West Bromwich Albion face Southampton at the Hawthorns this weekend looking to complete their first league double of the season having won at St Mary’s on New Year’s Eve.
The Baggies’ last game of 2016 will be remembered for Hal Robson-Kanu’s first goal since moving to the Hawthorns on a free transfer in August. It was a fantastic strike, but the Welsh international has only managed to add one more goal since then, the important second goal against Arsenal in the last match at the Hawthorns.
That goal, scored after having come off the bench, and his all round performance that day was enough to convince Tony Pulis that he was worth a start for the next two games at Old Trafford and Vicarage Road. Those were only his third and fourth starts for Albion and, with the Baggies not scoring in either game, it can hardly be considered a successful switch, although with Rondón without an Albion goal since his hat trick against Swansea in December, it was hardly a surprise.
All HRK’s starts have come away from the Hawthorns so, if he does get the nod on Saturday, it will be his full home debut more than seven months after joining the club. Rondón, of course, did find the net for Venezuela last month and has not started a game since, so he will be eager to try and build on that and break his barren run for Albion.
Southampton sit one place and seven points behind Albion, although they do have two games in hand albeit against Arsenal and Manchester United. It has been a mixed season for new manager, Claude Puel, with their defeat to the Baggies coming in the midst of a sticky spell when they lost six in a run of seven Premier League games after Christmas. They have since recovered, winning three of the next five, to regain their spot in the top ten.
Much of that recovery can be put down to the January signing of Manolo Gabbiadini who has scored six goals in his five games before getting injured in the match at White Hart Lane before the international break. He faces a late fitness test to determine whether he will play at the Hawthorns, and his return would be a massive boost for the Saints.
If he doesn’t make it, his place in the starting line up may well be taken by former Baggies favourite, Shane Long. He has never been a prolific scorer, and has managed just five this season, but he is one of the hardest working strikers you’ll see. Saints’ top scorer remains Charlie Austin with nine, despite the fact that he hasn’t played since picking up a shoulder injury in early December. He could make a return before the end of the season but it won’t be this weekend. Claude Puel’s other option in attack is Jay Rodriguez – he was linked with Albion last summer but any hopes of resurrecting that deal in January was scuppered by the injury to Austin.
The other important player on the treatment table at St Mary’s is Virgil van Dijk, who picked up an ankle injury two months ago, while England full back Ryan Bertrand faces a late fitness test ahead of Saturday’s match, as do Steven Davis and Sofiane Boufal.
For Albion, Matt Phillips made a welcome return to the squad on Tuesday evening which leaves Pulis with a fully fit squad to choose from. Unfortunately, Phillips couldn’t impact the game off the bench in the second half and the Baggies succumbed to defeat. It was disappointing that they couldn’t capitalise on the harsh red card for Miguel Britos – the second goal just after half time was a very poor one to concede, and nothing quite clicked for Tony Pulis’s men after that.
The fifty point target remains well in range, but this match is one that Albion will be targeting for three points with resurgent Leicester, Liverpool and champions-elect Chelsea the remaining games at the Hawthorns after this weekend.
This will not be an easy game for Albion but the team will be keen to get back to winning ways having not scored in their last two games – a narrow win for the Baggies to leave them just three points short of the half century.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
31 Dec 2016 – Premier League
Southampton 1 (Long)
West Brom 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
12 Sep 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Last win at the Hawthorns
28 Feb 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Berahino)
Albion’s Record against Southampton
|Premier League Record|