The Baggies welcome the Championship’s bottom club to the Hawthorns on Saturday looking to get their promotion campaign back on track following damaging back-to-back defeats to two of their closest rivals.
The Tractor Boys are, in theory, exactly the sort of opposition a team needing a win would want to face. They have picked up just two wins in their last 23 league games, losing 15 of those matches, and are rock bottom of the table seemingly destined to return to the third tier of English football for the first time in more than 60 years.
However, we have all seen many instances when the “home banker” doesn’t come in, and Darren Moore’s team will need to take Town seriously if they are to secure a much needed first home league win of 2019.
While it’s easy to criticise in hindsight, there is no doubt that Moore and Jones got it horribly wrong against Leeds last Friday evening. The midfield three was far too ponderous for a dynamic and energetic opposition and, while the early goal certainly had an impact, I feel the tone of the first half was set by the Albion team selection.
Getting it wrong from the start is one thing, and given Albion’s recent record on the road, I was not surprised by the initial team selection. However, the more damning indictment of Moore and Jones was the failure to make any changes at the break. It was starkly evident that Albion were being overrun and I would have happily seen changes after 30 minutes, let alone at half time, but it was an hour before a substitution was made and, with the third goal scored almost immediately after Morrison was introduced, the game was then gone.
I have always backed Moore and Jones to get it right, but it is clear now that the tactics need to change. I’m certainly not calling for either of them to be sacked, and I still think that Big Dave is the right man at the moment, but there needs to be something different in formation and selection if Albion’s season isn’t to peter out to a finish outside the top six.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that the midfield needs more pace and energy and Albion’s chief goal poacher, Dwight Gayle, is no longer seeing enough of the ball as a wide forward. It was a tactic that worked well when Harvey Barnes was creating from the opposite side, but it has looked less and less effective since his return to the King Power Stadium.
Playing with an advance front three is a valid tactic only when those three produce goals – two successive games without scoring for the first time since 2017 has made it clear that it is no longer working.
The question is, what is the right way to play? One factor from the Leeds game was the absence of Gibbs from both an attacking and defensive point of view. Albion’s attacking full backs have been a key part of their success and they should remain an important outlet. Sheffield United take it even further with overlapping centre backs from a back three and, while that is an option, the Baggies have never looked defensively solid with a back three this season.
Assuming Moore opts to stick with a back four, which is by no means certain, the obvious options in formation to address the current issues would seem to be either a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1.
In a 4-4-2, the question is who to play as the central pair in midfield. Although he had a bad night at QPR, I think Johansen is probably the most complete midfielder we have at the moment in that he has experience, the ability to tackle and pick a pass while retaining energy and pace. He could potentially work along side Barry or Livermore sitting a little more. Harper could possible play in a two, although I think he needs a spell out of the starting eleven – he is fantastic on the ball, but his lack of experience shows when Albion are out of possession. He would still be a great option on the bench.
4-4-2 would make the rest of the selection fairly easy with Gayle and J-Rod up front, Phillips on the right and one of Murphy or Montero on the left. In the inclusion of Johansen would, of course, mean one of either Murphy, Montero or Adarabioyo being left out of the squad.
A 4-2-3-1 formation would offer more solidity in the middle of the park, give the full backs greater freedom to attack, but the front four would not be a straightforward choice. I’d probably still opt for Barry and Johansen at the base of midfield, although you could probably get away with Barry and Livermore in that formation.
Gayle would be the obvious choice at centre forward, although he would need players close to him as he doesn’t have the attributes to play as a lone striker. Behind him, you could pick three from J-Rod, Phillips, Murphy, Montero, Morrison and even HRK – plenty of options and it will be interesting to see what might work.
The other thing that Moore needs to learn for the run in is to play the opposition. Leeds offered something that Albion are unlikely to face again this season – Derby may be closest on the last day of the season – and it should have been obvious that the 4-3-3 with that personnel was not going to work against that team. What may work against Ipswich this weekend may not work against Blues in a fortnight’s time – Moore has been very loyal to his players this season, which is admirable, but I think he needs to be a bit cuter at times.
