After weekend that saw the Baggies come from behind to win a local derby and Leeds United lost a three goal lead, not to mention Villa losing with Greasy Jack missing a penalty, and Wolves conceding undeservedly in the last minute, Albion fans will be bouncing ahead of what is undoubtedly a massive game at the Hawthorns this weekend.
Saturday’s clash with Brentford marks the halfway point of the season, and Slaven Bilić’s side will break through the 50-point barrier should they avoid defeat, but that is a result that cannot be taken for granted.
After a disappointing start which saw them pick up just seven points from their opening seven games, Thomas Frank’s team have been slowly climbing the table and have picked up 24 points from their last 11 games culminating in a 1-0 win over neighbours, Fulham, on Saturday that should really have been much more comfortable given their dominance. The 7-0 victory they recorded over Graeme Jones’s Luton Town may have brought a few smiles to the faces of Baggies fans at the time, but it demonstrates what Brentford are capable of. Furthermore, while they have lost their last two on the road, the previous three, at Wigan, QPR and Swansea, saw them score three goals in each match and pick up the three points on each occasion.
Ollie Watkins has picked up where Neal Maupay left off last season when he moved to Brighton, and only Mitrović and Bowen have scored more Championships goals this season, while their second highest scorer, Bryan Mbeumo, has eight goals which is more than any Baggie has so far managed this campaign. Saïd Benrahma is the Bees’ chief creator having registered four assists in his last four games, according to Transfermarkt and he tops their WhoScored.com ratings with 7.35.
The Bees currently sit in fourth place, some 13 points behind Albion. That may seem like an unassailable lead but, with so long left this season, it is anything but, and the last thing that the Baggies need to do is offer their visitors any encouragement by losing their first home game of the season.
That may seem a slightly pessimistic view of the match and Albion’s position in general, but I guess it is a precursor to my view that, irrespective of what Leeds do at Fulham on Saturday as they play at the same time for the first time in five games, a point would be a decent result. Obviously, the Baggies can, and probably should, take all three points and, with Bielsa’s team visiting third-placed Fulham, there is the chance that a larger gap could be opened up at the top of the table, but I maintain that a point wouldn’t be a bad result in the long term.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Albion should play for a draw – a victory would prove much more damaging to Brentford’s hopes of catching the top two, and would mean that we Baggies fans could sit down to Christmas lunch in the knowledge that we’re top of the table with a club-record Christmas points tally.
Bilić has a few selection decisions to make. There may be a clamour for Charlie Austin to be in the first eleven given his extraordinary impact at St Andrew’s, but I personally feel that Robson-Kanu is a better option from the start. Grady Diangana is likely to be out until the New Year having suffered a hamstring injury at the weekend, so Kyle Edwards is the obvious choice to replace him, and maybe that opens a position for Chris Willock on the bench. It would be good to finally see the other Benfica loanee, although I can understand why we haven’t to date.
Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs is not expected to return until the Boxing Day fixture, and Slav must choose whether to go with Townsend and Ferguson, or Ferguson and Furlong. The latter would perhaps seem more likely with Townsend having struggled a little in recent games, although Bilić obviously has faith in the former Scunthorpe United full back having continued to start him despite some indifferent performances.
With the Bees on good form, it should be an interesting encounter in front of a packed Hawthorns. The club reported that the game was approaching a sell out before Brentford returned some of their allocation, so it’s clear that the football on show at the Shrine is enough to tear people away from some late Christmas shopping. Three points would be a welcome early present for the Baggies faithful.
For much of their history, Brentford have played their football in the lower reaches of the Football League such that this weekend will see only their 15th league meeting with West Bromwich Albion.
However, between 1935 and 1947, a spell of six seasons either side of the Second World War, the Bees were in Division One and first met the Baggies in 1935. On their third visit to the Hawthorns, in April 1938, Brentford were having a much better season than their hosts, sitting in fifth place and still in with a shout of the league title. Albion, meanwhile, were battling against relegation.
The Baggies’ legendary secretary/manager, Fred Everiss, had made some changes to the line up with another legend, Ginger Richardson, who had scored twice at Griffin Park earlier in the season, dropping out of the side in favour of Harry Jones. Teddy Sandford, who had been playing at centre half for around twelve months, moved back to his previous inside left position.
The changes seemed to have a positive effect as the hosts took an early lead after Jones combined with Joe Johnson to set up Jack Mahon for the opening goal after just two minutes. However, within minutes, the visitors were level after Dave McCulloch took advantage of a mix up between Albion defenders Cecil Shaw and Walter Robbins.
There were further chances for both sides before the Baggies were back in front courtesy of Sammy Heaselgrave who scored after 14 minutes.
The hosts had chances to extend their lead but Brentford drew level again in controversial circumstances. Many observers felt that the scorer, Gerry McAloon, was offside but he ran through and made it 2-2 after 24 minutes with a shot that Baggies stopper, Bill Harris, really should have kept out.
Chances to continued to flow at both ends in what was an exciting game, but there were no further additions to the scoreline before the change around.
In the second half, Sandford and Mahon both went close with Joe Johnson’s trickery on the wing causing the Bees defence no end of problems. Albion had a penalty shout turned down before Johnson finally put Albion ahead after 66 minutes, crashing the ball into the net after a pass by Jones.
Four minutes later, Johnson grabbed his second goal heading in Mahon’s cross and the Baggies had some breathing space.
It was just as well as McCulloch reduced the arrears in the closing stages, but many felt that Albion deserved to have won by a much greater margin than the 4-3 result.
For the Bees, it was a costly result. Although they managed to do the double over eventual champions, Arsenal, in the coming weeks, they only won one other point in the remainder of the season and ended up in sixth place.
For Albion, it was a false dawn – they lost five of their remaining seven games and were relegated.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
16 Mar 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Edwards)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
3 Dec 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Barnes)
Brentford 1 (McLeod)
Last win at the Hawthorns
12 Aug 2003 – League Cup 1st Round
West Brom 4 (Hulse (2), Haas, Dobie)
Albion’s Record against Brentford