Albion may be top of the Championship after nine games, but Leeds United remain the clear favourites for the title and promotion as Slaven Bilić takes his side to Elland Road for an early season top-of-the-table clash. It will be another tough test for the Baggies and, should they pass it and come away unbeaten, it will be a significant statement of their promotion credentials.
The statistics for Marco Bielsa’s side are impressive averaging more than 60% possession, 82% pass accuracy and almost 18 shots on goal per game, but they have won just one of their last four games and have only won one game at Elland Road this season.
It could, therefore, be a good time to play the promotion favourites. They are not quite firing on all cylinders, particularly at home, while Albion are coming into the match off the back of their best performance of the campaign.
Last season, this fixture came at the end of a tough month for Darren Moore’s side and Leeds blew Albion away from the first whistle. Bilić needs to ensure that his team are switched on from the off and are not intimidated with what will be a hostile atmosphere. The first job will be to quieten the crowd!
One that we know is that Bielsa’s teams will press hard, and the Baggies have looked at their most vulnerable when trying to break the press. How they approach this will be a key factor in determining the outcome of the match.
The performance at QPR was hugely encouraging. Defensively solid, Albion first ensured that the hosts didn’t get a sniff of an opening and then, in the second half, they started to dominate possession and it was a matter of time before they took the lead. A similar approach is exactly what is required on Tuesday evening, although United represent a much sterner challenge than Rangers.
There were one or two moments on Saturday when Albion did lose the ball close to their own goal, and I feel that Leeds are much more likely to punish such mistakes. It may seem sensible to keep the same starting line up, assuming everyone is fit, but I would be tempted to start with Hal Robson-Kanu in place of Charlie Austin.
Not only does Austin still look less than 100% fit and may not be up to three games in the week, but I also think that Albion should be prepared to go long more frequently, and I think HRK is much better at receiving and retaining the high ball.
Bilić may also choose to switch the wingers around – Edwards has done really well off the bench of late and perhaps deserves a start, but it’s not as if either Phillips or Diangana have done anything wrong.
The group does seem to have developed a really good spirit and I feel that whatever players start the match, they will be capable of pushing Leeds hard and getting something from the game, providing they can deal with the hosts’ high press.
This match certainly represents Albion’s toughest match so far, but they are in great shape to meet the challenge and push that unbeaten start into double figures.
In 1965, the Football League Cup was very much in its infancy having been established in the 1960/61 season as a mid-week competition to take advantage of the relatively recent introduction of floodlights. In those early seasons, entry to the competition was not compulsory and some clubs, including Albion, Arsenal, Wolves and Spurs, did not enter the competition straight away.
Therefore, when Jimmy Hagan took Albion to Elland Road for a League Cup tie in October 1965, it was only their second ever match in the competition. Having beaten Walsall 3-1 in Round Two, the Baggies were drawn away to Don Revie’s Leeds United in the next round.
In those days, the idea of resting players for the cup competitions would have been considered bizarre, but Revie made eight changes to the team that had started their previous game, a 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday, albeit a number were down to injury. Whether the gruff Scotsman was ahead of his time in terms of squad rotation is not clear, but Leeds were fighting on many fronts that season sitting third in the Division One and have successfully progressed to the second round of the Inter City Fairs Cup thanks to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Torino.
Whatever the reasons, the team that Albion faced on 13th October 1965 was without many of Leeds’ established stars such as Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter and Peter Lorimer who had all started the league game at the weekend.
As for Jimmy Hagan, he made just one change from the side that had beaten Sunderland 4-1 the previous weekend, replacing the great Graham Williams at left back with Ray Fairfax.
It was, therefore, perhaps no surprise when Albion took an early two goal lead with goals from Tony Brown, who had celebrated his 20th birthday just ten days earlier, and John Kaye, who was celebrating an England call up.
There were only 20 minutes on the clock when the visitors made it three. Clive Clark and Kaye combined to set up Jeff Astle to fire home. Only four minutes later, it was 4-0 when Clarke headed in a cross from Tony Brown.
The game was perhaps over as a contest but Albion became a bit sloppy and allowed the hosts to get a foothold in the game just before the break when centre half, Paul Madeley, one of the three players to have played in the previous match for Leeds, made it 1-4.
Revie obviously had some strong words in the dressing room at half time and Leeds started the second period with more purpose. They created a number of chances but their finishing was poor with Storrie finally bringing a good save out of Dick Shepherd midway through the half.
An error from Doug Fraser presented the ball to Rod Belfitt who reduced the arrears with 15 minutes left, but Albion were good enough to hold on and progress to Round Five.
Albion, of course, went on to win the competition at their first attempt beating Coventry City (6-1 in a replay), Aston Villa (3-1), and Peterborough United (6-3 over two legs) to reach a two-legged final against West Ham United. After a 2-1 defeat at Upton Park, the Baggies won 4-1 at the Hawthorns to win their first major trophy since 1954.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
1 Mar 2019 – League Championship
Leeds United 4 (Hernández, Bamford (2), Alioski)
West Brom 0
10 Nov 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Robson-Kanu, Phillips, Barnes, Gayle)
Leeds United 1 (Hernández)
Last win at Leeds United
20 Jan 2007 – League Championship
Leeds United 2 (Flo, Thompson)
West Brom 3 (Greening, Kamara (2))
Albion’s Record against Leeds United