For the second season in succession, Albion’s away league programme starts at the City Ground and, once again, the fixture has been chosen for live television coverage.
Having lost their opening fixture at home to Bolton Wanderers last term, Darren Moore’s team earned their first point of the season at Forest thanks to Matt Phillips’ late equaliser.
Slaven Bilić will be hoping for a good result from his first competitive fixture in charge of the Baggies, while the hosts also have a new manager in the shape of former French international footballer, Sabri Lamouchi.
Bilić will have fond memories of the City Ground from his time as a player – he was on the winning side on his only appearance for West Ham at the stadium in September 1996 while, three months earlier, he captained the Croatia side that won their opening fixture of Euro 96 at the City Ground beating Turkey 1-0.
The Croat’s rebuilding project at the Hawthorns is not yet complete but good progress has been made in plugging the gaps left by departing players. As well as the six loan players who returned to their parent clubs, the Baggies have lost Craig Dawson, Jay Rodriguez and James Morrison from last season’s squad, while Salomón Rondón and Allan Nyom, who were on loan away from the Hawthorns last term, have also left the club.
The sales of Dawson, Rodriguez and Rondón have brought in some transfer funds for the new boss to invest and, so far, four permanent signings have been made in Kenneth Zohore, Semi Ajayi, Darnell Furlong and Romaine Sawyers, while Filip Krovinović has joined on loan from Benfica.
Those signings, coupled with increased game time for a number of the Baggies’ academy products, means that the squad looks significantly younger than last season and the midfield certainly looks to offer more creativity. Unsurprisingly, the 46 goals scored by Gayle and Rodriguez last season are proving difficult to replace and, while the signing of Danish striker, Zohore, is a start, the forward line remains an area in need of strengthening as the season approaches its kick off.
With the transfer window remaining open until 8th August, there is still time for deals to be done and the Premier League loan market is one that may well be exploited next week. Once top flight clubs have a clearer idea of their squad make-up, players are more likely to be made available for loan and I fully expect one or two to be heading to the Hawthorns before the window shuts.
However, it is likely that Bilić will have to pick a front two from Zohore, Edwards and Burke for the trip to the City Ground given that Hal Robson-Kanu will be serving the last of the three match suspension he received for his red card at Derby on the final day of last season. Although the midfield of Krovinović, Harper, Phillips and Livermore looked a creative force in the last pre-season outing against Bournemouth, the strikers will need to improve on their showing if they are to find the net at Forest.
Since that match, Romaine Sawyers has moved to back the Hawthorns from Brentford, and is in line to finally make his first team debut for the Baggies some ten years after signing his first professional contract with the club. The Birmingham-born midfielder was much sought after in the Championship and his decision to re-join the Baggies is something of a coup – Leeds United fans seem particularly upset that Bielsa didn’t try to sign the former Brentford man and, given that they are strong favourites for the title this season, it is a sign of how highly rated Sawyers is.
Bilić will have to contend with the absence of Ahmed Hegazi who is recovering from an ankle operation that is likely to keep him out until after the September international break. However, the form of Kyle Bartley in pre-season has been encouraging and, with the signing of Semi Ajayi, and Dara O’Shea also impressing, Hegazi’s absence may not be as keenly felt as it might have been.
Along with Hegazi and Robson-Kanu, Chris Brunt will also be unavailable as he will serve his one match suspension following his red card in the play-off semi-final second leg in May, but the remainder of the squad should be available for selection.
It’s a far from easy opening game for Albion, although it’s difficult to know what to expect from Nottingham Forest. Like the Baggies, they have changed manager twice since the start of last season with Aitor Karanka walking out on the club in January to be replaced by Martin O’Neill. After missing out on the playoffs, the Ulsterman, himself, was sacked in June after reported disagreements with senior players.
His French replacement, Sabri Lamouchi, has a decent management record with an overall win percentage of close to 50%. His first management job was to guide the Ivory Coast to the 2014 World Cup before a successful spell with El Jaish in Qatar. He then moved back to his homeland to guide Rennes to a Europa League place in 2018.
The former French international midfielder has already made his mark at the City Ground having decided to switch the dugouts so that he can be closer to the Forest defence in the second half – maybe it will be smart move to mess with his head should the toss go Albion’s way on Saturday evening!
