West Bromwich Albion v Cardiff City; The Hawthorns, Wednesday 17th August 2022, 8pm
As this relentless early season continues, Albion play their fifth game in nineteen days on Wednesday evening with Steve Morison’s Cardiff City the visitors to the Hawthorns. Steve Bruce’s team have played well in all games, with the opening half of the first game the only real poor spell, but results have not been forthcoming in the league and the two home games this week are a chance to kick start their season in earnest.
The opening two games were expected to be tough, and a point in each was a decent return albeit the performance against Watford deserved all three. Blackburn have started well under Tomasson and proved to be a tough nut to crack and Albion’s next opponents, Cardiff City, have also begun the campaign in form beating Norwich City and Birmingham City in their opening two home league games. Meanwhile, Saturday’s visitors, Hull City, are currently in second place in the table making it a decidedly tricky five game opening spell for Steve Bruce’s team.
Bluebirds boss, Steve Morison, has made some astute signings this summer signing Jaden Philogene from Aston Villa and, of course, Cédric Kipré, from Albion, both on loan, and picking up free transfers Sheyi Ojo from Liverpool and Romaine Sawyers after Steve Bruce opted against extending his contract. Kipré and Sawyers have been two of City’s best performers so far this season according to WhoScored.com, but the Frenchman will, of course, be unable to play in Wednesday’s match. His place could be taken by another new signing, Jack Simpson, the former Bournemouth defender who joined last week from Rangers for an undisclosed fee, although the more experienced Curtis Nelson is, perhaps, more likely to step in. Another new signing we might see is young striker, Kion Etete, who moved from Tottenham Hotspur for an undisclosed fee having spent time on loan at Northampton and Cheltenham last season.
Sawyers will undoubtedly be keen to make an impact back at the Hawthorns having not played for the club since the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham in February 2021. His last game at the Hawthorns was the 5-0 defeat to Manchester City a couple of weeks beforehand which means he hasn’t played in front of Albion fans since before lockdown having been ineligible to play against his parent club while on loan at Stoke City last season. As an Albion fan, he may want to say thanks and goodbye to the Hawthorns faithful – I always enjoyed watching him play and would have liked to see him kept on this season, so I will warmly applaud him when his name is announced even though he could well be a thorn in Albion’s side during the game.
For Steve Bruce, the biggest question would seem to be whether Okay Yokuşlu is ready for his first league start since his return to the Hawthorns. He has impressed in each game we have seen him, including the hour he played from the start in the Carabao Cup last week, but Bruce has admitted that they are being cautious with him having not had a full pre-season. Fans are calling for him to start such has been his impact off the bench, and it seems inevitable that he will start either against Cardiff or against Hull City on Saturday. Jake Livermore would seem to be the obvious man to make way with the skipper having been struggling with a back issue and looking laboured on occasion, leaving Bruce the decision to pick a replacement on field captain. That would seem most likely to be Semi Ajayi with the Nigerian international having taken the armband when Livermore has been substituted in recent games.
The other thing occupying the minds of Bruce and fans alike is the search for a striker with a loan move for Manchester City youngster, Liam Delap, emerging as a preferred option. Albion, however, face stiff competition for his signature with Stoke City, the club at which Liam’s father, Rory, made his name, also keen on the 19-year-old along with a number of clubs in Europe. Lewis Grabban, who opted not to extend his contract at Nottingham Forest, is another name apparently on Albion’s list and his not unsubstantial wages may be affordable following the departure of Alex Mowatt on loan.
It seems unlikely that anyone will be signed in time for Wednesday’s match, so Bruce will need to rely on Karlan Grant once again. He opted against giving Reyes Cleary a spot on the bench at Blackburn, although the youngster did travel with the squad. Whether that will be different for a home fixture, we will wait and see. Callum Robinson could play as a central striker but is more suited to a number ten role, as we saw at Ewood Park when he looked bright off the bench as John Swift moved back into the midfield duo behind him for the last half hour.
There are one or two other potential changes to be considered, at least in the eyes of some fans, with Darnell Furlong and David Button coming in for criticism on social media. Personally, I don’t blame Button for any of the goals conceded this season – he’s a solid, if unspectacular, Championship goalkeeper but obviously some way below Sam Johnstone, although he, too, came in for plenty of criticism from some quarters. I wouldn’t mind seeing Palmer play as I’ve not seen him play in the flesh having missed his two appearances to date, but I think the coaching staff are in a better position to determine who should be starting. Likewise, Furlong is one of the better right backs in the division but he has his faults, and I thought he was caught out for Blackburn’s second goal. I would be happy to see Taylor Gardner-Hickman given a shot from the start, but I’m certainly not gunning for Furlong like some of the Twitterati. TGH will make mistakes too, and potentially more of them given his inexperience, but he remains the golden boy for the time being having generally impressed when he has had an opportunity, albeit most have been in midfield to date, a less exposed position.
It is early days in the season but Albion really do need to win at least one of this week’s two home games, and back-to-back wins would most likely push them up into the top half where we expect them to be this season.
The last time the Baggies failed to win any of their opening four league games in the second tier was in 1994 when Keith Burkinshaw’s side failed to win any of their opening six league matches and also suffered League Cup defeat at the hands of Hereford United. No one wants to see this season’s team compared with that period in Albion’s history!
Cardiff City had their most successful period in the first decade after joining the Football League. They were accepted into the league in 1920 when Division Three was established but they were invited to join Division Two and were promoted in their first season, finishing second behind Birmingham City. Their first match at the Hawthorns was in October 1921, a 2-2 draw, with Alfred Smith and Howard Gregory scoring Albion’s goals.
Cardiff spent eight successive seasons in the top flight, the longest spell they have enjoyed, and became the only non-English club to win the FA Cup when they beat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley in 1927. During that period, they secured their biggest win at the Hawthorns, a 4-2 win in November 1923. Only two players scored that day with Bobby Blood grabbing a brace for the hosts while Len Davies, the Bluebirds’ all time record goalscorer, scored all four for the visitors.
City matched that scoreline in a League Cup tie in September 2007 when Ishmael Miller’s brace was eclipsed by two goals from Robbie Fowler and one each from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Trevor Sinclair.
The Baggies record win over Cardiff came in the memorable 1953/54 season – Ken Chisholm opened the scoring for the visitors but, within half an hour, Ronnie Allen had scored a hat trick, adding a fourth after the break before Johnny Nicholls weighed in with two late strikes to make the final score 6-1.
In recent seasons, Albion have lost only two of the last eight meetings and scored four goals on three occasions including two 4-2 wins at the Hawthorns in October 2019 in the Championship and January 2012 in the FA Cup.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
2 Jan 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Robinson)
Cardiff City 1 (Collins)
28 Sep 2021 – League Championship
Cardiff City 0
West Brom 4 (Grant, Nelson (o.g.), Mowatt, Phillips)
Last win at the Hawthorns
5 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Pereira, Diangana, Austin, Sawyers)
Cardiff City 2 (Ward (2))
Albion’s Record against Cardiff City
If you cannot see the tables, click here.