Albion travel to Blackburn for their first game of 2019 looking for their fifth successive away victory and to extend their unbeaten run to ten games.
The last time that the Baggies managed five away league victories in succession was in 2002 culminating in an injury time penalty by Igor Balis at Valley Parade which meant that Albion’s first promotion to the Premier League could be secured with a victory the following weekend.
The previous time that the feat was achieved was also book-ended by an iconic victory. The 5-3 victory at Old Trafford in 1978 was also Albion’s fifth successive away win. That match took place exactly forty years ago yesterday (Sunday).
Tony Mowbray’s team are in the midst of a tough run of fixtures and Tuesday’s match will see them having played six of the top seven in successive games. Unfortunately for Blackburn, they have failed to win any of the five to date having drawn with Middlesbrough and Birmingham and lost to Norwich, Leeds and Sheffield United.
Rovers’ last win was over Sheffield Wednesday on 1st December and the poor run has seen them drop to 15th place some eleven points off the play-offs.
Darren Moore’s team may not be finalised until close to kick off as he is waiting on the availability of Jay Rodriguez. The club appealed his red card from Saturday and a decision is due either today (Monday) or Tuesday morning. With Dwight Gayle unlikely to be available, J-Rod would be a big miss and I’m sure that the player himself would be eager to play his first ever game at Ewood Park, home of his boyhood team’s bitter rivals.
Sako failed to impress against Wednesday and, should Rodriguez not be available, it will be interesting to see what the front line will look like.
In the middle of the park, I would expect Barry and Phillips to be back in given how much they were missed on Saturday, but I expect the back four to be unchanged unless Hegazi is somehow fit again.
Albion are rumoured to be on the verge of signing Everton’s Mason Holgate on loan, but he won’t be available for the trip to Blackburn with player registrations needing to be completed the day before a match.
Blackburn will be without midfielder, Richie Smallwood, following his red card at Bramall Lane on Saturday. It will be the first time he hasn’t featured for Rovers this season, with ‘keeper, David Raya, the only other player to have played some part in every game.
Bradley Dack and Danny Graham have scored more than half of Rovers’ goals this season between them. Dack has been linked with a move to the Hawthorns, but I can’t see that happening and he wasn’t particularly impressive when Blackburn played at the Shrine earlier in the season, in my opinion. He was dropped to the bench for the match at Sheffield United on Saturday, although that was most likely to give him a rest than any reaction to his form. He has only managed one goal in his last eight appearances, but his overall goal record is good and the Albion defence will need to continue their good form to keep him quiet.
No team in the Championship have conceded fewer goals than the Baggies in the last ten games (9), and only Aston Villa and Norwich City have scored more than Albion’s 20 goals in the same period.
Meanwhile, Blackburn have conceded 20 goals in their last ten games which is the worst record in the Championship.
Those stats bode well for the Baggies, but it will be another tough game at the end of a hectic ten days. I’d expect most of the first eleven to be given a rest for the cup game at the weekend, and with Leeds and Norwich also away from home, if the players can eke out another top performance, Albion may be able to narrow that gap to the top two a little more.
Given that there were only 12, one of which no longer exists, it is always a notable event when two of the founder members of the Football League meet and New Year’s Day will see the 127th meeting between West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers making them Albion’s 17th most common opponent.
The first league meeting between the clubs was in September 1888 at Rovers’ Leamington Road ground in the north west of the town with the hosts winning 6-2. It is the only time that Blackburn have put six past the Baggies, but their record win was a year later at the same venue when Jack Southworth scored four of Rovers’ goals in a 5-0 drubbing.
Rovers’ biggest win in the fixture at Ewood Park, where they have played since 1890 is 5-1 which they achieved against the reigning champions in October 1920, and then again two years later.
The first of those was something of a revenge for the defeat that Albion had inflicted on Blackburn at Ewood on the way to winning that league championship – in January 1920, that great Baggies team themselves won 5-1 thanks to a hat trick from Alf Bentley and further goals from Howard Gregory and Fred Morris which is Albion’s biggest win at Blackburn.
The Baggies won on their last visit to Ewood Park in 2011 when goals from Peter Odemwingie and James Morrison helped them to a 2-1 victory, although you have to go back to February 1991 for their previous win at Blackburn. Don Goodman scored twice to add to Gary Robson’s opener as Albion, under caretaker manager Stuart Pearson, recorded a rare away win in a season that would result in relegation to the third division.
That was the last in a run of five wins in nine visits to Blackburn which started with a 2-0 win in April 1964 thanks to goals from Ronnie Fenton and Clive Clark.
A particular memory for me was a visit in October 1988 – Brian Talbot had been appointed player-manager when Ron Atkinson left the club for the second time, this time to go Atlético Madrid. Talbot had started with three straight wins lifting the Baggies into sixth place and a promotion campaign beckoned, encouraging what seemed like half the Black Country to travel up the M5. After going behind early, the Baggies responded with two goals just before half time, the first through Chris Whyte and the second a deflected effort from Colin Anderson. They held on for the win and their good form continued until the first game of 1989 when they went top with a 4-0 win over Shrewsbury. That dream faded, of course, and two years later, Albion were in Division Three.
In more recent years, Blackburn was the venue for the last away game of Albion’s first ever Premier League season in 2003. The Baggies faithful decided to dress up as referees to highlight what they felt was unfair treatment from the men in black that season – I’m not sure what Rob Styles, the man in the middle that day, made of five thousand red cards being waved in the away end after every possible foul! The game finished 1-1 with Jason Koumas scoring the Baggies equaliser.
Baggies to keep the unbeaten record going and come away from Ewood Park with a point.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
27 Oct 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Dawson)
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Reed)
Last meeting at Blackburn Rovers
17 Dec 2011 – Premier League
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Dann)
West Brom 2 (Morrison, Odemwingie)
7 Apr 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (M Olsson (o.g.), Fortuné, Ridgewell)
Blackburn Rovers 0
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers