For the second match in succession, Sheffield Wednesday will face the league leaders in a televised match at Hillsborough. Having held Leeds United to a draw on Friday evening, on Wednesday evening they face the side that replaced the Whites at the top of the table as the Baggies make the trip to South Yorkshire.
The Baggies may be top of the table, but it is a very tight division such that Bolton Wanderers in 15th place are just five points behind Albion. Anything other than three points is likely to see someone else take over at the top with four teams within a point of the Baggies.
Wednesday are in a clutch of five teams on 15 points and are in the midst of a tough run of fixtures against pre-season promotion favourites having played Stoke, Forest, Villa and Leeds in their last four and they face Middlesbrough in a couple of weeks time. Nottingham Forest are the only one of those to beat Jos Luhukay’s team as they won at Villa Park and drew with both Stoke and Leeds.
With just one defeat in their last seven league games, the Owls are on a good run of form but, crucially, Barry Bannon picked up his fifth booking of the season on Friday evening which means that he will be suspended for the game against the Baggies. Bannon is widely accepted to be the man who makes Wednesday tick, and he will be a big miss for the hosts.
For the visitors, Matt Phillips faces a late fitness test having picked up a muscle strain against Millwall, and it will be interesting to see if Tyrone Mears can play another 90 minutes at wing back having deputised for the Scotland international against Preston.
Dwight Gayle is fit to play despite having been substituted late on at Deepdale after scoring his sixth goal of the season direct from a free kick. It was an impressive second half performance from Albion, but on another day, the result could have been different.
It’s a huge positive that the Baggies are picking up points even when they are not firing on all cylinders. That was certainly the case on Saturday, and there is no doubt that there remain a number of areas for concern, but by averaging two points and two and a half goals per game, they are doing what they need to. Should Albion get it 100% right, heaven help whoever they are facing that day!
It’s still early days but I don’t think any Albion fan really expected them to hit the top of the table at this stage. It’s not time to get carried away, however, given how tight the table is – a couple of defeats could see the Baggies drop back into the pack. Furthermore, it’s clear that Albion’s front three are key to their success and should they lose one or two through injury, things could be very different. You only have to look at Leeds’ form since they lost Bamford, Roofe and Hernandez.
However, confidence is high and Albion look as capable as anyone as going on an extended run of form that could put them in the driving seat.
Overall, Albion have a pretty dreadful record against the Owls, with Wednesday recording 53 wins against the Baggies’ 36 in fixtures between the sides. However, Albion are currently on a run of four unbeaten against Wednesday winning the last three including two victories at Hillsborough. On their last trip to the infamous venue, Roberto di Matteo’s side ran out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Simon Cox (2), Jermone Thomas and Chris Brunt in what was the Baggies biggest ever win at Wednesday.
The hosts biggest home win over Albion came in the days before “Sheffield” was added to their name. The Wednesday, as they were known, won 6-0 at the Olive Grove in January 1893 in the first ever league fixture between the sides while the biggest win at Hillsborough was in 1955 when Vic Buckingham’s team were hammered 5-0.
One of the most remarkable games between the teams was a few years earlier when nine goals were shared. Jesse Carver’s Baggies edged it 5-4 with goals from Ronnie Allen, Ray Barlow and Johnny Nicholls adding to own goals from Norman Curties and Eddie Gannon.
Albion have won three of the last five at Wednesday – the first of those victories was 2-1 in 2000 when Jason Roberts scored twice ending a 34-year wait for a win at Hillsborough since Jummy Hagan’s Baggies had won by the same scoreline in February 1966.
The most famous meeting was, of course, the FA Cup Final of 1935. Albion twice came from a goal down at Wembley with Wally Boyes cancelling out Jackie Palethorpe’s early opener in the first half, before Teddy Sandford equalised Mark Hooper’s goal in the second half. However, two goals in the final two minutes by Ellis Rimmer ensured that it was Wednesday that lifted the Cup.
The Baggies are more than capable of winning at Hillsborough, and without Bannon, Wednesday will be a less formidable prospect. Albion to nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 Mar 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Koren)
Sheffield Wednesday 0
Last meeting at Sheffield Wednesday
28 Nov 2009 – League Championship
Sheffield Wednesday 0
West Brom 4 (Cox (2), Thomas, Brunt)
Albion’s Record against Sheffield Wednesday