Albion’s worst season for 22 years will finally come to an end on Saturday with the visit of bottom club, Barnsley, to the Hawthorns. The Baggies have finished as one of the top 24 clubs in the country for the last two decades but the highest they will finish this campaign is 9th in the Championship should they win and Blackburn Rovers lose at Birmingham City. For a club that reportedly has a wage bill in the top three in the division, it is an undeniable failure.
Albion did manage to get three points at Reading last weekend, although the performance was hardly sparkling and the team selection was not radical enough for most. The fans did, however, make their own entertainment.
Bruce’s decision not to start any of Albion’s youngsters has come in for criticism, but I do wonder whether he was asked not to by U23 boss, Richard Beale, given that the U23s PL Cup semi-final was taking place on Tuesday evening. As it was, Zac Ashworth was called into action at half time when Conor Townsend was withdrawn due to injury and put in a creditable performance, and was also a member of the victorious U23 side who will now play Wolves in the final.
The date for the final has not been announced as yet but, assuming it is not next week, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two are given a run out against Barnsley. Caleb Taylor didn’t make the squad at Reading, but scored for and captained the U23s on Tuesday and I would certainly expect to see him in the squad ahead of Cédric Kipré. Taylor Gardner-Hickman was also missing last weekend but played in the semi-final – he is sure to return to the squad – while Ashworth, Fellows and, my man-of-the-match from Tuesday, Quevin Castro, could all be involved in some way.
One change that Bruce did make for the trip to Reading was a switch to 4-4-2 with Grant and Diangana leading the line, Phillips and Reach on the wings and Molumby and Livermore in the middle. Furlong missed out altogether with Dara O’Shea coming in at right back, Townsend on the left and Bartley and Ajayi in the middle.
A return to the side for Matt Clarke could suggest that talks for him to sign are progressing well, but it would be a surprise. Townsend is a doubt following his injury last weekend and the impending birth of a child, and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod at left back if he does miss out, with Zac Ashworth doing his chances no harm at Reading.
Barnsley were relegated a fortnight ago having picked up just two points from their last eight games. Relegation saw Swedish-Iranian manager Poya Asbaghi, their second permanent manager of the campaign, leave the club with academy coach Martin Devaney taking caretaker charge of the first team for the remainder of the season. Having lost at home to both Blackpool and Preston North End, the trip to the Hawthorns is likely to be his last in the hot seat.
The Tykes have picked up just eight of their thirty points this season on the road, with their solitary away win coming at Hull City in February. It’s been an utterly miserable season for Barnsley, such a contrast to their drive to the play-offs under Valérien Ismaël last season that prompted Albion to appoint him in the summer. They are four points adrift at the bottom of the table having won just six matches all season, two fewer than anyone else, and scored just 33 goals in their 45 games, also a low for the division. Only four sides have conceded more than Barnsley’s tally of 69.
Those statistics point to a comfortable victory for Albion, but we all know that we cannot rely on this team to do what is expected – they could only manage a 0-0 draw at Oakwell in December which was when the wheels properly started to fall off the Val-train.
It’s difficult to get excited about the match – the best aspect is that it will be the last of this tortuous season – and I doubt that many will be hanging around for the traditional lap of appreciation after the final whistle.
We can only hope that whatever magic Gourlay and Bruce can conjure over the summer will be enough for us to approach the start of the next campaign (which kicks off in July!) with a little anticipation.
Although Barnsley were formed 135 years ago, nine years after Albion, the two clubs have only shared a division for 33 seasons, less than a quarter of the time. That is largely due to the Tykes only having enjoyed one season of top flight football, in the Premier League in 1997/98, and you shouldn’t need to be too much of a student of the Baggies’ history to know that means that the clubs have never met in the top flight.
Barnsley joined Division Two in 1898 and the two clubs met for the first time in 1901 after the Throstles had been relegated. That first meeting took place at the Hawthorns in December 1901 with the hosts winning 3-1 thanks to a brace from Tommy Worton and another from Chippy Simmons.
With Barnsley having played at the same venue since 1888, only four grounds have played host to matches between the two teams. Other than Oakwell and the Hawthorns, the other two were both for the FA Cup Final of 1912 – after a 0-0 draw at the Crystal Palace, the replay was controversially held at Bramall Lane, Sheffied, just a few miles from Barnsley. With plenty of local support, the Tykes won 1-0.
Albion have hosted Barnsley for their final regular league game of the season on three previous occasions. In 1988, Ron Atkinson’s Albion drew 2-2 with Allan Clarke’s Tykes when the visitors came back from 2-0 down to earn a point. In 2010, it was the turn of already-promoted Albion to equalise with Graham Dorrans making it 1-1 in stoppage time after Hugo Colace had given the visitors the lead.
In between those two matches, Tony Mowbray’s side prepared for the 2007 play-offs with a thumping 7-0 victory thanks to goals from Kevin Phillips (3), Nathan Ellington (2, 1 pen), Robert Koren and Zoltán Gera.
That is Albion’s biggest win over Barnsley but it only equalled the win achieved by Brian Talbot’s team in November 1989 when the scorers were Don Goodman (3), Tony Ford, Kevin Bartlett (2) and Bernard McNally from the penalty spot.
The Tykes’ biggest win at the Hawthorns came in the first campaign after the Second World War when goals from George Robledo, Johnny Kelly, Walter Bennett(2) and Jimmy Baxter helped the visitors win 5-2 in September 1946.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Dec 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
22 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Diaby (o.g.), Pereira)
Barnsley 2 (Woodrow (2))
1 Sep 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Teixeira, Beattie)
Albion’s Record against Barnsley
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