, it was pleasing to see him treat the competition like something West Brom actually wanted to be involved in.
Why do I say that
The football-supporting public have been brain-washed, believing the Champions League and Premier League is the be-all and end-all.
Of course, for the clubs involved, it is.
The revenues generated by both competitions are staggering.
Next season, when the new television deal kicks in, those participating in the Premier League will see their bottom-line income balloon by over 20m. (That figure includes overseas rights.)
What does that mean
Well, it means if you are a supporter of West Brom it means you have earned the right to play against 19 other clubs during the course of a season in the hope that you will garner enough points to play in the competition again.
Sunk: Nuri Sahin's double saw off West Brom in the end
Does anyone think the Baggies have a chance of winning the competition
Good lord, no! Any notion of equality in that respect has long disappeared.
So what are fans in it for, then
This may come as a shock to the Premier League. But, first, there are supporters out there who don't follow the top six clubs.
Secondly, there is a notion of glory. A day in the sun. When you can puff out your chest and say: 'West Brom – FA Cup winners 2013.'
It's there. In black and white. 'Birmingham City – Carling Cup winners 2011.'
Under the all-consuming push to sell satellite subscriptions, we are bombarded with messages that the Premier League is the place to be.
But does it really matter to a West Brom fan if they finish 10th or 13th
Of course not.
It matters to the Hawthorns' bean-counters. They will bank an extra 3m in merit money.
But is that passed on to the punters in the form of lower ticket prices or other benefits
Again, of course not. They won't see any 'real' benefit. Hopefully an improvement in the quality of player. But 11 players will still take to the pitch wearing navy blue and white striped shirts, regardless.
If Birmingham City supporters had a straight choice between winning that Carling Cup on February 27, 2011 or another season in the top-flight, I can absolutely guarantee what they would (actually do) say.
They do say: 'I'll take the trophy, thanks.'
Them too: Aston Villa knocked Manchester City out of the Capital One Cup at the Etihad
Were I a Baggies' man, it would stick in my throat that Roberto Di Matteo did not play a recognised first-team at Ipswich in the same competition that Birmingham ended up winning.
On that very night, when Nikola Zigic's scrambled goal defeated Aston Villa, I know for a cold-stone certainty that Alex McLeish would not have fielded his strongest XI had it not been a quarter-final against the club's rivals from across the Aston Expressway.
What happened subsequently bears out the absolute folly of not treating this competition seriously.
Birmingham went on to win it. Alex McLeish picked up another job (at Villa) because of it.
There's no way that he would have been employed at Villa Park without that triumph on his CV. No way.
A set of players received greater exposure, enhanced their reputations and probably, when Birmingham were relegated, also picked up lucrative transfers because of it.
And the supporters
They enjoyed one of the best days out…ever.
It is a difficult line for some managers to tread. Their own personal short-term futures might depend on staying in the Premier League.
But Jose Mourinho went hammer and tongs at the League Cup. It was the first trophy he won with Chelsea.
Brian Clough had bigger priorities than the same competition when Nottingham Forest won it a couple of times in the early 1980s.
Troublesome: Gabriel Agbonlahor wreaked havoc in Manchester
And I didn't see Sir Alex Ferguson cocking a snoop at it either, when it was the only pot Manchester United won in 2006 against Wigan Athletic.
Those top-six clubs may now have different priorities.
But – and this isn't just aimed at West Brom, it's directed at every other club of a certain size out there – there has to be room for glory in this game.
The glory of a League Cup win, or FA Cup final win. It does matter to the fans, it does.
Don't field reserve teams. Treat the competition seriously. Who knows, you might end up winning it.
Let's face it, if just staying in the Premier League is the be-all and end-ell, what really is the point of that
This column is supposed to reflect the week's events in the Midlands.
So the stand-out stories
Villa's win at Manchester City Yes, a fantastic result to follow a second-half wipeout at St Mary's.
It was heartening to see Villa defeat a team they aren't supposed to. ie One of the Champions League mob.
It happens every so often. Like at Chelsea last December. And at the Emirates against Arsenal the season before.
But not nearly as often as it should. It was genuinely heart-warming. Promising, although you suspect the season may contain lows as well as highs.
Over at Coventry, they have welcomed a new manager's arrival with a 6-1 drubbing at Arsenal.
Pick your battles: Clarke (right) knows that West Brom fans relish the cup competitions
I was quietly impressed with Robins hearing him speak during the pre-match press conference. I think the Sky Blues may have landed a good 'un there.
Other than that, what else is there
Derby's reversal to Burnley was surprising as I'd seen the Clarets lose to Leicester last week.
They were nothing to write home about so I did raise an eyebrow at the Rams' defeat – although with Charlie Austin back in the team at the King Power Stadium, Eddie Howe may have been missing a cutting edge.
No, all that apart, the most alarming story of the week was Birmingham City 0 Barnsley 5.
I watched that particular horror unfold from the press room at the Baggies.
After being fortunate enough to witness about 80 live matches during the course of a season for the best part of two decades, I have to say it was the single most inept, lifeless and gutless showing I can remember from any side, anywhere, at any time.
And remember, I've only just returned from watching Wales ship six in Serbia.
The players were bad, the manager's decision to switch to a three-man defence was ill-conceived and Barnsley – average at Wolves a few weeks ago – should have filled their boots.
You can say what you like – and there is no doubt that there is a current malaise at the club – but those responsible out on the pitch – and in the dug-out – need to take a long look at themselves.
Bigger fish to fry: Teams like Manchester City will be more focused on the Premier League and the Champions League
I'm not just talking about Clark either, what are Terry McDermott and Derek Fazackerley supposed to be doing The latter was part of England's set-up under Kevin Keegan, after all.
With away-days to follow this weekend at Brighton and Cardiff next week, Lee Clark could be treading on the thinnest of ice if he is not careful.
The least Birmingham City supporters demand is effort.
When even that vital ingredient is missing, you really are in trouble. Clark would be wise not to let it happen again.
Finally, talk about being put in your place.
I pitched up at Ryton to speak to Mark Robins and was greeted by first-team coach Lee Carsley, full of his gently teasing humour and dry wit.
After pleasantries are exchanged, the conversation goes as follows:
Carsley: 'Me and Kev (Kilbane) are thinking about doing a bike ride for charity next summer, do you fancy coming
Me: 'Er, dunno. How far is it'
Carsley: 'Well, it will take about a week, possibly a bit more.'
Me: 'Well, if you really think I could do it. Do you think I'd be fit enough'
Carsley: 'I don't need you to ride a bike, you muppet, we need someone to drive the van….'