Having claimed all three points at the Hawthorns for the first time in six weeks at the weekend, Albion are back at the Shrine on Wednesday evening for the visit of Bristol City. And this time, Slav will have a full squad to choose from.
Lee Johnson’s team have made themselves very difficult to beat this season. Having lost at home to Leeds United on the opening weekend of the season, the Robins have lost just one league game since, surprisingly going down 3-0 to Graeme Jones’ Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.
Like Albion, they will feel that they have drawn too many games, however, having finished all square on eight occasions – only Coventry City have drawn more games in all four divisions. They find themselves just outside the playoffs in seventh, but level on points with fourth placed Fulham.
Former Villa striker, Andreas Weimann, is City’s top goalscorer this season having found the net six times and, with fifteen goals away from Ashton Gate this season, the Robins are the league’s top goalscorers on the road.
It will certainly be a test for Slaven Bilić’s team as they look to make it four successive victories and stretch their unbeaten run to eight matches.
For the first time for a while, the Croat should have a full squad available for selection. Livermore, Sawyers and Ferguson all return from suspension while Kieran Gibbs is also expected to be available.
The expectation is that Sawyers and Livermore will return to central midfield with Ajayi dropping back into central defence. Hegazi showed on Saturday that he is still someway below his best and needs a few more games under his belt before he can be considered a real challenger for a first choice spot. Whether PL2 football will give him the required test to get back his match sharpness is debatable, but it would be difficult to give him more than a few minutes here and there in the first team, and only then in games that are well won.
In terms of the defence, the left back spot is Bilić’s main quandary. Ferguson had nailed down that spot before his red card, but Gibbs is now fit and will be pushing for a starting place. Conor Townsend had done well in the two away games, but he was the subject of criticism against Wednesday and I’d be surprised to see him keep his place.
Personally, I think having both Gibbs and Furlong in the side may leave Albion a little vulnerable unless they can stagger their forays forward – they are yet to start a game together, so it is unclear as to whether that would work. I expect to see Ferguson return to the starting line up, unless his failure to sign a new contract is causing any issues behind the scenes.
The three behind the striker pick themselves. Unless there are any injury concerns after Saturday, resting players should not be an issue given that Albion do not play again until Monday evening. Charlie Austin’s decisive cameo on Saturday may earn him a recall, but that would be harsh on Robson-Kanu given his record of four goals in his last six games. Kenneth Zohore is fast becoming the forgotten man, but injuries and suspensions will surely see him get a chance at some point in the coming months.
The Baggies were perhaps a little fortunate to get all three points on Saturday, but it perhaps makes up for the previous home game against Charlton when they certainly deserved the win, but they need to keep up their good run of results. Leeds United have mirrored Albion’s last six results since the latter moved to the top of the table and, with Bielsa’s team playing a day earlier, they could move top of the table overnight at least should they claim all three points at Reading. Whatever the Whites’ result, there will be ample motivation for the Baggie Boys to either reclaim top spot, or open up a bigger gap to their nearest challengers.
On New Year’s Day 1979, Albion welcomed Bristol City to a snowy Hawthorns looking to round off a successful festive period with another victory. In the previous week, they had won at both Highbury and Old Trafford, the latter being the infamous 5-3 match, to make it six wins out of six in December 1978.
A layer of snow covered the Hawthorns pitch which didn’t make for a great footballing spectacle, but it was an enthralling encounter. The visitors threatened first when Joe Royle went close, but it was Albion who struck first after ten minutes. Playing in new moulded boots, the Baggies players were coping with the conditions better and it showed when a neat one-two between Bryan Robson and Tony Brown put the future England skipper through on goal. His shot was parried by Robins’ ‘keeper, John Shaw, but Ally Brown was on hand to put away the rebound.
Ten minutes later, the visitors were awarded a penalty when Brendan Batson was adjudged to have handled in the area. Tom Ritchie took the spot kick and the ball struck the post, but referee, Keith Styles, ordered it to be retaken after a snowball, apparently thrown by an Albion player, struck the ball just as Ritchie was about to hit it. Peter Cormack took the second effort and beat Godden easily.
The hosts were soon back into their stride dominating the game, although Godden was called into action once again to save from Gerry Gow after a defensive error. Before the break, however, Albion got themselves back in front when John Wile rose highest to head home a corner from Len Cantello.
The Baggies played some fantastic football in the second half with City camped in their own half as they struggled to repel wave after wave of attacking surges from their hosts. The one surprise is that Albion only added one more goal, but it was a goal to remember.
It started with Brendan Batson who played a neat one-two with Bryan Robson before feeding Tony Brown on the right hand side. Bomber’s cross was laid back by Cantello for Ally Brown to fire home.
It left Albion joint top of Division One, only behind Liverpool on goal difference, and they were now truly in the conversation as title challengers. However, the snowy weather that day was a sign of things to come as a harsh winter was about to grip the country. Albion played only one more league game in January, and no games at all after the 15th of the month.
In fact, the Baggies played just one league game between 13th January and 24th February, which was a 2-1 defeat at Anfield. When coupled with extended runs in the FA and UEFA Cups, it left Albion with 14 games to play in April and May, a schedule which ultimately proved too much for them to maintain their title challenge.
For City, it was in the midst of four successive seasons in Division One in what was their latest foray into the top flight. They finished the 78/79 campaign in 13th place, but were relegated the following season.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 Apr 2019 – League Championship
Bristol City 3 (Brownhill, Weimann, Hunt)
West Brom 2 (Gayle, Rodriguez)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
18 Sep 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Rodriguez (2, 1 pen), Gayle, Barnes)
Bristol City 2 (Kelly, Diedhiou)
Albion’s Record against Bristol City