After failing to get their first home league win of the year against Nottingham Forest, Albion face their shortest trip of all to Villa Park once again looking for an away win to compensate for their shortcomings at the Hawthorns.
With six wins from their last seven away games, it is the Baggies’ form on the road that has kept them in with a shout of automatic promotion, although the margin for error is reducing as the games run out. Albion are now six points off second, although they do have a game in hand, and they play two of the three teams above them in the coming weeks.
Those future games against Sheffield United and Leeds United must surely have played a part in the club’s decision not to contest Dwight Gayle’s charge for successfully deceiving a match official. His two match ban will now be served against Aston Villa and Queen’s Park Rangers meaning that he will be available for the Blades clash next weekend.
As I stated in my match report, I thought it would have been worth contesting the charge. The club statement indicated that Gayle was attempting to avoid challenges from the two Forest defenders rather than deceive the referee, but that they felt it would have been a pointless exercise to appeal given that a three-man panel had already agreed to charge him.
By charging Gayle, however, the FA have opened themselves up for criticism should they not pick up on all similar offences in the future, not just those highlighted by Sky TV pundits. We will all watch with interest.
Back to Saturday’s game, Aston Villa are in their third season in the Championship which means that they will not receive any Premier League parachute payments next season should they fail to win promotion. I’m sure that Egyptian owner, Nassef Sawiris, was fully aware of this when the club decided to dispense with the services of Steve Bruce in October with the club languishing in 12th place.
Dean Smith was thought by most to be an astute appointment but, while there was an upturn in results through November and December as Villa went seven games unbeaten, just two wins from the last twelve league games leaves the Villains some seven points off the play-offs in tenth place.
While Albion’s late equaliser in the match at the Hawthorns in December was a little fortunate for the hosts, it is indicative of Villa’s season that the match ended up all square. Since that match, Dean Smith’s side have drawn more than half of their league games and their total of 14 draws from their 32 league games is the joint highest in the top four divisions of English football.
In midweek, Smith went back to Griffin Park, home of his previous club, and saw his new side get beaten 1-0 thanks to an injury time winner from Neil Maupay. Late goals have been a feature in Villa games of late with Dean Smith’s side coming back from three down in the final eight minutes at Villa Park last Friday to draw 3-3 with Sheffield United.
One reason for Villa’s poor run of results could be the injury to Jack Grealish that he suffered in the match at the Hawthorns. He hasn’t played since and is unlikely to be fit until later this month.
Defender, James Chester, is also a doubt for the visit of his former club. He was injured in late January and, although he has started training this week, he may not be fit enough to start on Saturday.
Being Albion’s most local derby, this match is massively important to the fans and victory would go a long way in making up for the poor performance on Tuesday evening. Playing at their best, the Baggies should win this game comfortably – the fact that Villa were three down last week to the Blades is indicative of their home form. They have conceded a remarkable 20 goals in their last eight home games, six more than any other side in the division. If Albion can show the defensive solidity they did at Stoke rather than they have done at the Hawthorns of late, three points should be there for the taking.
The fitness of Ahmed Hegazi will be a massive factor. His presence in the back line was sorely missed against Forest on Tuesday evening, and we would all feel more confident of a positive result with the Egyptian in the side.
One positive impact of Gayle’s absence is that Moore will have a free reign to pick the remaining five loan players in the squad. So, Adarabioyo and Montero can be in the squad along with Holgate, Murphy and Johansen.
The make up of the front three will be an interesting choice for Big Dave. Rodriguez will obviously start and there will be the choice of Jacob Murphy, Jefferson Montero and, assuming he is recovered from the injury he suffered against Brighton, Hal Robson–Kanu. I would expect the Welshman to start if he is fit – he offers a greater presence up front than either of the two new loan signings – and I think that Murphy will be given another chance. Montero will offer a great option from the bench.
My choice for the midfield would be Barry, Harper and Johansen. I think those three have the potential to dominate most midfields in this division and, while John McGinn, Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan are a decent three, Grealish is the man who makes the difference for Villa and his continued absence is a big bonus for Albion.
