The Skids’ epic tune may be in the heads of Baggies fans of a certain age once again this weekend as Albion return to the Valley on Saturday for the second part of the cup and league double header against Charlton Athletic. Having won the FA Cup tie on Sunday, Slaven Bilić’s team will be looking for another victory in what many would consider to be the more important of the two matches.
The Addicks’ fans certainly feel that way if their numbers last weekend are any indicator – given that there were just short of 2,000 travelling fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand for the FA Cup tie, that means that less than 4,500 home supporters were in the 6,426 attendance which compares to their average of more than 17,000 this season.
With Albion having sold out their 3,100 allocation for the league fixture, I would expect the attendance to be much more like their highest of the season of just under 22,000 for the visit of Leeds United in September.
Having said that, Lee Bowyer’s side are in nothing like the form they were earlier in the season as they are still in the midst of an injury crisis. While Slaven Bilić made eleven changes for Sunday’s match, while still playing a number of senior players, the Charlton boss made nine and included two debutants from their academy and, as the BBC report pointed out, only four of the Addicks line up were born when Gareth Barry made his professional debut.
The line-ups will be very different for the league match, but the hosts’ starting eleven will still be a youthful one with Bowyer forced into giving debuts to two more academy graduates in their last league game at Swansea last week.
Their injury problems have contributed to a drop in form that has seen them win just one of their last fifteen games in all competitions. Fourteen points from their opening six games saw the newly promoted Addicks in second place at the end of August, but despite impressive home wins over Leeds and Derby since then, they are now languishing in 17th place and anxiously looking at the bottom three just five points below them.
While Albion’s injury problems may not be as numerous, Grady Diangana’s absence has certainly been a contributory factor in their drop off in form over the Christmas period. Teams have been able to focus their attentions on Matheus Pereira without having to worry about Diangana with Kyle Edwards and Matt Phillips not offering the same quality as the West Ham loanee.
It is hoped that Grady will be fit to return this weekend which will be a massive boost, assuming David Moyes doesn’t decide to recall him in the meantime. He has another few days to make that decision, but the Albion hierarchy are increasingly hopeful that the new Hammers boss will opt to leave Diangana where he is.
Less positive news is that Kieran Gibbs is expected to be out for several weeks having aggravated his hamstring injury on New Year’s Day, while Nathan Ferguson is also unavailable with a knee injury. That means that Conor Townsend and Darnell Furlong are both likely to start, although Dara O’Shea’s performance at right back last Sunday will certainly have him in Bilić’s thoughts.
The stand out performer from last week’s trip into the Valley was Ahmed Hegazi and, while I don’t expect him to force his way into the starting line up this weekend given the form of Bartley and Ajayi, it was certainly a welcoming sight to see the Egyptian back to his best and he now looks ready to step in when needed.
Sawyers, Livermore, Diangana, Pereira and Phillips should all start with Bilić’s toughest decision as to who to pick as the lone striker. He played two up front last weekend which seemed to suit both Zohore and Austin, with the Dane finding the net and Charlie unfortunate not to, but the 4-2-3-1 formation has been a success so far and I expect to see Hal Robson-Kanu back in the side. It’s a tougher call to know who will be on the bench.
Having produced a better performance against Leeds, it is now time for the first team to get back to winning ways to give 2020 a proper kick start. It won’t be easy despite Charlton’s injury woes, but Albion should have enough to claim all three points.
While Albion have spent most of their history in a higher division than Charlton, the league head-to-head record is one of parity with both sides having won 17 of the previous meetings scoring 71 goals in the process. Last week’s victory meant that the overall record is also matched up in terms of results, although the Baggies have scored one more goal over the years.
Saturday will be the 50th league meeting between the sides with the first coming at the Hawthorns in December 1929 when Jimmy Cookson scored Albion’s goal in a 1-1 draw in Division 2.
While most Baggies fans will remember Robert Earnshaw’s hat-trick in the 4-1 win in 2005 on the way to the Great Escape, that isn’t Albion’s biggest win at the Valley. That came back in September 1930 when Cookson was once again amongst the goals along with Harry Boston and Stan Wood. An own goal made the final score 4-0 to the visitors.
The Addicks’ biggest win is somewhat more recent. Alan Curbishley’s Charlton battered Denis Smith’s Albion 5-0 in March 1998 with Mark Bright, Shaun Newton, Clive Mendonca (2) and future Baggie, Mark Kinsella, all on the scoresheet. That season, of course, ended in that remarkable 4-4 draw between Charlton and Sunderland at Wembley in the Play Off Final with the Addicks winning the penalty shoot out to win promotion to the Premier League for the first time.
All but one of Albion’s away games at Charlton have been at the Valley. After the Bradford fire in 1985, safety concerns forced the club to move to Selhurst Park ground-sharing with Crystal Palace, and the Baggies made their only visit to that stadium to play Charlton in March 1991 – that resulted in a 2-0 loss for Bobby Gould’s Albion side that was actually their final defeat of the season, but seven draws from their last nine games saw them relegated to the third tier.
When Wimbledon moved into Selhurst Park, Charlton were forced to move again, this time to Upton Park where they played for a season and a half before returning to the Valley in December 1992.
Last weekend’s victory was only the Baggies’ second away to Charlton since 1954 with the hosts winning on eight of the ten games between the sides in south London until Earnie’s hat-trick. Albion are unbeaten at the Valley since then, however, drawing on their three visits before last Sunday’s win.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 Jan 2020 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Charlton Athletic 0
West Brom 1 (Zohore)
Albion’s Record against Charlton Athletic