Once again, Tony Pulis succeeded in galvanising his team into pulling a result out of the bag, even though they nearly through it away, thereby producing back-to-back Premier League wins for the third time this season. It would be an impressive feat if Albion were to make it three in a row for the first time since 2012 as Tuesday night sees them take on league leaders Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Since Albion gained all three points in their last visit back in November 2014, the Foxes have undergone something of a transformation. Their win at the Hawthorns in April was their second in the remarkable run that has taken them from relegation certainties to realistic Premier League title candidates. Just four defeats in their last 36 games in the Premier League amassing an impressive 78 points in the process is a remarkable turnaround and all football fans, other than those following their fellow title challengers, are willing Leicester to win the league.
Albion will be the latest to attempt to take three points away from the King Power, with Arsenal the only team to do so this season, and Leicester are protecting an eleven home game unbeaten record in the Premier League. The visitors are also protecting an unbeaten record at that stadium having yet to taste defeat in Leicester since they left Filbert Street. The Baggies have won on their last four visits, including a 4-1 win in the Carling Cup in 2010, having drawn their first match at the then-named Walkers Stadium in 2007. Having also won on their last visit to Filbert Street in 1996 when Paul Raven scored a last minute winner, we have to go back 22 years for Albion’s last defeat in Leicester when Iwan Roberts scored twice for the hosts in a 4-2 win.
Albion’s biggest win at Leicester was in 1977 when Cunningham, Tony Brown, David Cross and Mick Martin (2) were all on the scoresheet in a 5-0 win. City’s biggest win was also 5-0 on Christmas Day 1926 with all five goals scored by Arthur Chandler.
The Baggies first half performance against Crystal Palace was, perhaps, the best 45 minutes Albion have played this season. While it was hugely welcome, it also begged the question as to why it hasn’t happened before. Playing with a genuine front three for the first time this season, Albion looked as dangerous as they have done since that 4-0 win over West Ham in the FA Cup last year, with Rondón, Berahino and Sessègnonlooking like a genuinely potent front line that I am now looking forward to watching for the rest of the season.
Tony Pulis seems to be blaming Saido Berahino for his lack of football but, while we don’t know what has been going on behind the scenes, Saido has generally looked up for the fight on most of his scarce appearances in the last few months and I can’t help but think he has been vastly underused. His goal against Palace was a thing of beauty and, to agree with Pulis for once, it does go to show how much we have been missing.
The second half obviously gave us all a few palpitations but, Olsson’s howler apart, the defensive performance was so much better than the one we saw at the Madejski last weekend. The defence could do little about Wickham’s second goal and, while there were a couple of penalty shouts which could have gone against the Baggies, there were plenty of other decisions that John Moss got wrong in Palace’s favour on what won’t go down as his best night in the middle.
The biggest disappointment of the evening was, of course, the injury to Chris Brunt. On the day when the Albion fans were showing their love for the former Baggies captain, he suffered a knee injury that could well put pay to his hopes of appearing in a major international tournament for the first time. Brunt was a babe in arms when Northern Ireland last appeared in a major tournament, the World Cup in 1986, and having also switched to left back under his international coach, Michael O’Neill, Albion’s longest serving player was looking to cap his career in France 2016. If fit, he would be along side fellow Baggies Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans in the Green and White Army
Of course, we are all now expecting, if not fearing, a return to type for Tuesday evening and a performance more akin to the one we saw at Goodison Park than that against Pardew’s Eagles. Pulis has so rarely shown any ambition away from home, how can you expect anything else? The Welshman has sent Albion out with a safety-first approach even when playing lower league sides away from the Hawthorns, leaving the game at Stamford Bridge back in January as a real outlier that is as baffling as it was encouraging at the time.
Having said that, A trip to Leicester is probably one game when Pulis will be right to be cautious given Leicester’s propensity to play on the break. Norwich almost made it work on Saturday, and Albion are, normally at least, a more more accomplished defensive outfit. I just hope that Pulis learns something from Saturday – even when Palace were dominating possession in the second, Albion’s front three presented a potent threat that could easily have put the game to bed much earlier.
For me, Saturday was very pleasing to see, but it hasn’t changed my view that Pulis needs to be replaced in the summer. It will take a lot more attacking football between now and the end of the season before I accept that he has the ability or willingness to take the club forward, and not just leave us treading water.
The Foxes will be without influential N’Golo Kanté who picked up a hamstring injury in the win over Norwich while Danny Simpson returns from suspension.
Brunt will obviously be missing, as will James Morrison and Callum McManaman, but Jonny Evans could be fit enough to start. Pulis will have a decision to make as to who plays left back with Sébastien Pocognoli evidently at the bottom of that list!
This match is probably tailor-made for Tony Pulis and I think that, if the Albion defence perform to anything like their capabilities, Leicester will find it very difficult. Kanté will be a big loss for Leicester and I think the Baggies will maintain their unbeaten record in Leicester and come away with a point.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
31 Oct 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Rondón, Lambert (pen))
Leicester City 3 (Mahrez (2), Vardy)
Last meeting at Leicester City
1 Nov 2014 – Premier League
Leicester City 0
West Brom 1 (Cambiasso (o.g.))
Albion’s Record against Leicester City
|Premier League Record|