Albion currently sit in fourth place, their lowest Christmas Day league position since 2006 when Tony Mowbray’s side sat in 7th spot at this time of year, but Valérien Ismaël’s team are well placed for a top two finish after both Bournemouth and Fulham suffered a drop off in form in recent weeks. The division’s form side, the aforementioned Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers, have leapfrogged the Baggies into third place following a run of eight wins in ten matches, but Albion are just two points outside the top two and four behind leaders Fulham.
While the Baggies trip to Derby is imminent, two other topics are dominating football chat currently. Firstly, the resurgence of COVID infections has seen many games postponed and, while Albion suffered cases a couple of weeks ago, there have no further reports and Monday’s game looks set to go ahead. There has been an outbreak at Preston, however, which has put their trip to the Hawthorns on Thursday in doubt.
The other major topic of discussion is, of course, the January transfer window and Albion’s need for a striker. The goalless draw at Barnsley further highlighted the Baggies’ issues in front of goal and a host of names have been linked with Darryl Dike apparently top of the list.
Before January comes around, however, the Baggies may have a couple of games to negotiate as they look to keep the pressure on the top two. The first of those should be away to bottom club Derby County on Monday with, at the time of writing, no sign of further COVID restrictions that could put fans’ attendance in doubt.
Wayne Rooney’s side are only bottom by virtue of a points deduction, but they would only be in 19th place without the penalty having endured a difficult season both on and off the field. The Rams managed to hold Albion to a goalless draw at the Hawthorns back in September thanks to some last ditch defending from Derby and profligate finishing from the hosts and, despite being at home, I’m not expecting Rooney to change tactics too much for Monday’s encounter. Survival would be remarkable achievement for Derby as they need to be doing well enough to challenge for the play-offs without the deduction, something they seem to be a long way from.
For Albion, this match represents an opportunity to make up for failing to take all three points at Barnsley. Ismaël’s team have taken seven points from the last nine which isn’t a bad return for the month so far, but with three (or maybe two) matches to go before the league takes a break for the FA Cup, he will be keen to take as many points as possible from a friendly set of fixtures, particularly given the drop in form that the top two are currently experiencing.
Big Val came in for criticism in some quarters for his team selection at Barnsley, most noticeably for the decision not to play Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Jayson Molumby. While there is no doubt that both players deserved to keep their places based on their performances against Reading, Ismaël stuck with the players he feels have delivered for him over the season. It was a decision that had no impact on the result, in my opinion, as the team made more than enough chances to win the game comfortably and neither player would have been expected to finish those off. Furthermore, neither Livermore nor Furlong failed to perform.
A more understandable criticism would be the failure to introduce any of the promising forward players Albion have in their academy. Tom Fellows appears to be closest to the first team at the moment having been on the bench for the past five games, and made a brief appearance against Reading, while the much-discussed Reyes Cleary has made the matchday squad just once, and only then because of multiple positive COVID tests. We’ve all seen Cleary’s impressive highlights reel from academy football, but the coaching team evidently believe he isn’t quite ready yet. I’d love to see him given a chance, but I understand the size of the gap between youth and men’s football, and we have to trust the qualified coaches who see him day in day out to judge when the time is right.
I don’t expect to see major changes for the trip to Derby but what the last few weeks has proved is that Ismaël has a number of players outside his first eleven that he can turn to if needs be. The exception is, of course, in the central striker position, something that needs to be solved soon into the January window.
It is a game, like the Barnsley match, that Albion should be winning and the failure to do so last week adds a little more pressure.
Finally, could I take this opportunity to wish all my readers slightly belated compliments of the season – I hope you are all enjoying the festivities and let’s all wish for some Christmas cheer for the Baggies at Derby and a successful 2022!
Albion are looking for their first win in Derby for more than eighteen years albeit they have only visited Pride Park on five occasions since a goal from Rob Hulse was enough to claim all three points in August 2003. Since then, the Baggies have lost three times and drawn twice. Their last visit was a tale of three penalties, one scored by Martyn Waghorn, another Waghorn effort saved by Sam Johnstone before Kenneth Zohore equalised with his own spot kick late on.
The Baggies’ two wins from eight visits to Pride Park is fairly respectable when compare against their record of five wins from 46 visits to the Baseball Ground. The Rams’ former home was something of a graveyard for Albion’s hopes so much so that their last league victory there was in the season that brought their only league title – they won 4-0, their record win in Derby, in December 1919 thanks to a brace from Fred Morris and further goals from Alf Bentley and Howard Gregory. As their fourth straight victory at the Baseball Ground, there was little sign of the 80 year barren spell that was to come, a spell that was punctuated by one FA Cup victory in February 1978 when a Regis double and another goal from Willie Johnston saw the Baggies progress to the quarter finals with a 3-2 win.
In the midst of that run, County almost subjected Albion to their biggest ever defeat – in December 1934, both Sammy Crooks and Reg Stockhill scored hat-tricks as the hosts won 9-3, just short of the Baggies’ record defeat of 10-3 (albeit that defeat at Stoke happened three years later!). However, that was not Derby’s best result against Albion – that was a particularly nasty Christmas present on Christmas Day 1896 when the legendary Steve Bloomer scored a treble in an 8-1 victory for the Rams. A few years later, he became the first player to score at the Hawthorns but he is, perhaps, best known outside of the Black Country for his record of 28 goals in 23 England internationals that made him his country’s record goalscorer at the time of his last cap in 1907.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
14 Sep 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Derby County 0
Last meeting at Derby County
24 Aug 2019 – League Championship
Derby County 1 (Waghorn (pen))
West Brom 1 (Zohore (pen))
8 Jul 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Diangana, O’Shea)
Derby County 0
Last win at Derby County
30 Aug 2003 – League Division 1
Derby County 0
West Brom 1 (Hulse)
Albion’s Record against Derby County
If you cannot see the tables, click here.