Having faced three of the other sides in the top seven in successive games, Albion face a side in the bottom three at the Hawthorns on Saturday. However, no side in this division can be taken lightly, and the Baggies will need to be at their best if they are to complete a near perfect February.
Wigan Athletic may be in the relegation zone but they are unbeaten in their last four games culminating in an impressive 3-0 victory at Reading on Wednesday evening. They are fighting for their lives in what is becoming an ever-tighter basement battle and Albion cannot afford to be complacent even given their current form.
I’m sure that Slaven Bilić will ensure that his team are appropriately prepared, particularly given recent history. The Baggies’ two home defeats came against sides currently just sitting outside of the relegation places, and it was the draw at Wigan in December, when the Croat opted to rest both Pereira and Diangana, that kicked off Albion’s poor run of form.
Furthermore, Paul Cook’s team are currently enjoying their best run of form this season. Starting with a victory over Sheffield Wednesday at the DW Stadium at the end of January, the Latics have lost just one of their last seven games, a run that included a 1-0 win at Elland Road, and picked up 14 points in the process, a two points-per-game average that is more usually associated with sides challenging for promotion.
One of Wigan’s most important players is 6’5″ striker, Kieffer Moore. The man who could be partnering Hal Robson-Kanu in Wales’ Euro 2020 campaign has scored three goals in his last three games as the Latics’ form has picked up. Cook, who has generally preferred to play an attractive passing style, has sacrificed aesthetics for results of late as Wigan have switched to a more direct style that suits Moore’s attributes. The Albion back line should expect an aerial bombardment.
The Baggies rarely panic when going behind as is demonstrated by their position at the top of the table of points gained from losing positions, a remarkable 24. Meanwhile, Wigan have the worst record in the division when scoring first, winning on just 7 of the 19 occasions it has happened.
One key feature of Albion’s fantastic February has been consistency of selection. Bilić has made just one unforced change, to bring Hegazi in for Bartley for the trip to Bristol City, and I expect that to continue for this fixture. Assuming everyone is fit, I expect the side who started on Tuesday evening to line up against Wigan.
It has emerged this week that it was Livermore’s idea that he play in the more defensive midfield role in Sawyers’ absence. Bilić was planning for Harper to sit deeper, possibly because the skipper had done so well in a more advanced role in recent weeks, but Livermore recognised that Harper’s attributes would be more suited to a freer role further forward, and it was a decision that paid off. And, of course, Livermore still managed to be in the box to score Albion’s vital second goal.
One other story that exploded on the twittersphere this week was Austin’s apparent show of anger on leaving the pitch at the end of the game. The Albion striker is reportedly upset on how this has been interpreted and is not, in fact, unhappy in his role in the team. Obviously he would like to be playing more minutes, but he remains a very positive influence in the dressing room and popular amongst his teammates. His obvious joy in the celebrations of HRK’s second goal at Ashton Gate shown in this picture is not the sign of a frustrated player.
I’m certainly of the view that it is a happy camp at the Hawthorns and all members of the squad, including those who aren’t getting minutes, are all pulling in the same direction. I’m sure many of the fringe players will get a chance in the Cup match on Tuesday night, but they are all ready to step up if needs be.
As for Saturday’s game, it should not be taken lightly and the fans need to continue with the fantastic support that we have seen in recent weeks and help drive the team forward to another three points.
Saturday will see just the 20th league meeting between Albion and Wigan Athletic with the Latics not playing their first season of league football until 1978/79.
The first 30 years in the league was one of gradual progress for Wigan as they won four promotions and suffered just one relegation, in 1992/93, culminating in that remarkable assent to the Premier League in 2005. Thanks to Dave Whelan’s financial backing, they confounded all predictions by staying in the top flight for eight successive seasons before that topsy-turvey season in 2012/13 when they suffered relegation but also won the FA Cup beating Manchester City in the final.
After making the play-offs in the first season back in the Championship, the Latics have struggled since and are now battling against relegation to the third tier for what will be the third time in six seasons.
Albion have rarely found life easy against Wigan. Four of the seven victories that the Baggies have recorded over the Latics in all competitions have been by the odd goal and only once, when Albion were on the way to promotion from Division Two in 1993, have they scored more than three goals in this fixture. That was a 5-1 victory in what was the Baggies final home fixture of the regular season when Bob Taylor bagged a brace.
Another memorable fixture in a promotion run in was in 2004 when both clubs were vying for a place in the Premier League. In a tight game, Paul Jewell’s Latics took the lead with seventeen minutes left with an Andy Liddel spot kick. Four minutes later, Wigan ‘keeper, John Filan, was penalised for tripping Hughes as he raced through on goal and referee, Howard Webb, sent him off and Hughes himself equalised from the resultant penalty. With the man advantage, the hosts pressed for a winner and, deep into stoppage time, Tommy Gaardsøe popped up to earn a vital three points.
The Baggies only won one of the five home games against Wigan in the Premier League, but won both meetings at the Shrine last season, 2-0 in the league on Boxing Day and 1-0 in the Cup a week later when Bakary Sako scored his only goal for the Baggies.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Dec 2019 – League Championship
Wigan Athletic 1 (Johnstone (o.g.))
West Brom 1 (Austin)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
5 Jan 2019 – FA Cup 3rd Round
West Brom 1 (Sako)
Wigan Athletic 0
5 Jan 2019 – FA Cup 3rd Round
West Brom 1 (Sako)
Wigan Athletic 0
Albion’s Record against Wigan Athletic