Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion; Bet365 Stadium, Saturday 15th April 2023, 3pm
This weekend’s fixture is Albion’s final Saturday 3pm kick off of the campaign and will be just the 15th league fixture of the season to be played at the “traditional” time for football, less than a third of matches. After the way the results went over the Easter weekend, I do wonder whether Sky are regretting their decision to pick Albion’s remaining two home games for live coverage – unless Corberán’s team can break their current away malaise and win their next two on the road, the Baggies are highly unlikely to still be in with a shout of the top six by the time they come around.
With other clubs’ failing to capitalise on Albion’s poor results, Carlos Corberán’s team remain in with a slim chance of a top six spot, but it does now seem like Mission Impossible given their apparent inability to pull out a performance when it really matters. Should the Baggies miraculously win their final six matches, it would give them 75 points which would almost certainly be enough for a top six spot. Only once this century, in 2013, has the sixth-placed team earned fewer than 70 points when Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City snuck in with 68, but given the current profligacy of the teams battling for fifth and sixth, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a total in the low seventies proving to be sufficient.
It feels entirely academic as far as Albion is concerned, such has been the approach to the last two games. A pair of pretty dismal performances has seen them pick up just one point against two relegation threatened sides at a time when two wins would have seen them in fifth spot on goal difference given the way other results have gone. One point from five games on the road leaves fans with little expectation that they can suddenly pick up the minimum nine or ten points from their remaining four away from the Hawthorns while the two visitors to the Shrine are both gunning for the top six themselves, and are both currently ahead of Albion in the table.
Saturday’s opponents Stoke City have endured some difficult seasons recently – since their relegation in 2018, they have failed to finish higher than 14th despite having what was thought to be one of the strongest squads in the Championship. After Paul Lambert was sacked after failing to keep them up, Nathan Jones embarked on his first failed project away from Luton Town and lasted less than 12 months while his replacement, Michael O’Neill, was given more than two years before the club’s patience finally ran out after a poor start to this season.
Alex Neill replaced him but only in the past month have the Potters started to put any sort of run together. Notable away wins at Sunderland (5-1) and Coventry City (4-0) have helped propel them towards the mid table but a home defeat by Bristol City and a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City means that their most recent six game spell matches Albion’s with nine points gained.
City are one of the few sides in the Championship who have no realistic chance of exiting the division in either direction this season being eleven points off the bottom three and ten away from the top six. That means that they can play without fear, but that they are unlikely to be overly motivated should things not go their way.
In recent years, Dwight Gayle, who scored Albion’s winner at the Bet365 Stadium four years ago, has been a shadow of the player Baggies fans loved, and his goal in Stoke’s 4-0 win over Reading in January was his first in senior football since he scored against Albion for Newcastle United in December 2020. Since then, he scored a brace in the 5-1 win at Sunderland but it remains just three goals in 31 Championship appearances this season. The Potters’ top scorer is Tyrese Campbell, son of former Baggies striker Kevin, with nine goals while Lewis Baker and Jacob Brown have eight apiece. Another City player with a more famous father is D’Margio Wright-Phillips, son of Shaun, although he is currently on loan at Northampton Town while Liam Delap, son of Stoke legend Rory, is now on loan at Preston North End having spent a less than successful spell at the Bet365 Stadium earlier this season.
It seems likely that Corberán will be able to welcome Alex Palmer and, hopefully, Jayson Molumby back to the first team. While Josh Griffiths has done little wrong in his spell in the side, Palmer’s experience and character was a massive part of Albion’s resurgence in the early part of the Spaniard’s tenure and he should provide a level of confidence to the defence in front of him and I think he should start. Unfortunately, Okay Yokuşlu remains sidelined while Taylor Gardner-Hickman has been added to the injury list while Jake Livermore has also been struggling with a hamstring problem. U21 captain, Jamie Andrews, could be in contention for some game time having been on the bench for the last couple of games. The absences of Okay and O’Shea have been particularly damaging in my opinion as they are key to the way Albion play out from the back.
It would have been a tough task to win at Stoke with Okay back in the side, but without him, I have little faith that the midfield can exert the control that Corberán’s type of play demands. Nobody else has shown the same level of composure and the ability to find the right pass into the front players. It is by no means a lost cause, but against a half-decent midfield, the players Albion have available don’t, in my opinion, have the quality to play through the middle as the Spaniard normally likes to – I feel they need to be a little more direct and also use the diagonal switch pass that we saw Ajayi employ on occasion against QPR.
Defeat would almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin of the Baggies’ play-off hopes, while a draw would merely extend the agony. Victory could resurrect a little hope, but it would need another one on Tuesday and some favourable results elsewhere to really spark interest again.
I remain ever hopeful, but without expectation – Come On You Baggies!
Stoke City may no longer be the bogey side that they once were for the Baggies, but the head-to-head record remains firmly in favour of the Potters, particularly in the league as they have recorded 63 wins to Albion’s 47. It was very different in the early days of organised football when Albion won the first five meetings between the teams – a 4-1 in the FA Cup in January 1888 was followed by back-to-back league doubles in the first two season of the Football League including, of course, both sides’ first ever Football League game at Stoke’s Victoria Ground on 8th September 1888 won 2-0 by the visitors thanks to late goals from Joe Wilson and George Woodhall.
Stoke, who didn’t add “City” to their name until 1925 when Stoke-on-Trent was granted city status, recorded their first victory over Albion at the Victoria Ground in April 1892 but their most famous victory was in February 1937 when they inflicted Albion’s record defeat winning 10-3 with Freddie Steele, the Potters’ record league goalscorer, scoring five of the hosts’ goals.
The Baggies biggest win at Stoke is 3-0, a scoreline they have achieved twice. The first was in April 1930 and the most recent in September 1982 when the goals came from Cyrille Regis, Peter Eastoe and Ally Brown.
In recent seasons, the head-to-head has been fairly even which each side registering two home wins and two away wins in the last eight fixtures. The Baggies’ wins at the Bet365 Stadium both came in 2019, 1-0 thanks to a goal by Dwight Gayle in February and 2-0 in November when a Matt Phillips goal and a Hal Robson-Kanu penalty secured the points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Nov 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Bartley, Thomas-Asante)
Stoke City 0
Last meeting at Stoke City
1 Oct 2021 – League Championship
Stoke City 1 (Powell)
West Bromwich Albion 0
Last win at Stoke City
4 Nov 2019 – League Championship
Stoke City 0
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu (pen))
Albion’s Record against Stoke City