Darren Moore’s side need to take advantage of Grealish’s absence and take all three points. It might be a massive game for the fans, but the team need to treat it as just another game and one in which they have a superior team, even without Dwight Gayle. Albion’s confidence may have suffered with their recent home form, but away from the Hawthorns they have been excellent of late. Meanwhile, Villa have only beaten bottom side, Ipswich Town, in their last eight league games.
It is said that form goes out of the window in local derbies – the Baggies need to ensure that it doesn’t
West Bromwich Albion have met Aston Villa on more occasions than any other club, and Saturday’s game will be the 169th between the two founder members of the Football League, and the 146th in the league.
The Villains lead on the head-to-head record with 77 wins to Albion’s 54, although the Baggies hold a narrow lead in their meetings in the second tier. Such meetings have been few and far between, however, and this weekend will be just the eighth league meeting outside the top flight with Albion having won three to Villa’s two.
The last time that the clubs were both in the second tier was in the 1987/88 season when Ron Atkinson was in his second spell at the Hawthorns while Graham Taylor had moved to Villa Park from Watford the previous summer. Villa won 2-0 at the Hawthorns but the game at Villa Park in December 1987 finished goalless. Taylor would guide the men from Witton back to the top flight while the Baggies were headed in the opposite direction and it would be another 15 years before the clubs met in the league again.
Those two games were near the beginning of a 26-year-period when Albion failed to record a single victory over Villa, and within a 29-year-period without a win at Villa Park. That stretched from a League Cup win in January 1982 to that memorable day in October 2011 when goals from Paul Scharner and Jonas Olsson turned around the game after Darren Bent had given Villa the lead.
Albion have won once at Villa Park since then, on their last visit in the Lions’ relegation season in September 2015 when Saido Berahino scored the only goal of the game.
While our nearest neighbours have generally held the upper hand over the years, there have been the odd short periods of dominance. One of those was a period of five meetings between December 1933 and October 1935 when Albion remained unbeaten winning three, including back-to-back victories at Villa Park in 1935. In April of that year, the Baggies won by the odd goal in five as Wally Boyes, Ginger Richardson scored to add to a Jimmy Gibson own goal, but in the October it was a little more emphatic.
Around 10,000 Baggies fans made the trip to Villa Park that day, and they were delighted as Ginger Richardson opened the scoring in the seventh minute followed a minute later by a second from Stan Wood. The hosts had a strong wind at their back but it didn’t stop Richardson from scoring a third after 25 minutes, while Jack Mahon made it four before half time. Albion apparently eased up in the second half but Jack Sankey made it five with 15 minutes left and then the legendary Richardson scored his third and fourth goals of the game to make it 7-0. It could easily have been more for Albion against a poor Villa side who ended that season being relegated.
That is the Baggies’ best ever win in this fixture and, until Chelsea trounced them 8-0 in 2012, it was Villa’s joint biggest league defeat by anyone.
For Villa’s record victory over Albion, we have to go back a little further to the end of the 19th century. At Villa Park in April 1899, the two sides met in a Division One fixture with the hosts battling Liverpool for the league title. Fresh from a 6-1 win over Notts County, the Villains set about destroying Albion with Billy Garraty scoring a hat trick, Fred Wheldon adding a brace with additional goals from Jimmy Cowan and Tommy Bowman making the final score 7-1 with the Baggies’ consolation scored by Tom Perry. That result put Villa level on points with Liverpool and, ninety years before that famous title decider between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield, the top two met at Villa Park to decide who would won the league. On this occasion, it was not as tense, but arguably as dramatic as Liverpool were thrashed 5-0 and Villa claimed their fourth league title.
Strangely, Albion followed up that hammering with their best series of results at Villa Park. Between September 1899 and September 1912, Albion won on four of their five visits to Witton, although they failed to record a home victory during that period!
Never mind the fact that it’s Villa, Albion are away from home and will claim another three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
7 Dec 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Gayle, Rodriguez)
Aston Villa 2 (El Ghazi (2))
Last meeting at Aston Villa
19 Sep 2015 – Premier League
Aston Villa 0
West Brom 1 (Berahino)
Albion’s Record against Aston Villa