After a second successful trip to the English capital in the FA Cup, Albion travel to Welsh one on Tuesday evening to take on Neil Harris’s Cardiff City looking to turn their good cup form into league results.
The Baggies’ only victories since mid-December have come in the cup, but they remain top of the league thanks to the indifferent form of Leeds United, and the lead that the top two had previously built up over the chasing pack.
The Bluebirds were also in FA Cup action on Saturday, drawing 1-1 away to fellow Championship side, Reading, but like Albion, they fielded a much-changed side with only four of the team that started their last league outing away to Birmingham in the starting eleven at the Madejski.
It will be the third time this season that City manager, Neil Harris, has faced Albion this season, having been in charge of Millwall for their back-to-back visits to the Hawthorns in August. The Lions were unbeaten in those two games, of course, and I’m sure Harris will feel he can get the better of Bilić once again.
However, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and Cardiff were well beaten at the Hawthorns in October, albeit under the stewardship of Harris’s predecessor, Neil Warnock. Since the former Millwall boss was appointed in mid-November, the Bluebirds have lost just twice, both in London, a 2-1 reverse at Brentford and a 6-1 thumping at QPR.
Wins have also been fairly rare, however, particularly in recent weeks. Harris enjoyed a three match winning streak shortly after his arrival at the City of Cardiff Stadium, but there has been only one league victory in the eight games since. Draws have been commonplace and City are the only side in the division to have drawn more games than Albion.
Cardiff are likely to be without one of their joint top scorers, midfielder Joe Ralls, who suffered an injury at Reading on Saturday. The other two players who have scored five Championship goals are Lee Tomlin, arguably their player of the season, and Danny Ward, who should be available after suffering concussion in the match at St Andrew’s. It was Ward, of course, who scored both the Bluebirds’ goals in their 4-2 defeat at the Hawthorns in October.
Slaven Bilić does not have as many decisions to make as he might have liked in picking his starting line up. Matheus Pereira and Semi Ajayi will both miss the match through suspension while Kieran Gibbs and Grady Diangana are both injured.
Left back is perhaps the trickiest position to fill although Conor Townsend will be itching to start again after his good performance at the London Stadium that was capped by his first Albion goal. His display against Stoke had led some, me included, to question whether he should be given a rest, but he looked much better on Saturday. Having said that, West Ham didn’t offer too much in attack and Cardiff will present a much tougher challenge for Townsend. The poorest part of the former Scunthorpe defender’s game is in the air, and Neil Harris’s team will present a severe test on that front.
With speculation over Nathan Ferguson’s future continuing, along with continued doubts over his fitness, Bilić may feel that the youngster is not in the right condition to play which would leave Chris Brunt as the only obvious alternative to Townsend.
Ajayi’s suspension means that Bartley and Hegazi will almost certainly start with Furlong returning at right back. Sawyers and Livermore will return to the middle of the park which leaves the front four. Krovinović’s performance at West Ham must surely put him in line for a start at Cardiff, while Kyle Edwards also impressed.
I was surprised that Phillips started on Saturday, and I wasn’t overly enamoured with his display. However, unless there is a change in formation, the only realistic alternative would be to play Tulloch, and that is something I would be very surprised to see. I guess there is the option of playing Krovinović or Robson-Kanu wide with either Austin or Zohore through the middle, but again that would be a surprise unless Bilić was forced into that through injury. Brunt could be an option wide left, but I don’t think the wide forward role would suit him these days. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brunty come off the bench at some point, assuming he’s not starting as left back.
Saturday’s victory was certainly a massive boost, although I’m struggling to think of a Championship side that have been worse than West Ham. Nonetheless, a win is a win and, given that several of the players who featured in that win are likely to play on Tuesday evening, the confidence should have a positive impact on this match. The fact that the “fringe players” were able to win away to a Premier League side bodes well for the rest of the season, particularly if Dowling and team can add to the squad this week.
I suggested in my piece last week that the enforced absence of Albion’s two star players could present an opportunity, and it is one that Krovinović grasped on Saturday – if he can reproduce that performance at the City of Cardiff Stadium, it could be a very positive night for the Baggies.
Albion need to end this winless league run quickly if they are to remain in the top two, and Cardiff City are a side that they should be capable of beating.
It has been 45 years since the Baggies last won in the Welsh capital. Goals from Joe Mayo and Barry Donaghy saw Albion win 2-0 at Ninan Park in a second division fixture in October 1974.
Since then, the Cardiff City have hosted the Baggies on five occasions, four of which have finished all square. Tuesday evening will see Albion’s third visit to the City of Cardiff Stadium, with the previous two resulting in one draw and one win for the hosts. That was on the Baggies’ last visit in December 2013 when a 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal from Peter Whittingham was enough to persuade Albion chairman, Jeremy Peace, to sack head coach, Steve Clarke.
Tuesday’s match will be the 50th league meeting between Albion and Cardiff, with the Baggies having won 21 to the Welsh club’s 15. The clubs first met in the 1921/22 season when the Bluebirds were first promoted into the top flight after just one season in the second tier. A week after a 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns, City beat Albion 2-0 at Ninian Park thanks to two goals by Jimmy Gill.
After losing their first three games in Cardiff without scoring, the Baggies finally registered their first victory in Wales’ biggest city in September 1924 when Joe Carter scored the only goal of the game.
Six years later, Carter was on the scoresheet again at Ninian Park, but it was another legendary Albion striker, Jimmy Cookson, who stole the show that day with four goals in a 6-3 win for the visitors with Harry Boston scoring the Baggies’ other goal.
Albion’s biggest win at Cardiff came in Division Two in 1948. Jack Haines and Arthur Taylor both scored a brace apiece in a 5-0 win. The other goal was scored by Arthur Rowley – it was one of four the Wolverhampton-born striker scored for Albion at the beginning of a remarkable career in which he scored 434 goals in 619 league games. He remains the record goalscorer in the Football League.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Pereira, Diangana, Austin, Sawyers)
Cardiff City 2 (Ward (2))
Last meeting at Cardiff City
14 Dec 2013 – Premier League
Cardiff City 1 (Whittingham)
West Brom 0
Last win at Cardiff City
12 Oct 1974 – League Division 2
Cardiff City 0
West Brom 2 (Mayo, Donaghy)
Albion’s Record against Cardiff City