West Bromwich Albion v Blackburn Rovers; The Hawthorns, Wednesday 15th February 2023, 8pm
The pressure is on Carlos Corberán and his team as they find themselves needing to bounce back from a disappointing defeat once again. A poor display at St Andrew’s last Friday resulted in the Baggies’ third successive defeat on the road but, so far under their new Spanish coach, their results at the Shrine have been perfect following defeat in his first game, winning a club record seven successive home games without conceding a goal.
Their opponents on Wednesday evening have had a curious season that, for most of it, has demonstrated the benefit of the three-points-for-a-win system. They had remained in the top six despite losing almost half of their games by winning all the others. They didn’t register a league draw in their first 27 games of the season, and then proceeded to draw three in a row. They now sit in eighth place, one place and one point ahead of Albion, and have lost thirteen games this season, the only team outside the bottom seven of the Championship to do so.
Rovers boss, Jon Dahl Tomasson, moved to Ewood Park in the summer taking over from Tony Mowbray who left after more than five years in charge. This is a first management job in England for the Dane, who played for Newcastle United in the Premier League in the late 90s, and comes after success with Malmö where he won successive Swedish titles in 2020 and 2021. Rovers’ victory over Albion at Ewood Park in game three of the season put them top of the fledgling table with a 100% record, but three successive defeats followed and the boom or bust nature of their campaign was set. It has been more bust than boom in recent weeks, however, with only one win in their last seven league games seeing them drop out of the top six.
One of the key reasons for their slump is that the goals have dried up – they have only managed to score more than one goal in a league match once since October, and it is perhaps no coincidence that Ben Brereton Díaz has not found the net since he scored the winner in their 1-0 over Huddersfield Town in early November. The Stoke-on-Trent-born Chilean international scored nine goals in his first twenty league games of the campaign, but none since. Bradley Dack, however, does seem to have found his scoring boots after a couple of difficult years with injury scoring four times in his last nine league games.
Thomasson suffered some deadline day disappointment when their attempts to sign Lewis O’Brien on loan from Nottingham Forest, and Ethan Brierley from Rochdale, failed to be completed before the deadline. It left O’Brien in limbo having been left out of Forest’s 25-man Premier League squad. One potentially astute signing they did make was that of Sorba Thomas on loan from Huddersfield Town. Thomas was one of the Terriers’ key players last season but has been less influential in the current campaign – his departure will have split opinion amongst Huddersfield fans who see their side struggling at the wrong end of the table, but Rovers fans will hope that he can provide the creative spark that has been missing in recent weeks.
For Carlos Corberán, he must work out why his team performed poorly at St Andrew’s last Friday and ensure it doesn’t happen again. According to local press reports, he feels that the defence was generally solid, apart from the two glaring mistakes that led to the two goals, but that from attacking point of view, his team didn’t find a way to get at the Birmingham City back line.
For many fans, the solution for the first problem is to drop David Button. Having done what was expected of him against Coventry City, the errors against Blues were horrendous. The first, especially, was difficult to understand. He left such a gap to his left that a different Hannibal could have marched his elephants through it; City’s Hannibal found it an irresistible target. The second was, perhaps, a symptom of the first in that he may have been trying to make up for it by making a decisive clearance, but completely misjudged it. Unfortunately, if he is retained on Wednesday, he is unlikely to get a good reception from the home fans and it may do him, and his teammates, more harm than good.
The call for Josh Griffiths to be given a chance is loud, but very few of those fans will have ever seen him play. While there have been good reports from his loan spells, and he has plenty of experience with more than a hundred senior appearances for clubs in League One and League Two despite being only 21 years old, it would be a massive step up for him to be thrust into a Championship promotion battle. Corberán obviously thought enough of the Hereford-born stopper to recall him from his loan spell at Portsmouth last month, and while he may not have originally thought of giving him his senior Albion debut so early, Button’s form and Palmer’s injury may well have forced his hand.
Further forward, the Spaniard may look to tweak the personnel across the front line. He continues to prefer to start with Daryl Dike although he is yet to really show the spark we all hope he has, while Brandon Thomas-Asante always provides impetus from the bench.
