After another valiant effort at the home of one of the top four, Albion came away pointless and look to a trip to Southampton to gain an elusive third Premier League victory in December. With just 42 goals conceded between them, both sides can boast a solid defence but with the Saints missing the players responsible for half of their goals this season, it could be advantage Baggies at St Mary’s
Valiant though it may have been at the Emirates, and at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks ago, neither effort produced any points and it does make you wonder whether Pulis would be better taking a more positive approach in such games. At the Bridge last season, for example, it was a rare attacking performance in early 2016 which produced a battling 2-2 draw – Chelsea were not the force then that they are now, of course, but I’m sure most fans would like to see Albion look to score and lose, rather than defend heroically without a whiff of an attack and lose to a minor error that is difficult to legislate against.
That, in essence, is the main issue with a defensive approach – one individual error can lead to a goal and without a threat at the other end, that means defeat. This season, Albion have offered a threat in almost every game (contrary to last season), but at Arsenal, in particular, there was very little attempt to score and while it took until the 87th minute to break through, it was a very minor error by McAuley that allowed Giroud to out-muscle him that led to the goal. I don’t blame McAuley, Giroud is a fine player and such things can happen, but Arsenal’s defence is hardly rock solid yet Albion offered very little at the other end.
I’ve been impressed with Pulis’s approach this season and Albion sit in a handy ninth place in the Premier League, but I can’t help thinking that we should be more than three points better off than we were at the same stage last season – defeat at St Mary’s would leave Albion with 23 points from the first half of the season, which is exactly the same as was achieved last season.
Nonetheless, I am a much happier Baggie this term. Fourteen points from our nine home games this season is far better than the eight we had managed last season, and the football has, by and large, been much more entertaining. I’m much more hopeful of Pulis’s first top-ten Premier League finish, but that attacking approach needs to be more pervasive on the road as well as at the Hawthorns.
Three defeats in the last four games, each of which saw Albion fail to score, has soured what was looking like a positive end to the year, and if past performances count for anything, it seems unlikely to get much brighter before 2017 is upon us. Trips to Southampton have not proved too successful for Albion over the years – the Baggies have won just once at St Mary’s and have been successful on just three further visits to the south coast club. Before the impressive 3-0 win in 2013, Albion had gone more than 40 years without a win at the Hampshire club since the 2-0 win at the Dell in August 1969 when Colin Suggett grabbed both goals, a run of 19 games without a win.
The Saints sit just one point and one place above the Baggies, and have lost just twice at home this season. The 2-0 defeat to leaders Chelsea in October was their only reverse at St Mary’s until Spurs thrashed them 4-1 on Wednesday evening, a match that saw Nathan Redmond dismissed for a foul on Dele Alli. That, of course, means that Redmond will miss the game against Albion, as will striker Charlie Austin who is sidelined for several months with a shoulder injury.
A win for the Baggies would be a great way to sign off 2016, particularly with Hull City at home to come on Monday, but it won’t be easy. Ignoring the defeats to Chelsea and Spurs, Southampton have conceded just three times in their other seven games at home, including a clean sheet against free-scoring Liverpool, but they have scored just eight times in those games scoring more than one goal at home just once this season, against Burnley in October. In fact, the Saints total of 18 goals scored in the Premier League this season is lower than any team in the top 13 of the division while their goals conceded total of 20 is as good as any team outside the top six.
If the Tony Pulis of last season was in charge, everything would point to a goalless draw in this fixture, and it’s probably still a likely result. Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond have accounted for half of Southampton’s Premier League goals this season with Jay Rodriguez the only other Saints player to have netted more than once. With those two missing, the hosts will certainly be short of goals although they will have former Baggies favourite, Shane Long, available. Defensively, the partnership of Virgil van Dijk and José Fonte has been arguably as solid as Albion’s duo of Evans and McAuley, and this match could prove to be a battle of the defences rather than a goal-fest.
Just like Albion, Southampton will be hard to break down but, as the home side, the onus will be on them to attack. However, Saints were short on goals even before Austin and Redmond were ruled out, and the Baggies will need to take advantage. This could be a good chance for a rare victory in Southampton, and I think Albion will nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
16 Jan 2016 – Premier League
Southampton 3 (Ward-Prowse (2, 1 pen), Tadić)
West Brom 0
28 Feb 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Berahino)
Last win at Southampton
27 Apr 2013 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Fortuné, Lukaku, Long)
Albion’s Record against Southampton
|Premier League Record|