For the first time in his Hawthorns career, there is, perhaps, a little pressure on Valérien Ismaël, at least in the eyes of some, as he looks to return to winning ways as Derby County visit the Hawthorns on Tuesday evening. He will hope to see the result similar to that achieved on his first night under the lights at the Shrine when Sheffield United were comfortably dispatched 4-0, and some will see anything less than victory as a failure after the poor performance against Millwall at the weekend.
I’m certainly not at that point, but I do expect the Baggies to claim all three points, as I did on Saturday, and, given the issues that Derby County have had in putting a squad together this season, they should not, in theory, present as tough a test as Millwall did.
Having said that, Wayne Rooney’s team have not had as bad a start as many pundits predicted. Their closest rivals have managed to take the worst start prize from them although it was at Derby that Chris Hughton’s Forest took their only point of the season so far. The Rams managed to claim victory at Hull City and also earned points against Middlesbrough and Huddersfield and their 2-0 defeat at St Andrew’s last Friday was their only defeat by more than the odd goal. With six points from six games, County are comfortably clear of the bottom three albeit with the spectre of a points deduction for financial irregularities still hanging over them.
The age range of the Rams’ squad is indicative of their problems – they have just four players older than 21 and younger than 29, and one of those is injured. Another is the much-travelled Ravel Morrison from whom many coaches have tried to extract his undoubted talent, with very little success. Very much a last resort for Rooney, and probably for Morrison as well, but the Manchester United academy product scored on his debut, a 2-1 defeat to Peterborough, and has been a mainstay in the Derby midfield since.
Albion’s centre backs on Saturday had a combined age six years older than Derby’s on Friday night, the only difference being that the Baggies had one more player! Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies boast 75 years and in excess of 1250 senior appearances between them so they are certainly not lacking in experience but I doubt they will be holding a high line, while their back up is Richard Stearman, a mere 34 years old. Other senior pros such as Graham Shinnie, Nathan Byrne, Craig Forsyth and Sam Baldock have been supported by the youthful talents of Louie Sibley, Max Bird, Jack Stretton and Polish winger, Kamil Jozwiak and it’s perhaps a surprise that they have been able to assemble a relatively competitive squad, if a little imbalanced at either end of the age range. It is certainly much better than many of the doom mongers were predicting shortly before the start of the campaign.
Whether it will be enough to keep Derby in the Championship remains to be seen, but Albion fans will be hoping that it won’t be enough to keep the Baggie boys at bay on Tuesday evening. Rooney will have the unenviable choice of overloading with experience knowing that they will not be able to match Albion’s energy, or pick a more youthful team that may have the physical stamina but not the experience to deal with the threat. I imagine he will keep a sensible balance and just hope that it will be enough.
For Big Val, he has a few decisions to make. At the back, while Matt Clarke will still not be available, he may opt to bring in Kean Bryan on the left side, but whether that would be at the expense of Ajayi or Kipré is another decision. Ajayi was guilty of several errors on Saturday but has normally proved to be reliable, while Kipré has yet to fully impress in any game so far.
However, I don’t think that Derby will present the same level of physical challenge as Millwall and I think that the key changes to make will be up front. Callum Robinson must start and Jordan Hugill is also pushing for a spot in the first eleven. Karlan Grant, who has started every league game so far this season, may be rested for the first time while Matt Phillips has been one of the most consistent performers this season. Grady Diangana was unfortunate to be withdrawn at half time on Saturday and I think he is starting to show something of the player we know he can be. Other than the definite selection of Robinson, it is a difficult choice for Ismaël.
While there is certainly no sense of jeopardy ahead of this match, an impressive performance and three points will do much to quieten the displeasure in certain parts of the fanbase. It’s far too early to get too hung up on the difficulties the team has experienced, particularly given the overall set of results, and I’m sure the tactics will evolve over time and the players will get better at implementing them, but a nice solid victory will calm things down and consolidate the Baggies’ position at the top of the table.
As Founder Members of the Football League, Albion and Derby have a long history and Tuesday evening’s match will be the 106th league meeting, the 122nd overall. The Rams hold a significant advantage in the overall head to head thanks to their enviable cup record over the Baggies, and while the league record is a little closer, the east midlanders are still in front with 41 wins to 35.
The victory that Albion achieved in the clubs’ last meeting was one of only two that the Baggies have managed in the previous eight meetings in all competitions, the other being a 3-1 win that Roberto di Matteo’s team earned in February 2010 thanks to a brace from Chris Brunt and another from Simon Cox.
For the last 40 years, all the clubs’ league meetings have come in the second tier with each club winning six of the eighteen fixtures in regular league competition, although the Rams won the 2007 play-off final. The clubs last met in the top flight the 1979/80 season with the Hawthorns fixture coming on the opening day of that campaign resulting in an underwhelming 0-0 draw.
Albion’s record victory over Derby County came on their first league meeting in West Bromwich, at Stoney Lane in October 1888 when a Tom Pearson hat trick helped the hosts to a 5-0 victory. At the Hawthorns, the best is a 5-1 win in September 1933 when, unsurprisingly given the period, the legendary Ginger Richardson was the star scoring four of Albion’s goals.
County’s best result on Albion soil was in the much-maligned Zenith Data Systems Cup in November 1989 – the hat trick hero on that occasion was Dean Saunders as Brian Talbot’s side were thumped 5-0 by their top flight opponents.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
8 Jul 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Diangana, O’Shea)
Derby County 0
Albion’s Record against Derby County
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