It looks as though Lamouchi’s Forest will be more of a passing side than O’Neill’s was, and two midfield additions from Portugal, Alfa Semedo, on loan from Benfica, and Tiago Silva (not that one) has from Feirense, look to be central to those plans. The latter had a great season last term despite being in a relegated team, and there was surprise that one of the top Portuguese clubs didn’t pick him up, but there are doubts as to whether Semedo, or another Portuguese recruit, left back, Yuri Ribeiro, signed for an undisclosed fee from Benfica, will be able to cut it at this level.
To complete the Portuguese connection, Rafael Mir Vicente has come in on loan from Jorge Mendes’ Staffordshire plaything. It is reminiscent of last season’s business for Forest when four Portuguese came in, with only João Carvalho ending up making the grade.
The new additions don’t end there with Albert Adomah and Sammy Ameobi joining on free transfers from Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers respectively, not necessarily signings to get the pulse racing, while and Kosovan international goalkeeper, Arijanet Muric, has also joined on loan from Manchester City. Five of their new players featured in their final pre-season friendly, a creditable 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad.
Other than loan signings returning to their parent clubs, midfielder, Ben Osborn, is the only regular from last season to exit the City Ground so far, moving to Sheffield United, while Forest seem to have priced Aston Villa out of a move for their star playmaker, Joe Lolley. It means that Lamouchi has one of the biggest squads in the Championship and it would not be a surprise to see one or two leave before the window closes.
Turning to Saturday’s game, Forest will be without their record signing, the aforementioned João Carvalho, for the first few games of the season after the midfielder injured an ankle in a pre-season game with Alfreton.
It will be an intriguing game, as early season matches often are, and both sides will be hoping to get their campaign off to a positive start. Last season, Albion were on the end of a shock home defeat to Bolton on the opening day and, while losing to Forest wouldn’t necessarily be a sruprise, a sell out away following will be desperate to see the Bilić era start with a win.
As there was a general look at the history of this fixture in the preview twelve months ago, I’ve taken a slightly different approach to this dip into archives by concentrating on one particular match of which most readers may be largely unaware. Back in January 1958, Vic Buckingham’s Baggies were drawn at home to Nottingham Forest, then managed by Billy Walker, in the fourth round of the FA Cup. After it finished all square at the Hawthorns, the replay turned out to be particularly memorable.
It was a tough cup draw for both teams with Albion sitting third in Division One before the match and Forest not far behind in seventh. The match at the Hawthorns was exciting enough with Forest taking the lead just before the hour mark before the hosts responded with three goals in three minutes through Robson, Kevan and Allen, before the visitors hit back with two goals of their own. It finished 3-3 with all six goals coming in 15 crazy second half minutes.
The replay, however, played on Wednesday 28th January 1958, was even more remarkable. Tommy Wilson, who had scored Forest’s last two goals at the Hawthorns, made it three for tie when he put the hosts ahead in the 12th minute. Bobby Robson put the Baggies back on level terms on 24 minutes, heading in Roy Horobin’s cross but, just a minute later, Maurice Setters suffered an ankle injury that saw him stretchered off. As this was in the days before substitutions, that meant that Albion would have to play the remainder of the game with ten men.
The visitors were not daunted, however, and Frank Griffin’s fine shot on 33 minutes meant that they went into the break 2-1 up. With Ronnie Allen out injured, Brian Whitehouse was occupying the inside right position and he fired home Albion’s third in the 57th minute. Derek Kevan’s 20-yard piledriver made it four before Don Howe added a fifth from the penalty spot with 20 minutes still remaining.
The visiting supporters were chanting for a sixth as the home fans started leaving well before the end, but it was not to be as the Baggies settled for a 5-1 result.
Many commentators who witnessed the game, including Forest manager, Billy Walker, were sure that Albion would go on to win the cup with Chris Chapman of the Birmingham Post and Bill Holden of the Daily Mirror describing the result as a ‘miracle’.
Alas, Albion were beaten by Manchester United in a quarter final replay, but that takes nothing away from their stunning victory at the City Ground in round four.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Feb 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Murphy, Rodriguez (pen))
Nottingham Forest 2 (Johansen (o.g.), Yates)
Last meeting at Nottingham Forest
7 Aug 2018 – League Championship
Nottingham Forest 1 (Guedioura)
West Brom 1 (Phillips)
15 Aug 2009 – League Championship
Nottingham Forest 0
West Brom 1 (Cohen (o.g.))
Albion’s Record against Nottingham Forest