After a rude awakening against bottom-of-the-table Barnsley in midweek, the Baggies play another home game against a promoted team this weekend, but they should be under no illusions that this will be another tough test.
While Tuesday evening’s opponents had been struggling so far this season, Lee Bowyer has turned the Addicks into one of the surprises of the season as they remained unbeaten in the league throughout August. Their form has dropped off a little since then, but they remain in the top ten and have recently beaten promotion hopefuls Leeds United and Derby County, and cannot be dismissed.
Furthermore, if nothing else, Tuesday’s match against the Tykes should be a stark warning that no Championship opponents can be underestimated. Whether the lacklustre performance can be put in part down to complacency or not, it does demonstrate that Albion need to be at or near their best to ensure that the points are secured.
With their rivals also dropping points, Slaven Bilić’s team remained two points clear at the top of the table thanks to the late equaliser from Matheus Pereira. However, tenth placed Charlton are just five points behind the Baggies in what is a very congested table.
Lee Bowyer’s team lost 2-1 at Bristol City on Wednesday evening, with the hosts scoring the winner deep into stoppage time. One point of note for Baggies fans is that Sam Field was stretchered off with a knee injury in the first half – he, like Jonny Leko, is ineligible to play against Albion anyway, but it adds to a fairly long list of injuries at the Valley including Jonny Williams who had a knee operation last week, Jake Forster-Caskey who has a hamstring injury and star striker, Lyle Taylor, who is also recovering from a knee injury picked up on international duty.
Meanwhile, Bowyer himself will serve the last of a three match touchline ban on Saturday; he was punished for questioning the integrity of a match official during their 2-1 home defeat by Swansea City.
However, while Charlton may be without several key players, and will be missing Bowyer from the touchline, it will still be a stern test for Albion and I’m sure the Addicks will look to mirror Barnsley’s approach to their trip to the Hawthorns with the hope of a similar result.
As can be expected, there has been much anguish from some Albion fans on social media since the draw with Barnsley. Personally, I feel that we missed the presence of Matt Phillips, while Diangana and Pereira were both below par. Whether that was down to complacency or maybe fatigue, I’m not sure, but Pereira, in particular, was much better after the break as were the majority of the team.
It’s easy to criticise the defence for conceding goals but, while the opener was a little too easy, Barnsley’s second was a worldy that few defences would have been able to stop. Bilić has confirmed that Ferguson’s withdrawal at halftime was a tactical decision to exert more pressure rather than a comment on the youngster’s performance. It was a change that worked well – Townsend does offer more going forward and it was his excellent cross that produced the equaliser. Nonetheless, I expect the back four to be unchanged once again on Saturday.
The central midfield pairing of Livermore and Sawyers seems settled and it would be a surprise to see any changes there. Harper doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to the first team this season, while Gareth Barry is yet to sign a contract. Chris Brunt is perhaps the obvious alternative in the first instance, but he has been used sparingly this campaign. Bilić does have the option of playing Krovinović as one of those two, but I’d be surprised to see that happen from the start.
As for the front four, Matt Phillips will hopefully be available once again. Kyle Edwards, while a promising prospect, has shown his inconsistency with mixed performances of later. Pereira and Diangana are likely to remain first choice, but Bilić must surely be considering the need for rotation given their below par performances in the last two games. While Krovinović remains the first deputy, Chris Willock must surely be in consideration for a place on the bench at least.
Up front, Charlie Austin continues to cut a frustrated, if not frustrating, figure. With Zohore injured, Hal Robson-Kanu is his only real competition at the moment and, while most feel that the former Saints striker will find his scoring boots soon, another front man must surely be a priority for the January window.
It is another game that Albion should win, particularly given the Addicks’ injury problems. One home slip up is, perhaps, acceptable, but the Baggies need to bounce back and take all three points on Saturday if they are to regain the momentum of their recent good form.
It has been more than a decade since the clubs last met, with the last meeting at the Hawthorns being an FA Cup third round replay that Albion eventually won on penalties on their way to the semi-final in 2008.
Classing that game as a draw, the last win for either side was at the Hawthorns in December 2007 when goals from Roman Bednar, Zoltán Gera (2) and Kevin Phillips gave the hosts a 4-2 victory.
Albion have never scored more goals against Charlton, but their record home victory was a 3-0 win in April 1951 when Jack Smith’s Baggies took the points thanks to goals from Ronnie Allen, Reg Ryan and Andy McCall.
The Addicks’ record win at the Hawthorns was just five years later. Vic Buckingham’s Albion side were drawn against Jimmy Seed’s Charlton in the fourth round of the FA Cup. The Baggies were, of course, the holders that season but a Stuart Williams brace was not enough to progress as Bobby Ayre’s hat trick added to Eddie Firmani’s opener to give the visitors a 4-2 victory.
Charlton’s last victory at Albion was a 2-1 win in the Premier League fixture in September 2005 when a Danny Murphy brace, including one from the spot, was enough to claim all three points as Curtis Davies’ second half header proved to be no more than a consolation.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
21 Mar 2008 – League Championship
Charlton Athletic 1 (Halford)
West Brom 1 (Phillips)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
15 Jan 2008 – FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
West Brom 2 (Bednar, Morrison)
Charlton Athletic 2 (Ambrose, Dickson)
Albion won 4-3 on penalties
15 Dec 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Bednar, Gera (2), Phillips)
Charlton Athletic 2 (Iwelumo, McLeod)
Albion’s Record against Charlton Athletic