After ending their winless run with a victory over bottom side, Luton Town, Albion face a much tougher test on Sunday as they travel to London for the fourth time this year to take on Millwall at the New Den.
It is a stadium in which the Baggies are yet to record a victory having not beaten the Lions on their own patch for more than 30 years, and Gary Rowett’s team are enjoying a decent run of form at the moment having not lost in their last six league games including three successive victories at home.
Back in August, Millwall followed up a league draw with a victory in the Carabao Cup in successive matches at the Hawthorns. They were then, of course, managed by Neil Harris who extended his good form against Slaven Bilić’s team when Cardiff beat Albion last week.
Millwall’s home record this season is hugely impressive having lost just twice picking up an excellent 28 points from their 14 home games so far. Their most recent home league defeat was a surprising reverse to struggling Barnsley just before Christmas while Albion’s promotion rivals Leeds United and Brentford both left South Bermondsey without a point this season.
Given those simple facts, Baggies fans should be left in no doubt that this will be a real test for a team whose confidence will remain fragile despite last week’s victory. There are plenty of positives for Albion, however, as their talisman Matheus Pereira will once again be available as, for the first time, will new signings Kamil Grosicki and Lee Peltier.
Bilić finds himself with some decisions to make as to who will make up his attacking quartet, which will no doubt have been shaped by a full week’s training. We all expect Pereira to regain his place in the number ten position, even though it will be a little harsh on Filip Krovinović, but the other three places are up for grabs.
Hal Robson-Kanu’s performances this season mark him out as Albion’s best option as the central striker. Callum Robinson can play through the middle, but the team’s style demands a player that can hold up the ball and bring others into play, and I’m not sure that is in Robinson’s locker. His debut performance would probably make him the favourite for the left sided position while Matt Phillips may well be under threat from Grosicki despite his good performance against Luton.
My guess would be that we will see HRK with Robinson, Pereira and Phillips behind, with Grosicki on the bench. There may also be a battle for one of those seven spots on the sideline with Edwards, Krovinović, Zohore and Austin all battling the Pole for one of probably three attacking substitutes.
I’d be surprised to see a change from Sawyers and Livermore in the middle, or anyone other than Ajayi and Bartley in the centre of defence, but the full backs could be interesting. Townsend would seem to be the obvious option on the left, although Peltier has played there for all his previous clubs on many occasions, while Bilić surprised many by preferring O’Shea to Furlong at right back last weekend.
I’m not sure that the omission of Furlong is a decision I agree with, but it is perhaps an attempt to provide greater height in the box to counter Albion’s propensity for conceding from set pieces of late. Furlong obviously offers more from an attacking point of view, and I’ve never thought of him as particularly vulnerable in the air, so I would like to see him start.
Millwall’s principle threats come from Jed Wallace and striking duo Tom Bradshaw and Matt Smith. Wallace, who typically plays as a right sided attacking midfielder, or the right sided player in a front three, is the Lions’ top scorer with ten goals having also registered nine assists. He has been one of the key reasons behind Millwall’s good season and will certainly keep Townsend occupied, assuming he plays.
Matt Smith needs no introduction to Baggies fans as it was he who scored the Lions’ equaliser in the league match at the Hawthorns in August. It was the first of seven goals he has scored this season, and one of three he has scored as a substitute. Rowett tends to switch between a 4-4-2 and a 3-4-3 formation with Smith a substitute when he goals three up front. Tom Bradshaw has started most games this season, with Jón Dadi Bödvarsson and Aiden O’Brien also rotating amongst their front three/four, and Bradshaw is Millwall’s second highest league scorer with eight. He also has two cup goals including one at the Hawthorns in their Carabao Cup victory.
One player that could be influential is Ryan Woods who joined on loan from Stoke last month. The central midfielder found opportunities limited under Michael O’Neill and made the switch to south London in search of regular football. He has started well at the New Den and has already completed three full 90 minutes, which is as many as he managed at Stoke in the first half of the season.
Millwall have certainly proved to be difficult to beat and Albion will need to be somewhere near their best if they are to emerge with all three points. A win would certainly be a fantastic result and further signs that the Baggies can start another good run, but a draw would be a decent result.
In April 1987, West Bromwich Albion was not a happy club. Relegated from Division One the previous season, hopes of an immediate return to the top flight were a distant dream.
Somehow, Ron Saunders was still in charge at the Hawthorns – he had moved from St Andrew’s just over 12 months earlier as the board attempted to find someone who would be able to save Albion from the drop. In the end, both clubs managed by Saunders were relegated.
By the time Albion travelled to Cold Blow Lane in late April, they were more at risk of exiting the division in the wrong direction than by promotion. Play-offs had been introduced for the first time that season although the format was slightly different than today. The team that finished third bottom of the higher division would play against the third, fourth and fifth-placed teams from the one below. At start of play on 25th April 1987, the Baggies were in 16th place just three points above 20th-placed Sunderland in that dreaded play-off spot.
In mid-December, Albion had been in fifth place looking well placed to challenge for these new-fangled play-offs, but a run of just three wins in nineteen games, including an ignominious FA Cup exit at the hands of Fourth Division, Swansea City, had seen them plummet down the table. With just five games remaining, the Baggies needed points, and quickly.
Millwall’s youthful line up included a 21-year-old Teddy Sheringham who had scored 16 goals that season, showing signs of the form that would fire the Lions to promotion the following season.
The Albion side included a few remnants of the team that had been relegated from the top flight, such as Martyn Bennett, Barry Cowdrill and Clive Whitehead, and a few names that were still to make their names in an Albion shirt such as goalkeeper, Stuart Naylor, winger, Colin Anderson, and striker, Don Goodman, who had joined the club the month before as a replacement for Garth Crooks.
One Albion striker who was not in the side that day was George Reilly. Having been injured for the first half of the season, he had returned to the side in January but was injured once again for the trip to Millwall. Scotsman, Bobby Williamson, was deputising, the short stocky forward offering something very different to the lanky Reilly.
It was Williamson who scored the opening goal of the game on the 18th minute, but missed an easier chance twenty minutes later. Clive Whitehead also missed a glorious opportunity to double Albion’s lead as they bossed the first half.
It proved to be a backs-to-the-wall performance from the visitors after the break, however, with Kevin Steggles putting in an excellent performance as a sweeper behind the centre back pairing of Martyn Bennett and Paul Dyson. The side’s recent performances had been littered with defensive errors but, at the Den, they stood firm although Teddy Sheringham went close late on.
It was a massive three points for Albion, and they repeated the scoreline at home to Portsmouth the following week to finally put an end to their relegation fears.
Saunders survived the summer, but a poor start to the following season saw him replaced by Ron Atkinson for his second spell at the Hawthorns.
Albion haven’t managed to win away to Millwall since.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
13 Aug 2019 – League Cup 1st Round
West Brom 1 (Austin)
Millwall 2 (Bradshaw, O’Brien)
Last meeting at Millwall
6 Apr 2019 – League Championship
Millwall 2 (Tunnicliffe, Hegazi (o.g.))
West Brom 0
22 Sep 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Gayle, Gibbs)
Last win at Millwall
25 Apr 1987 – League Division 2
West Brom 1 (Williamson)
Albion’s Record against Millwall