Ian Hart: I really do believe this is the year for Albion

April 23, 2017, sees the 44th anniversary of my dad taking me to the Goldstone Ground. In that time I've experienced highs and lows, thick and thin, and there certainly have been sustained periods of more thin than thick.

Tomer Hemed celebrates scoring from the penalty spot. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Tomer Hemed celebrates scoring from the penalty spot. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Over the years, the Albion have thrilled, excited, frustrated and even taken their supporters to the depths of despair. But is this season the one that we will all remember for the rest of our lives? Another exciting last-gasp victory at Birmingham at the weekend now takes the unbeaten run to 16 games and an impressive 48 point haul from 22 games, clearly promotion form.

With 24 games left and already an eight point gap to third place, will the Albion last the pace and end up making it to the promised land of the Premier League?

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If you want the view through blue and white tinted spectacles, you’ve come to the right place. With the football currently being served up and the way the season is panning out, I’m as excited as that eight-year-old boy in the South West Corner on Easter Monday, 1973.

With back-to-back sell-out Amex games against QPR and Cardiff respectively, the Albion, only a point behind “champions-elect” Newcastle United, could yet enter 2017 top of the Championship pile. One thing is for sure, the next 24 games certainly won’t be dull or for the faint hearted but I really do believe this is the year.

The excitement of the release of next winter’s Ashes tour schedule was quickly tempered by yet another capitulation by England in the fifth and final Test in India, and a 4-0 series defeat.

It leaves serious questions over the future of England captain Alastair Cook.

Ever the shrinking violet, Geoffrey Boycott immediately demanded Cook step down with immediate effect to allow heir apparent Joe Root seven Test matches as skipper before England get on the plane to Australia next November. While Root is the clear favourite, could there be a danger of England going down a potentially dangerous road of weighing down their best player with the added responsibility of the captaincy?

Ian Botham and Kevin Pietersen are both classic examples of when appointing the best player has gone wrong.

That doesn’t mean that Root would go the same way but, with the Ashes less than 12 months away, whoever’s leading England this time next year, it is one appointment the ECB can’t afford to get wrong.

And, finally, I’d just like to wish all the readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2017.

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