West Bromwich Albion v Preston North End; The Hawthorns, Thursday 29th December 2022, 8pm
Carlos Corberán and his team will be hoping to prove that the Coventry City defeat was a mere blip with another win on Thursday when Ryan Lowe’s Preston North End are the visitors. Two wonderful goals from Matt Phillips and Brandon Thomas-Asante capped an impressive away win at Bristol City on Boxing Day, and team will be full of confidence that they can leapfrog their opponents in the Championship table with victory in their last game of 2023.
The Lilywhites will, of course, have other ideas and their away form gives them plenty of reason for optimism. While they have lost their last three games at Deepdale, only Sheffield United have a better record on the road this season with Preston picking up 21 points from their 11 games on their travels. They won 4-1 at local rivals Blackburn Rovers on their last trip and the only teams to beat North End away from home this campaign are Blackpool and Bristol City.
Despite their opponents impressive record on the road, I’m sure the Albion players will be feeling confident following another excellent performance at Ashton Gate. It was a match that Albion largely controlled once Phillips had given them an early lead and, although the hosts had a decent spell just before half time, it was a lead that the Baggies never looked like squandering.
Corberán made just two changes from the Coventry match, bringing in Dike and Molumby for Rogić and Thomas-Asante, with the latter pair coming off the bench to combine for Albion’s second goal. As I have said previously, the availability of five substitutes makes the game more about sixteen players rather than eleven, something that Corberán has been ably demonstrating given that five goals have been scored by substitutes in the last four games.
With only three days having passed since the last match, the Spaniard may opt to tweak the starting line up a little should any of his players show signs of fatgue. Semi Ajayi is perhaps the most obvious option that hasn’t been used in recent matches, although having not played since August, Corberán may opt to use him from the bench before giving him a start. However, he has not seemed keen to change his defensive set up mid game – the only times he has done so was in withdrawing Townsend and Pieters at Sunderland, and swapping Pieters for Townsend at QPR.
Diangana may feel a little aggrieved to have not started a game since the win at QPR in early November. However, as Chris Hall pointed out in the excellent Albion Analysis podcast, it seems that Corberán likes to keep the game compact early on with players like Grady more suited to when he wants pull play wider to stretch the opposition later in games. The former West Ham winger is, perhaps, the one player not to have benefited from Steve Bruce’s departure having started all but one league game under Albion’s former boss this season, but I still think he will have a huge part to play this season.
While it may be more likely that we will see a few more changes, I would not be at all surprised to see just the minor tweaks we have become accustomed to – BTA for Dike and Rogić for Swift would be entirely logical and expected, and that could be all we see.
One player who seems likely to miss out is Kyle Bartley – having been expected to be fit before Christmas, news emerged this week that he is to undergo a scan to identify the source of some pain he has been feeling in training. With O’Shea and Pieters performing well and Ajayi now fit, it is less of an issue for the team, but I’m sure the player himself will be frustrated having put in some impressive performances before the World Cup break.
With Jed Wallace having made himself undroppable, another player who has done the same in recent weeks is Okay Yokuşlu. WhoScored.com gave him a spectacular rating of 9.04 for his man-of-the-match display at Ashton Gate, his third such accolade this season bringing him level with the aforementioned Wallace. With displays like that, you can understand why Corberán opted to play him as the sole defensive midfielder at the CBS Arena, but I think that was the wrong opposition for that experiment and I do think he benefits massively from having the legs of Jayson Molumby alongside him. Preston’s midfield pairing of Ledson and Whiteman is particularly effective and I would hope that Corberán will stick with the two defensive midfielders once again.
Preston boss, Ryan Lowe, welcomed back Alan Browne, Ali McCann and Emil Riis Jakobsen, who scored the winner in the match between the sides at Deepdale in October, back from injury on Boxing Day and Andrew Hughes is also back in training. Robby Brady, Sean Maguire and Troy Parrott are all still sidelined, however. Riis Jakobsen is the Lilywhites’ joint top scorer with five along with Ched Evans who scored twice in their last away game at Blackburn. Those two will be competing for the centre forward spot on Thursday.
While Albion will be confident, the visitors will be glad to be back on the road having suffered back-to-back home defeats including a 2-1 reverse to bottom club Huddersfield Town on Monday. Neither side has drawn a game since early October, so it would seem safe to bank on a positive result for one of the teams. Given their current form, I fancy Albion to make it seven wins in eight games and edge closer to the top six.
Albion and Preston North End have a very long history dating back to their first meeting in the semi-final of the 1887 FA Cup at Trent Bridge, which the Baggies won 3-1. The clubs famously met in the final the following year when Albion were again victorious, somewhat against the odds, claiming their first FA Cup win. In fact, the Throstles were the only team to beat North End in either the FA Cup or the Football League until they lost to Aston Villa in September 1889. Preston won all their FA Cup games prior to the 1887 semi final but were disqualified for professionalism before reaching any of the finals, and they also won the first Football League championship without losing the game in 1888/89 and completed the double by winning the FA Cup without conceding a goal.
Preston’s biggest ever win in West Bromwich came in that first league season when the Lilywhites completed the league double at Stoney Lane on Boxing Day 1888 with a 5-0 victory firmly securing revenge for the cup final defeat. Their biggest win at the Hawthorns was 3-0 in February 1922.
Albion didn’t register a league victory over Preston until December 1893 when an Oliver Norman brace secured a 2-0 win at Stoney Lane, the Baggies only win in 19 meetings following that FA Cup final. Since then, however, Albion have had the better of the results such that they now hold the overall edge with 49 wins to North End’s 41 from 117 encounters. Albion’s biggest win came in January 1960 when an own goal from Garbutt Richardson and strikes from Alec Jackson, Derek Kevan and Ronnie Allen helped the Baggies to a 4-0 victory at the Hawthorns.
The Baggies were enjoying a seven match unbeaten run against Preston until January this year when goals from Emil Riis Jakobsen and Cameron Archer earned the visitors a 2-0 win at the Hawthorns, the Lilywhites’ only win away to Albion since 1973. They followed up with a 1-0 win at Deepdale earlier this season.
|Preston North End||W||W||L||W||L||L|
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 Oct 2022 – League Championship
Preston North End 1 (Riis Jakobsen)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
26 Jan 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Preston North End 2 (Riis Jakobsen, Archer)
25 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Robson-Kanu, Livermore)
Preston North End 0
Albion’s Record against Preston North End
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