Quique Sánchez Flores brings his Watford team to the Hawthorns on Saturday for the first ever Premier League meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns. The Hornets have impressed in the top flight this season, but their league results have dipped recently and they are currently on a run of six games without a win.
It has been a different story in the FA Cup, however, and with their Premier League position secured, next week’s semi-final against Crystal Palace, ironically the last side they defeated in the league, will be at the forefront of many of the players’ minds, which could well be to Albion’s advantage.
The Baggies may have been defeated at the Etihad last weekend, but the performance was much improved over their previous outing at Sunderland and, had referee Mike Jones not bottled the obvious penalty decision when Sandro was floored by Mangala, they might have got the point that their adventurous performance deserved.
With 40 points secured, Pulis seemed to have released the shackles somewhat, and Albion matched City with 13 shots on goal and 8 corners. Losing Salomon Rondón to injury was a blow but Saido Berahino had a couple of good chances that he would have been expected to convert, and James McClean’s late strike was incredibly close to snatching a late equaliser.
That performance and Watford’s potential pre-occupation with the FA Cup points to a great chance for the Baggies to extend their current impressive record against Hertfordshire’s only league club. With safety secured, Albion fans will be looking to see whether a Pulis team can continue to entertain, and produce results. It is perhaps a double-edges sword for the Welshman, however – if Albion can finish the season with entertaining football which produces results, the fans will go into the summer feeling buoyed and looking forward to next season, but some will ask why the team couldn’t play that way all season.
We have seen what this team can do with the performances away at Chelsea and Leicester, and at home to Palace and Arsenal, and I expect to see more of the same between now and the end of the season, but it only heightens the frustration at the string of turgid, defensive, despairing displays that have been the norm.
Albion have not lost a league game against Watford for more than 20 years, a run of 15 games of which Albion have won eight and drawn seven since a 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns in February 1995. However, Watford did win an FA Cup tie at Vicarage Road in 2003, the only time the clubs have been drawn together in the oldest cup competition, with Heidar Helguson scoring the only goal of the game.
Watford have won at the Hawthorns just three times since the clubs first met in the League Cup in 1977. Albion were victorious on that occasion but, when Graham Taylor’s Watford returned to the Shrine six years later, a John Barnes-inspired team won 3-1, their best ever win at the home of the Baggies. Other that the 1-0 win in 1995, Watford’s only other win at the Hawthorns was in 1988, also by a single goal.
Albion’s biggest win over Watford came in the Hornets’ last visit to the Hawthorns in 2009. Jonas Olsson opened the scoring on that day, but Graham Dorrans (pen), Luke Moore, Gianni Zuiverloon and Simon Cox also found the net as Roberto Di Matteo’s men ran out 5-0 winners.
Albion’s long-serving duo of James Morrison and Chris Brunt remain sidelines and, while the injury is not as bad as first feared, it remains to be seen whether Salomon Rondón will be fit. With Jonathan Leko having featured in the llast two games, there could be a place in the squad for a couple of other young players.
Étienne Capoue is the visitors’ only injury doubt, but there must be the chance that Flores will rest players ahead of the FA Cup Semi Final.
The semi-final coupled with Albion’s safety makes me think that this will be a good three points for the Baggies as Pulis chases not only Albion’s record points total, but also his first ever finish in the top half of the Premier League.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
15 Aug 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
31 Oct 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Olsson, Dorrans (pen), Moore, Zuiverloon, Cox)
Albion’s Record against Watford
|Premier League Record|