Having suffered back-to-back defeats for only the second time this season, Darren Moore’s Albion travel to the Bet365 Stadium for yet another televised fixture looking to get all three points to get their promotion campaign back on track.
Whether the FA Cup was a distraction or not, it is no longer a consideration for this season and the Baggies face a run of seven massive games between now and 1st March, only two of which are at the Hawthorns.
Given Albion’s recent record at home, however, that may be a blessing. They have won just two of their last nine league games at the Shrine whereas they have won five of the six games on the road since the defeat at Hull City in early November.
Forgetting about the shared history of Tony Pulis and the “bogey club” status that is now surely put to bed, there are still some juicy stories in this fixture, mostly thanks to players that have moved from the Hawthorns to the Bet365 in recent seasons.
Saido Berahino, Darren Fletcher and James McClean have all made that particular journey in recent years and, so far, none of them have exactly moved forward in their careers and all three are likely to get some attention assuming they play.
The Potters were installed as promotion favourites at the beginning of the season, but five months on and they are languishing in 15th place on a run of just one win in their last nine games in all competitions.
Gary Rowatt paid for their poor season with his job, and Nathan Jones made the switch from Luton Town to the Potteries last month. He is yet to make too much of an impact but with City sitting just nine points off the play-offs, there remains an outside chance that they could still be in the promotion mix-up come the end of the season.
Stoke’s only victory since Christmas came against former league leaders, Leeds United three weeks ago but was sandwiched a home defeat to League One, Shrewsbury Town, that saw them knocked out of the FA Cup, and a home defeat to Preston North End. They subsequently lost at resurgent Hull City and Jones will be desperate to see the Potters add to their one victory under his tenure.
For Darren Moore’s team, six wins in eight before Christmas has given way to a run of just one win in five league games since and, having lost to Middlesbrough last weekend, victory is the only way to get the promotion bandwagon rolling again.
For the first time, he should be able to make full use of the January additions to the squad and I would expect one or two of them to start. With Harper and Field having played 120 minutes on Wednesday evening, I would be surprised to see either of them start at Stoke, and I’m expecting a debut for Stefan Johansen alongside Livermore and Barry in the middle three.
Up front, Gayle and J-Rod will almost certainly start and, with HRK probably injured and having played 90+ minutes against Brighton, Jacob Murphy may well get his first start. With what has become a settled back five, that would mean four loan signings in the starting line-up and EFL rules stipulate that only five can be in the matchday squad. Given Adarabioyo’s involvement in midweek, the fifth is likely to be the final of the four January signings, Jefferson Montero.
Rekeem Harper’s recent performances do not warrant his exclusion, but I think he will need a rest after Wednesday and it will be interesting to see whether Johansen can do enough to keep his place in the side. The Norwegian captain was a key part of Fulham’s promotion push last season, and if he can reproduce that form, he could play a massive part in the remainder of this campaign.
Jacob Murphy will have had a full week to get used to his teammates and hopefully he can build on the promising few minutes he had on debut against Boro. He was unfortunate that his introduction coincided with the turnaround that saw the visitors claim the points, but I don’t think he can be at all blamed for that. There were one or two bright moments and I’d hope to see many more after a week on the training ground.
The make up of the bench could be intriguing. As I mentioned earlier, one loan signing will miss out, probably Tosin, which will probably mean that Kyle Bartley will be on the bench along with either Townsend or Mears, all three of whom played the full two hours on Wednesday. Harper and Brunt will probably both be there if fit, which leaves one spot for an attacking player, so we will maybe see Rayhaan Tulloch rewarded for his performance on Wednesday with a place on the bench in a league game for the first time. This is all assuming my predicted starting line-up is spot on, of course!
Not too long ago, a game against Stoke City would have been greeted with trepidation and resignation such was Albion’s record against the Potters, but the Baggies have lost just one of the last eight meetings, winning five of them.
Obviously, our previous manager has a remarkable record against his former clubs as we found out to our detriment last week, and the recent run of results started with his arrival at the Hawthorns, although Darren Moore’s team comfortably won the home match earlier this season.
Moreover, the Baggies have lost just twice on their previous seven visits to the Bet365/Britannia Stadium, a record that dates back to the pre-Pulis era.
In fact, when Albion ended their 19-game 30-year wait for an away win at Stoke, the Welshman was still in charge of the Potters. That was in January 2012 when James Morrison gave Albion a half time lead only for Cameron Jerome to equalise for the hosts with four minutes left. However, Graham Dorrans popped up in stoppage time to grab the winner for Roy Hodgson’s team.
The previous win for an Albion side at Stoke had been in September 1982. Ron Wylie’s Baggies travelled to the Victoria Ground to take on Richie Barker’s City side for a Division One match. Stoke had beaten Arsenal in their first and only home game that season, but Albion turned up and blew them away with a Cyrille Regis opener quickly followed by a second from Peter Eastoe to put the visitors 2-0 up at half time. Ally Brown completed the scoring with 12 minutes left.
One of the most memorably games in the intervening years came ten years later but two divisions below. Stoke were relegated to the second division in 1985, a year before Albion, and also beat the Baggies by a year in dropping to the third tier in 1990. Two years later, the Baggies had Ossie Ardiles at the helm and travelled to the Victoria Ground unbeaten having won six of their opening seven games. Lou Macari’s Potters, meanwhile, were languishing in the bottom half with just one win from their opening seven games.
The game was an absolute cracker with Bob Taylor opening the scoring midway through the first half but Steve Foley equalised for the hosts on the stroke of half time before Kevin Russell put Stoke ahead just a minute into the second period. It was an open attacking game and it looked as if Albion had won it when they scored twice in three minutes through Taylor and Garner to put them 3-2 up with 15 minutes to go. The hosts had other ideas, however, and Kevin Russell quickly equalised with his second of the game before Ian Cranson grabbed a winner for Lou Macari’s team.
Stoke’s biggest win over Albion is the Baggies’ biggest ever defeat, which happened just over 82 years ago. On 4th February 1937, which strangely was a Thursday, City hit ten goals against the Baggies in a remarkable game at the Victoria Ground. The great Stanley Matthews was in the Stoke side that day, but it was Freddie Steele that stole the show scoring half of the hosts’ goals with George Antionio and Joe Johnson grabbing a brace apiece and Arthur Turner also scoring from the spot. Albion did manage to score three themselves with Wally Boyes, Ginger Richardson and Walter Robbins finding the net but they were well beaten – 10-3!
The 3-0 win in 1982 is actually Albion’s joint best win at Stoke, having won by the same scoreline a half century earlier. Jimmy Edwards and Jimmy Cookson (2) were the scorers in April 1930 in a Second Division match.
Albion need to win this game to get their promotion push back on track, and I believe they will.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
1 Sep 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Gayle (2))
Stoke City 1 (Pieters)
Last meeting at Stoke City
23 Dec 2017 – Premier League
Stoke City 3 (Allen, Choupo-Moting, Sobhi)
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Last win at Stoke City
29 Aug 2015 – Premier League
Stoke City 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Albion’s Record against Stoke City