Darren Moore takes his side to Bramall Lane on Friday evening for the last in the current batch of televised fixtures with the Baggies on a five-match unbeaten run following the draw with Aston Villa.
Although Albion have drawn their last two home games, they are looking for their third successive away victory for the first time since 2009 and it would the the first time they have won three successive away league games since Mowbray’s team won their last four away games of their title winning season in 2008.
Forty years ago, however, Ron Atkinson’s team was in the midst of a run of five successive away league wins from November through to the end of the year comprising trips to Ipswich, Bolton and Wolves and culminating in those two impressive post-Christmas victories at Arsenal and, of course, that game at Old Trafford.
If Darren Moore’s team can continue their run and take six points from their back-to-back trips to South Yorkshire, it would certainly be a strong statement ahead of Christmas.
Recent results have seen the Baggies lose ground on the top two as Norwich and Leeds both continued their good form opening up a five point gap between second and third. The clubs in the play off positions are only separated by one point, and Albion would move up into third place with victory on Friday evening.
While the result against Brentford was disappointing and undeserved, the draw against Villa was welcome, particularly given how the game went. While Dean Smith’s team dominated portions of the game, it was by no means a travesty that the game finished all square and, if the two teams play as well as they did on Friday for the rest of the season, I’m sure they’ll both be in the promotion shake up come the end of the campaign.
Chris Wilder has got Sheffield United playing well this season although their form recently has been a tad patchy. Like Albion, they have failed to win their last two home games, losing at home to Leeds a fortnight ago and playing out a 0-0 draw in the Steel City Derby before the international break. Away from home, they have registered wins at Reading and Brentford as well as another draw with near neighbours, Rotherham United.
Although the Blades beat both Norwich and Villa early in the season, they haven’t fared too well in their games against the teams near the top of the table at the time of playing them. They have lost to Leeds, Forest, Middlesbrough and Derby, so it could point to a certain flakiness under pressure which could play into the Baggies’ hands.
However, there is no doubt that Wilder has developed a good side at Bramall Lane. Veteran striker, Billy Sharp, is obviously making headlines as top goalscorer with eleven, but the midfield pair of Oliver Norwood and John Fleck have been excellent all season and the back three of Basham, Egan and O’Connell are also performing well with only four clubs having conceded fewer goals than United in the Championship this season. They do tend to play out from the back as Albion have done this season, and it will be interesting to see if the high press will cause them problems.
Big Dave tweaked Albion’s starting line up last week swapping Hal Robson-Kanu for Gayle and Morrison for Barry. Both incomings performed well, although I felt that Barry was flagging late on which allowed Villa to dominate central midfield. While it may be difficult to drop Barry for Friday’s game, I do think we missed Mozza’s dynamism; Phillips is practically undroppable given his form of late and Livermore is not done anything wrong either – it’s a tough choice to make.
Up front, there are also decisions to make. J-Rod has come in for some criticism of late, and not just from unhappy Villa fans – he missed a few chances against Brentford but I think some of the comments have been a bit harsh. His work off the ball is always good and I think that his ability to drop into midfield to link up or generally help out often goes unnoticed and unappreciated by many observers. And let’s not forget that he remains joint top goalscorer with Dwight Gayle on ten goals.
HRK would be entitled to feel disappointed if he is fit this weekend and doesn’t start, but I’m not sure I would change personnel. I would, however, prefer to see Gayle through the middle with J-Rod wide right, although that would potentially impact his ability to link up with the midfield as easily.
So there are a few decisions for Moore to make, but I’m not expecting anything too drastic to change, and it should be a good game.
For Baggies fans who were around in the Megson years, Sheffield United against West Bromwich Albion conjures up that infamous match in March 2002 that became known as the Battle of Bramall Lane. I’m sure everyone reading this will know the story (if not, look it up!), and it still amazes me that Neil Warnock escaped censure for his part in those events and, no matter how much of a media darling he appears to be, I continue to hold him in contempt.
That was more about a handful of men rather than a club, and I have nothing against Sheffield United per se, although I am sure that there are some who were present that day who will continue to hold a grudge as Albion return to the scene for the first time in more than nine years.
Although they were founder members of the Premier League, the Blades have only spent three seasons in the division, the most recent being in 2006/07 and they haven’t met Albion in a top flight fixture since 1973. With the clubs not having been drawn together in a cup competition since that same year, Friday will be the 29th consecutive meeting between the clubs in the second tier.
Their most recent encounter at Bramall Lane was in August 2009 when a double from Roman Bednar earned Albion a point, and the Baggies grabbed all three points on their previous two visits. As well as the 3-0 victory in the Battle of Bramall Lane in 2002, which is Albion’s biggest win away to the Blades, Megson’s team returned to the venue two years later when current Baggies’ boss, Darren Moore, inadvertently gave the hosts the lead with an own goal in the second half but he made up for that by scoring the equaliser and his central defensive partner, Thomas Gaardsøe, grabbing the winner with five minutes left.
A couple of years before that, Brian Little’s Baggies suffered a club record defeat to the Blades as a Marcus Bent hat trick helped Warnock’s team to a 6-0 victory. Somehow, Little lasted for another two games before he was sacked to make way for Lord Gary!
There was another memorable Baggies victory in 1998 when a Lee Hughes brace sandwiched by goals from Andy Hunt and Kevin Kilbane saw Albion run out 4-2 winners and record a third successive victory at Bramall Lane. A 2-1 win in February 1996 had ended a run of just one win at the stadium in sixteen visits dating back to 1954. Albion also endured seven straight defeats in the fixture between 1924 and 1933.
Albion’s biggest game at Bramall Lane was not, however, against Sheffield United. In 1912, the stadium was controversially chosen as the venue for an FA Cup Final replay between Albion and Barnsley after they clubs had drawn 0-0 in the first game at the Crystal Palace. Backed by a vociferous local support, the Tykes won the game 1-0.
I expect another tight game that either team could win, but I think it will finish all square.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Jan 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Dorrans (pen), Bednar, Thomas)
Sheffield United 1 (Henderson (pen))
Last meeting at Sheffield United
29 Aug 2009 – League Championship
Sheffield United 2 (Evans, Cotterill (pen))
West Brom 2 (Bednar (2))
Last win at Sheffield United
21 Feb 2004 – League Division 1
Sheffield United 1 (Moore (o.g.))
West Brom 2 (Moore, Gaardsøe)
Albion’s Record against Sheffield United