The other player that is misfiring slightly is Grady Diangana – Corberán has opted to move Jed Wallace into a more central role in the last two games to accommodate Marc Albrighton on the right leaving Grady on the left. While it looked OK against Coventry, with Albrighton’s performance particularly pleasing, it didn’t really work at all at St Andrew’s. He has options, the obvious one being to bring Swift in and movie Albrighton to the left with Grady dropping to the bench.
One other thing he may well look at is how Blues managed to nullify the impact of Okay Yokuşlu – they crowded him with two or three players meaning that he was unable to get any forward passing movements going. CC needs to find a solution if teams manage to do that in the future – the overload on the Turk must have left spaces elsewhere on the field, so players need to know how to adapt in such situations. Of course, the tragedy in his home country will have affected him deeply and will undoubtedly had some impact on his performance, but I think the tactics employed by John Eustace were the primary reason for his lack of influence.
News from the camp on Tuesday indicated that Kyle Bartley had suffered a set back in his recovery and would be out for a further 5-6 weeks, and also that Tom Rogić would miss the Blackburn game with a slight hamstring issue. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting either to be involved but it is obviously a concern should we suffer any further injuries to first team players.
Last Friday’s defeat and results over the weekend pushed the Baggies down into ninth place in this congested battle for the top six places. Victory could take Albion as high as fifth depending on other results, including those to be played on Tuesday evening. With an away game against another top six contender on Monday, this is a match that the Baggies really need to win if they are to keep up with the play-off chasing pack.
Reassuringly, the Hawthorns has proved impregnable since half time in Corberán’s first game in charge – let’s hope that it stays that way on Wednesday evening.
The history of the fixture is one of the longest with the clubs meeting for the first time in February 1885 for an FA Cup Quarter Final at Albion’s Four Acres ground. The attendance of more than 16,000 was a record at that venue and prompted the club to find a larger home. They moved to Stoney Lane late that year.
The match itself was a 2-0 win for the visitors who went on to win the trophy, beating Scottish team Queen’s Park in the final. The following season, the clubs would meet again in the FA Cup, this time in the final at the Kennington Oval. That finished 0-0 but Rovers were victorious once again in the replay recording another 2-0 victory at the Racecourse Ground in Derby.
When league football started a couple of years later, Rovers maintained their dominance at home, winning 6-2 at their Leamington Road ground, but the Throstles finally recorded their first win in this fixture in the first meeting at Stoney Lane. The legendary pair of Billy Bassett and Tom Pearson were Albion’s scorers in a 2-1 victory.
Rovers have held the edge in the head-to-head record over the years but results have been fairly even in recent years, demonstrated by the results of the last fifteen meetings – five wins for Albion, five for Rovers and five draws. At the Hawthorns, Albion have lost just one of the last eight albeit four of those have also ended all square.
Rovers’ biggest win at the Hawthorns came in November 1962. Geoff Carter gave Albion the lead before goals from Mike Ferguson and Fred Pickering put the visitors 2-1 up at the break. Bobby Hope scored minutes into the second half to square things up again before Rovers went into overdrive – Pickering completed a hat trick and Ian Lawther also found the net to make the final score 5-2.
Albion will need a very good evening on Wednesday to match their biggest win over Blackburn. In January 1936, Ginger Richardson and Jack Mahon both scored hat tricks with Walter Robbins and Jack Sankey also finding the net as Rovers were dispatched 8-1 in a Division One fixture. Ernie Thompson notched the visitors’ consolation goal – it was scored on the half hour when the Baggies were already 5-0 up!
All competitions; most recent game on the right
14 Aug 2022 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Brereton Díaz, Gallagher)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Diangana)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
14 Feb 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 0
Blackburn Rovers 0
21 Aug 2021 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Brereton Díaz)
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Mowatt, Phillips)
Last win at the Hawthorns
31 Aug 2019 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Phillips, Livermore, Diangana)
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Dack, Johnson)
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers
If you cannot see the tables, click here.