Having had a fortnight to reflect on their first league defeat of the season, Ismaël’s Albion return to action on Friday evening with the visit of Lee Bowyer’s Birmingham City to the Hawthorns.
It is the Baggies fourth Friday night fixture of the season, it would have been their fifth had the trip to Peterborough not been pushed back by 24 hours, and it means that they have will have played just four of their opening twelve games of the season at 3pm on a Saturday. While we accept that Albion are one of the biggest draws for TV in the Championship, there is, of course, no regard given to the fans who constantly have to change plans to attend matches with the switch of a weekend fixture to an evening on a working day being the most disruptive.
Lee Bowyer’s team have been a little “Jekyll-and-Hyde” this season but are in the midst of a very poor run of form at present. A Luton-supporting friend of mine described Blues as the “best side he had seen this season” when the Hatters were hammered 5-0 at home but City have won just one of the eight games in all competitions since then, a 2-0 win over Derby County, and they have lost four of their last five conceding twelve goals in the process and scoring just one. Their 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest immediately before the international break was of particular concern with Bowyer exasperated with his players after the match.
In Manchester United loanee Tahith Chong, City have an undoubted talent who started the season extremely well. However, his influence seems to have waned as Blues’ form has suffered and it is left winger, Jérémie Bela, who has been providing more of the creative spark in recent matches, albeit unsuccessfully given that they haven’t scored since Troy Deeney’s consolation penalty in stoppage time in their 4-1 home defeat to Fulham a month ago.
With the forwards misfiring, the defence have also been unable to perform in recent weeks and reports have suggested that it is in that area that Bowyer is most likely to make changes for the trip to the Hawthorns.
Valérien Ismaël welcomes back Matt Clarke to the squad and, while it would be harsh on Adam Reach, I expect to see the Brighton loanee back on the left side of the back three with Conor Townsend at wing back. It looks as if Alex Mowatt will be fit to play despite some concerns after he limped out of the defeat to Stoke with a foot injury. Images emerged from the club of him taking a full part in training, a positive sign indeed.
Assuming the former Barnsley man is fit, the only other decision for Big Val to make will be what front three to start. As usual, it will be any three of the five regulars and there will certainly be a clamour amongst the fans for Callum Robinson to get the nod from the off. The Irish international has had a wonderful time away with his country netting no less than five times in their two matches becoming the first man to score a hat trick for the Republic since Robbie Keane when he bagged three in a friendly against Qatar on Tuesday evening. It was the best way to divert attention away from the “news” that he hasn’t had a COVID vaccine, but rightly or wrongly, it is a story that probably still has legs.
With Robbo in such fine form, it would seem a no brainer to put him straight in but no doubt the medical staff at the club will review his energy levels given that he has played more than 165 minutes of football and travelled to Azerbaijan and back in the last seven days.
Whatever the attacking line up is, it will surely be switched around after an hour as usual, and it should be strong enough to break through the Blues leaky back line. Bowyer will no doubt have a plan, the Baggies just need to work out how to beat it and, if they play anything close to their best, it should be enough.
The last time that these two clubs met was their first fixture of Project Restart when Albion failed to get their expected victory, a result that was a sign that they would not have it easy in the post-lockdown period.
That was the first goalless game in the fixture since February 1989 and the previous six meetings in all competitions had produced 23 goals with the Baggies coming out on top in five of those matches. In fact, Albion are on an unbeaten run of eight matches against Blues in all competitions (W5, D3) since the defeat at St Andrew’s in the Championship in October 2006, while at the Hawthorns, they haven’t lost in the last four (W2, D2) since the 3-2 defeat in the Premier League in August 2005.
The two biggest games between the two sides have come in the FA Cup. The FA Cup Final of 1931, of course, when two goals from W. G. Richardson saw Albion become the first, and still the only, side to win the FA Cup and promotion in the same season. 37 years later, they met at the previous stage at the home of a common enemy, Villa Park, and goals from Jeff Astle and Tony Brown saw the Baggies progress to the final where they beat Everton to win the trophy for the fifth time.
Albion’s biggest win over Blues came in February 1926 when a brace from George James and a hat trick from Charlie Wilson helped the hosts to a 5-1 win at the Hawthorns in a Division One fixture. City’s best win at the Shrine came in March 2000 when a brace inside eight minutes from Dele Adebola and another goal from Marcelo saw the visitors to a 3-0 victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
20 Jun 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Birmingham City 0
14 Dec 2019 – League Championship
Birmingham City 2 (Jutkiewicz, Dean)
West Brom 3 (Diangana, Austin (2))
Last win at the Hawthorns
29 Mar 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Gayle, Rodriguez (pen), Livermore)
Birmingham City 2 (G. Gardner, Jutkiewicz)
Albion’s Record against Birmingham City
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