Norwich City visit the Hawthorns this weekend for a crucial fixture in the race for automatic promotion. There may be another 19 games after this weekend, but the winner of this match will take a huge amount of momentum into the coming weeks, and Darren Moore will be delighted to have the pick of a fully fit squad.
Victory for the Baggies would see them move above the Canaries and would extend Norwich’s run of winless games to five. That run includes the disappointing home defeat by Portsmouth in the FA Cup last weekend. Farke made eight changes to the side that drew at Brentford on New Year’s Day, lost skipper, Grant Hanley, to red card after 15 minutes but were perhaps unfortunate to lose the game in stoppage time to the League One leaders.
Albion, of course, were victorious at Carrow Road earlier in the season in what was the Baggies’ first victory of the season but, while that is one of four home defeats for the Canaries this season, they have lost just once on the road in the Championship all season, a 2-1 reverse at Bramall Lane the week after that loss to Albion.
It has been a remarkable run of form for Norwich since August. Having succumbed to defeat in three of their opening five games, Daniel Farke’s team lost just once in the next 21 games until the dramatic defeat at home to Derby County in their last game of 2018.
During that run, Norwich have developed a habit of scoring late goals and have, in fact, scored more goals in the last fifteen minutes (20) than anyone else in the league. Albion are second in that particular table with 18, so I’d advise anyone who normally leaves a few minutes early to stick around until the final whistle for this game.
Darren Moore will hopefully have a fully fit and well rested squad to choose from for Saturday’s game. His calculated gamble in resting the majority of his first team for the cup match paid off in not only allowing key players more time to recover from the gruelling holiday scheduled, but also in enabling some of the younger members of the squad to shine.
Rekeem Harper and Sam Field certainly stood out against Wigan and will have given Big Dave food for thought, particularly with Jake Livermore suspended for a further three games. Either would offer some energy and creativity in the middle of the park, although it is perhaps the younger man, 18-year-old Harper, who would offer the better option.
He became only the second Premier League player born in the 2000s when he made is first team debut against Bournemouth in August 2017, and he will be keen to add to his one league appearance this season in the coming weeks.
Another player who caught the eye on Saturday was Wes Hoolahan. The 36-year-old Irishman was played as a false nine against Wigan and, while I don’t think that the tactic itself worked all that well, Hoolahan was very good until his age caught up with him after about an hour. He is, of course, a Canaries legend having been at Carrow Road for a decade until being released last summer, and I’m sure he would be keen to show Daniel Farke that he was wrong to let him go.
The Wigan match also saw Albion’s latest loan signing, Mason Holgate, make his debut. The Doncaster-born England U21 international had a solid game at right back and Moore will have to choose between him and the incumbent, Tosin Adarabioyo. The Everton man is probably a more natural full back, but Big Dave has been loyal to his players this season and I don’t think that it’s a given that Tosin will be dropped.
Other performances from last weekend that cannot be overlooked are those of Bakary Sako and Jonathan Leko. Both did well and, while Sako’s first Albion goal should give him confidence, the fact that he didn’t add to it in the second half will be a disappointment given Baggies’ dominance. Leko also proved that he is a worthy option but I would be staggered to see anything other than a Rodriguez-Gayle-Barnes front three against Norwich assuming all three are fit and available.
Finally, a special mention for Chris Brunt who was excellent in the middle of the park. I thought Moore’s team selection was the perfect mix of youth and experience and the skipper was instrumental in the overall success of the side, running the game in the first half when one or two of the youngsters were struggling to settle. Brunty always prefers to play the brave ball, the one to open up the opposition defence, and as that type of pass is, by its very nature, less likely to be completed, he often gets criticised for giving the ball away. That is to underestimate how much his approach makes Albion tick. I did wonder earlier this season whether Brunt’s time was drawing to a close but, while I maintain he doesn’t have the legs to play in a two, he has played very well in recent weeks and I believe he still has a massive part to play this season.
Ultimately, the win over Wigan was a perfect tonic following the defeat at Blackburn and Albion will be keen to continue their run of good form. It should not be forgotten that the reverse on New Year’s Day is the Baggies’ only defeat in the last eleven games in all competitions and with the Canaries on a run of four games without a win, Darren Moore’s team should approach the game full of confidence.
Norwich City have won on five of their last seven visits to the Hawthorns with three of those victories coming in the Premier League, but the last meeting in the second tier resulted in a victory for the Baggies. Ishmael Miller and Kevin Phillips were both on the mark as Tony Mowbray’s side ran out 2-0 winners in October 2007.
Prior to that run, Albion had lost just one of the previous eight meetings with the Canaries at the Shrine, a run that started in December 1996 under Alan Buckley. On that occasion, both Ian Hamilton and Andy Hunt scored twice while Paul Peschisolido also found the net in a 5-1 victory.
That is the Baggies’ joint record win over Norwich along with a Texaco Cup victory back in August 1974. On that occasion, there were five different scorers in stripes with Tony Brown, Ally Brown, Lyndon Hughes, Willie Johnston and David Shaw all finding the net for Don Howe’s team.
The Canaries’ best result at the Hawthorns was their visit prior to that 5-1 thumping in 1996. In November 1995, Andy Hunt actually opened the scoring for Alan Buckley’s team, but Norwich, under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill, were back on level terms by half time through Robert Fleck – they pushed on after the break with additional goals from Keith Scott, Neil Adams and Ashley Ward to record a 4-1 victory.
One other notable meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns was on 29th April 1939. It took place on the same day as the FA Cup final and, as Portsmouth were demolishing Wolves at Wembley, Albion set about doing the same to the Canaries. Ginger Richardson and George Banks both scored twice as the Baggies won 4-2 in what proved to be their last official league fixture for seven years. Although the 1939-40 season did kick off, those results were expunged when World War II broke out and league football did not restart until August 1946.
I’m sure there’ll be goals in this game and I’d be surprised if either ‘keeper keeps a clean sheet, but I fancy Albion to nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Aug 2018 – League Championship
Norwich City 3 (Rhodes, Pukki, Hanley)
West Brom 4 (Rodriguez (2, 1 pen), Barnes, Robson-Kanu)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
19 Mar 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Norwich City 1 (Brady)
Last win at the Hawthorns
22 Dec 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Gera, Lukaku)
Norwich City 1 (Snodgrass)
Albion’s Record against Norwich City