After losing successive games for the first time this season, the Baggies will be looking to return to winning ways on Saturday as they take on Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.
Albion have won just four times away to Swansea, but three of those have come in the last ten years including a 2-1 victory last season. Five wins from their opening six games saw the Swans lead the early season table but they were unable to maintain that form and the Baggies will be looking to complete successive league doubles over Swansea after hammering the south Wales club at the Hawthorns in December in what was perhaps their best performance of the season.
I’d be surprised if Steve Cooper’s team give Matheus Pereira as much space as they did on that occasion – the Brazilian was outstanding that day scoring one and registering three assists.
Swansea are probably experiencing their worst run of form of the season having won just one of their last eight games. Such is the indifferent form of many of the sides challenging for the play-offs that they remain just four points outside the top six in ninth position, so still have plenty to play for.
Cooper’s task has not been helped by the news that André Ayew and Bersant Celina are both injury doubts. Ayew, in particular, would be a massive miss for the hosts – he is their top scorer with 12 goals and probably their most consistent performer. Celina, on the other hand, is probably best remembered by Baggies fans for his extraordinary penalty miss at the Hawthorns in March last year.
Slaven Bilić will be without Grady Diangana and Ahmed Hegazi but will be able to welcome back Romaine Sawyers following his three match suspension. Kieran Gibbs is also available having completed 90 minutes against Newcastle United on Tuesday, but I expect the Croat to continue with Conor Townsend who had a very impressive February.
Ajayi and Bartley are likely to be partnered at centre back once again, while I expect Dara O’Shea to return to right back. O’Shea didn’t have a great game on Tuesday evening but Bilić prefers to play one more defensive full back. We still haven’t seen anything of January signing, Lee Peltier, and it would be a surprise to see him in the side, although as an ex-Cardiff City player, he may have some additional motivation against the “Jacks”.
Rekeem Harper was particularly impressive on Tuesday, but I expect Sawyers to return to the midfield with Jake Livermore, while the front four of Krovinović, Pereira, Robinson and Robson-Kanu will almost certainly start.
With the majority of those eleven players having enjoyed a full week’s break, I expect Albion to be back on top form and, if they are, I can’t see Swansea City being able to keep them out.
For once, Albion and Leeds are both playing at 3pm on a Saturday with Bielsa’s team hosting Huddersfield Town. Fulham could have narrowed the gap between the top two and the play-off places as they travel to Bristol City for the lunchtime kick off.
Albion need to prove that the defeat to Wigan was just a blip and get back to winning ways at the Liberty Stadium. It’s another difficult match but a refreshed first eleven should have too much for the Swans.
A week short of a decade ago, Roberto di Matteo’s Albion travelled to south Wales to take on Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. Like this campaign, it was match number 37 and the Baggies had 69 points, although ten years ago, Newcastle United led the table with 73 points.
It was Albion’s first ever visit to the Liberty Stadium and the first away meeting with Swansea City in the league since the Division Two play-off semi finals in 1993.
Di Matteo’s team had won their two previous games, at home to Blackpool and Sheffield Wednesday, and were feeling confident to make it a third successive victory as they sought to secure their place in the automatic promotion positions.
It was a tight game and there were only just over ten minutes left when the first major incident of the game occurred. Giles Barnes, who had come on to replace Robert Koren, advanced into the box and looked to go past Swansea right back, Angel Rangel. He pushed the ball to the left of the Spaniard and, as Rangel dangled a foot, Barnes engineered contact and went down. It was enough for referee, Roger East, to point to the spot.
Graham Dorrans took the penalty and lifted it towards the right hand top corner and saw the ball find the net off the post to give the Baggies the lead with what was his eighth penalty of the season, and his second in successive games.
It was Dorrans who set up the clinching goal in the 89th minute. He received the ball in the centre circle, controlled neatly, turned and played a perfect through ball in behind the Swans defence for Ishmael Miller. The former Manchester City man raced forward, rounded the goalkeeper and then had to produce some neat footwork to slot the ball into the net between the retreating Swansea defenders.
It was just the hosts’ third home league defeat of the season as Paolo Sousa’s side missed out on the play-offs by a single point, but would win promotion the following season defeating Reading in the play-off final.
For Albion, that victory proved to be the third of a run of five successive wins and they would remain unbeaten for the remainder of the season finishing 12 points clear of third-placed Nottingham Forest but 11 points behind Newcastle.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
8 Dec 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Ajayi, Pereira, Robson-Kanu, Phillips, Edwards)
Swansea City 1 (Surridge)
Last meeting at Swansea City
28 Nov 2018 – League Championship
Swansea City 1 (McBurnie)
West Brom 2 (Dawson, Hegazi)
Albion’s Record against Swansea City