West Bromwich Albion v Birmingham City; The Hawthorns, Wednesday 14th September 2022, 8pm
After the postponement of football over the weekend following the death of Her Majesty The Queen, Albion return to action on Wednesday with the visit of Birmingham City. It will be the first of two matches ahead of the international break that are starting to look important for Albion’s season. While I don’t expect anyone at the club to be panicking just yet, that the Baggies have recorded just one league victory is a concern that needs to be addressed soon.
There is little doubt, at least in the eyes of most observers, that Steve Bruce’s team are playing much better this season than they were in the final months of the previous campaign, and that their play has deserved more points than they have amassed so far. According to infogol, Albion would be top of the table had teams performed according to their expected goals (xG) statistics with Middlesbrough in second place, but both Bruce and Wilder’s teams are languishing in the bottom half of the table.
The transfer window didn’t end in the way that the club hoped, but it did at least provide the manager with another striking option in the form of Brandon Thomas-Asante and, with a full week to work with the squad for the first time since the start of the season, Bruce should now have a better understanding of how the youngster can fit into the team. I’d be surprised if he starts against Blues unless there are any further injury concerns, but I would certainly expect to see him at some point. It was obviously a fantastic start to his Albion career, and his enthusiasm and attitude will hopefully rub off on his teammates, but let’s not forget we have only seen him play for 20 minutes and it would be wrong to put too much pressure on him just yet.
I would expect Bruce’s main selection decisions will be in the back four. Furlong missed the Burnley game after his partner went into labour while both Bartley and Townsend struggled in that game. I’m not convinced that Kelly will be ready to start on Saturday given his lack of a pre-season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench given the lack of options at centre back. So with O’Shea and Bartley likely to start, the question is whether the manager will look to move away from his usual full backs. As I said in my match report, I didn’t think TGH did enough to win a spot ahead of Furlong and with Ashworth the only real option for Bruce at left back, I would be surprised to see a change there just yet.
Bruce may have a new face to consider after Albion confirmed the signing of Australian international midfielder, Tom Rogic, on a free transfer on Monday. The 29-year-old won six Scottish Premiership titles with Celtic and appears to have been well-liked at Parkhead. The move is still subject to international clearance so it is unclear whether he will be available for selection on Wednesday, but it would seem to be a positive addition to the squad which was looking light in midfield after the departure of Mowatt and the failed deadline day deals.
All in all, the starting eleven have been largely playing well but just haven’t got the results – Elias Burke’s excellent piece in the Athletic highlighted how the Baggies’ failure to get results has been a matter of small margins at both ends of the pitch and, from a defensive point of view, the goals resulting from simple long balls against Wigan and Burnley are a particular issue, but one that has only happened when the first choice centre-back pairing were not in place. Unfortunately, that will be the case at least until after the international break.
John Eustace has endured a difficult start to his managerial career at St Andrew’s – an opening day draw at Luton and a win over Huddersfield Town were followed by an Carabao Cup exit on penalties and one point from the next five league games. A 1-0 win at Preston earlier this month was enough to lift them out of the bottom three, but it could be another long season for Blues fans.
Other than beating Albion to the signing of Manchester United youngster Tahith Chong, and the signing of 35-year-old goalkeeper John Ruddy on a free transfer, Eustace has had to settle for a number of loan signings in the summer with Emmanuel Longelo from West Ham, Hannibal Mejbri from Manchester United, Dion Sanderson from Wolves, Auston Trusty from Arsenal and Przemysław Płacheta from Norwich. US youth international, Trusty, has joined fellow loanee, Sanderson, and Marc Roberts to form what has been a decent back three, at least if their WhoScored.com ratings are to be believed, but it is further forward that City are experiencing problems. They have scored just five goals in eight Championship games this campaign having failed to score in half of them, and Scott Hogan is the only player to have found the net more than once. Their highest xG in any Championship game this season is 1.60 in their 2-1 win against Huddersfield Town, so it is not as if they are struggling to convert chances, they are struggling to create them.
While it is a local derby, it has always been the friendliest of those in the West Midlands and it is one that Albion have held the upper hand in for most of the 21st century. This is a match that Steve Bruce’s team should be winning, and it is one that they really need to. With a tough trip to Norwich now the only other game before the international break, picking up three points on Wednesday night seems to be very important.
The 1-0 win for Blues at St Andrew’s in April, which has to be the worst game of professional football it has been my misfortune to witness, was City’s first win over Albion in ten matches. They haven’t won at the Hawthorns since August 2005 when Geoff Horsfield’s brace for the Baggies was matched by one from Emile Heskey with Jiří Jarošík also scoring for the visitors to secure a 3-2 victory.
That is the only home defeat in this fixture for Albion in the last ten, a record stretching back to a 1-1 draw in September 2000 that has included five victories including a 3-1 win in September 2010 when Roberto di Matteo’s team came from behind thanks to a Scott Dann own goal and further strikes from Peter Odemwingie and Jonas Olsson. That run also included the 2-0 win in March 2005, a match remembered for Zoltán Gera chasing a lost cause to win a corner, leading to Neil Clement’s opening goal as Albion’s Great Escape gathered pace.
The Baggies’ biggest win over Birmingham at the Hawthorns came in February 1926 when a brace from George James and a hat trick from Charlie Wilson saw the hosts to a 5-1 victory. Albion have bettered that at St Andrew’s with 6-0 and 7-1 wins in 1958 and 1960 respectively, while they also beat Small Heath Alliance, as Birmingham’s other club was known at the time, 4-0 in the 1886 FA Cup semi final which was held at the neutral venue, Aston Lower Grounds, the future site of Villa Park.
Albion haven’t beaten Blues at the Hawthorns by more than two goals since 1949 when a Jack Haines double and another from Davy Walsh helped Jack Smith’s team to a 3-0 victory which put them fourth in the early Division One table following promotion the previous season. They ultimately finished 14th while Birmingham City were relegated.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Apr 2022 – League Championship
Birmingham City 1 (Taylor (pen))
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
15 Oct 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Grant)
Birmingham City 0
Albion’s Record against Birmingham City
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