Injuries may impact the selection this weekend. Phillips is likely to be fit but Gibbs is more of a doubt. For me, I think Townsend should be his replacement if needed rather than Adarabioyo. Tosin is not a natural left back and leaving him out would give Big Dave the option to include all the other loan players in the squad.
Whatever formation and personnel takes the field on Saturday, Albion need to start quickly – at Elland Road, the atmosphere was buzzing before kick off and the early goal served to keep that going. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced anything quite like that at the Hawthorns, but it’s something that can be massively helpful to the players.
The play-offs are well within Albion’s grasp and, while most will see the top two as out of reach following those two defeats, it’s by no means impossible. The Baggies are seven points off second with eleven games to go. Let’s not forget 2002 when Albion were eleven points behind Wolves with just eight games to go. OK, Wolves had played a game more and, this time around, we need two clubs to drop points, but if Albion can produce a run of form something like Megson’s team did 17 years ago, who knows how it might end up.
Ipswich Town were formed in 1878 but did not enter the Football League until 1938 when they were elected to Division Three (South). As Albion were coming close to the League and Cup double in 1954, the Tractor Boys were winning their first ever promotion to Division Two.
After suffering relegation back to the third tier, the great Alf Ramsey was appointed in 1955 and they were promoted once again in 1957 and have competed in the top two divisions of English football ever since, a record that looks to be coming to an end this season.
Ramsey won promotion again in 1961 and in the first ever meeting between Albion and Ipswich at the Hawthorns in September of that year, the visitors won 3-1 thanks to a double from Doug Moran and another from Ray Crawford. Town went on to lift the First Division title that season at the first attempt, and they have never won it since.
The following season, Albion hosted the reigning champions in March with Ramsey’s team fighting at the wrong end of the table. This weekend’s fixture will take place 56 years to the day with Ipswich once again fighting relegation. On that occasion, the Baggies thumped Ipswich 6-1 with Derek Kevan scoring a hat trick to add to goals from Alec Jackson, Clive Clark and Keith Smith. It was Albion’s first ever win over Ipswich, and remains their biggest. Ramsey left Portman Road to take up the England job a few weeks later.
The history of the fixture has included a number of long streaks where one side had the edge. That victory for Albion was the second match in a run of twelve meetings in which Ipswich won just once. The Tractor Boys’ best run started in the mid-eighties as they remained unbeaten against the Baggies for 25 games in all competitions, with Albion managing to earn a draw on just five occasions.
That run ended with Albion winning 4-1 at home in September 2003 when former Ipswich defender, Thomas Gaardsøe, opened the scoring and Rob Hulse scored a brace with Drissa Diallo also putting through his own net late on.
It was the start of a run of five successive victories in this fixture home and away for the Baggies, including a 4-0 win in September 2007 – Ishmael Miller opened the scoring in the first half and it remained 1-0 until the 87th minute before Filipe Teixeira and Kevin Phillips (2) put some gloss on the scoreline.
Ipswich have won in West Bromwich on a dozen occasions, but never by more than the 3-1 scoreline they managed on that first visit in 1961. They matched it just once, in May 1990. David Lowe, Simon Milton and Jason Dozzell put the visitors 3-0 up before Gary Bannister scored a late consolation for the Baggies.
In recent years, Town have not found it too easy at the Hawthorns. Their last victory at the Shrine was in March 1999 by a single goal scored by Jean-Manuel Thetis, who was later sent off along with Baggies midfielder Sean Flynn.
The meeting in April 2000 finished all square but the Baggies have won all four fixtures in West Bromwich since then, with the last meeting in August 2009 finishing 2-0 thanks to goals from Youssuf Mulumbu and Robert Koren.
All in all, Albion have lost just one of the last ten league meetings with Ipswich.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
23 Nov 2018 – League Championship
Ipswich Town 1 (Jackson)
West Brom 2 (Rodriguez, Barnes)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
22 Aug 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Mulumbu, Koren)
Ipswich Town 0
Albion’s Record against Ipswich Town