After seeing the club announce four deadline day signings to following their opening day victory at the City Ground, the Albion faithful will surely be excited to see the Bilić era get underway at the Hawthorns.
With a Carabao Cup tie to follow against the same opponents on Tuesday evening, Saturday’s Championship fixture is the first of a double header against Millwall and Albion will be firm favourites to claim maximum points once again.
After a frustrating week of rumour and conjecture, with the potential return of Dwight Gayle dangled agonisingly in front of Albion fans once more, Deadline Day proved to be highly productive for Baggies Sporting Director, Luke Dowling, albeit last season’s top scorer still proved to be a financial stretch too far. Slaven Bilić welcomes four new faces into his squad, all of whom are attacking in nature.
Of the four, Charlie Austin was the only permanent signing on Thursday joining from Southampton for a fee believed to be in the region of £4m. The 30-year-old striker has scored almost 150 goals in his senior career and has an impressive record in the Championship scoring at a rate of one goal every 148 minutes.
Joining Austin are three young attacking players all who have made the move to the Hawthorns on season-long loans. West Ham’s 21-year-old Grady Diangana was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but grew up in Woolwich from the age of four. He can play on either wing and will provide back up to both Kyle Edwards and Matt Phillips.
Another 21-year-old, Chris Willock, started his footballing career at Arsenal but made the move to Benfica in 2017. He is yet to make an appearance for the first team but has been a regular in the Benfica B team that plays in the Portuguese second division scoring 11 times last season playing predominantly as a left winger.
The final signing of the day also came in from Portugal. 23-year-old Brazilian, Matheus Pereira, has moved from Benfica’s main rivals, Sporting Clube de Portugal. Over his five years at the club, he has scored six goals in 27 appearances for Sporting but has spent the last two seasons on loan at Chaves in 2017/18 and last season at FC Nürnberg.
I’d be surprised if any of the four are in the starting line-up for Saturday’s game but I’d expect one or two to be on the bench and all could feature when the Lions return on Tuesday.
Like Albion, Millwall kicked off their campaign with a victory, beating Preston North End at the New Den. It was just their second home league win of 2019, with the other coming at the Baggies’ expense in April. Of Neil Harris’s eight signings this summer, three of them are goalkeepers. Frank Fielding, signed from Bristol City, suffered an injury on the opening day and was replaced by Bartosz Bialkowski at half-time. That injury led Harris to sign a third ‘keeper this week and former Baggie, Luke Steele, is likely to be on the bench at the Hawthorns having joined on loan from Nottingham Forest.
Other new signings that readers may recognise are striker, Matt Smith, signed from QPR, Connor Mahoney who moved from Bournemouth having spent last season on loan at St Andrew’s, and former Wolves player, Icelandic international, Jón Daði Böðvarsson, who was signed from Reading. All three will certainly improve the Lions’ attacking options which is much needed if they are to avoid relegation once again – they barely managed a goal a game last season.
Bilić will have both Hal Robson-Kanu and Chris Brunt available this weekend with both players having served suspensions for the match against Forest. I’d be surprised if either makes the starting line up assuming that Albion stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked well at the City Ground.
Albion’s head coach has hinted that we would like to play two strikers, so he may decide to switch things around. Adding another attacking player into the mix would most likely leave just two in the middle of the park and, given that it would be difficult to leave either Krovinović or Sawyers out of the side after their performances last week, it would give the former Brentford man a lot of defensive work to do.
In all honesty, I’m expecting very few changes from last weekend in terms of the starting line-up, but Bilić could name a very attacking bench that would offer a multitude of options should the visitors prove difficult to break down.
While it may not be the most attractive fixture to open the Hawthorns campaign, I’m sure there will be a great sense of anticipation and a feeling of positivity from the home fans following last week’s result and a successful transfer window. It’s just down to Slav and the boys to produce the result we all crave.
The match I’d like to go back in time to look at ahead of this weekend’s fixture took place almost ninety years ago on Boxing Day 1929. At that time, it was common for clubs would play both fixtures against one another back to back and, over the festive period, it was often the case that one fixture would be on Christmas morning and the return on Boxing Day afternoon.
And so it was for West Bromwich Albion and Millwall in 1929. The Baggies team travelled down to south east London for a match on Christmas morning at the Den, a match that the hosts won 2-1. The following day, both teams were in the Black Country for the return fixture.
The Lions’ home win had moved them away from the danger zone in Division Two up into 17th place, although they were level on points with third-bottom Bristol City. The Baggies, meanwhile, were in a relatively comfortable 12th place albeit only three points ahead of Millwall.
Albion took an early lead on Boxing Day, when Joe Carter nodded home Tommy Glidden’s cross past Lions’ ‘keeper Joe Lansdale. Twenty minutes later, Glidden himself was on the scoresheet when he turned home the ball after Ginger Richardson’s shot had been blocked. The home crowd had barely stopped celebrating that goal when Richardson, himself, made it three with a terrific shot.
The visitors started to come back into the game before the break and Albion’s Joseph Evans had to clear Wilf Phillips’ shot off the line before Jimmy Adams saved well from Jimmy Forsyth.
In the second half, Forsyth did manage to reduce the arrears in the 68th minute but it was a brief respite for the Londoners as they went down to ten men when Billy Bryant had to withdraw due to injury. Joe Carter made it 4-1 with twenty minutes to go as he scored his second of the match and a few minutes after that, Glidden claimed another assist when his cross was turned home by Stan Wood. Five minutes before the end, Glidden made it two goals and two assists for the match as he scored his second to make the final result 6-1.
The result put Millwall back in the bottom three but for Albion, it kick-started a remarkable run of results at the Hawthorns. Two days later, Wolves were hammered 7-3 and in their following three home fixtures, Albion scored another thirteen goals to make it a remarkable 26 goals in five home games.
The Baggies’ away form, however, was not good enough for them to challenge for promotion that season, although a run of seven straight victories at the end of the campaign, including another seventeen goals in four home games, was a sign of things to come the following season. 1930/31 was, of course, that remarkable campaign in which Albion achieved that unique double of promotion and the FA Cup.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
6 Apr 2019 – League Championship
Millwall 2 (Tunnicliffe, Hegazi (o.g.))
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
22 Sep 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Gayle, Gibbs)
Albion’s Record against Millwall