West Bromwich Albion v Blackburn Rovers; The Hawthorns, Saturday 13th January 2023, 3pm
Albion return to league action this weekend with the visit of Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Blackburn Rovers to the Hawthorns. Having safely navigated the third round of the cup, the Baggies will be looking to continue their run of home victories having beaten both Norwich City and Leeds United at the end of last year, with many of the first team regulars fresh from a rest last weekend.
For Rovers, the cup was a welcome distraction as their 5-2 home win over Cambridge United put an end to a winless run of five matches. They have only picked up four points from their last eight league outings since the beginning of December, a run that puts them bottom of the Championship form table and has seen them tumble down the table. When they beat Birmingham City 4-2 on 29th November, they were in seventh place four points behind Albion; after ending a run of four straight defeats with a 2-2 home draw with Rotherham United on New Year’s Day, they are in 17th place some ten points back.
That downturn in form is in contrast to the fact that Rovers have the Championship’s top scorer in their midst in the shape of Sammie Szmodics. He will be fresh from five goals in the last three games, including a hat trick against Cambridge last week, which brought him to a total of 19 goals for the campaign. His 16 league goals is more than 40% of his team’s total for the season, but the reason for Blackburn’s poor form is in the column alongside – they have conceded 48 goals this season which is more than any side in the division bar bottom side Rotherham United who held them to a draw at Ewood Park last time out. They have recorded just four clean sheets this season, only one in the last 14 games, and have let in three or more goals in no less than eight of their 26 league matches.
Their poor defensive record may be at least partially down to their adventurous style of play where they will consistently play out from the back with positions more fluid than your average Championship side. Corberán has likened them in style to Postecoglou’s Tottenham Hotspur and believes they pose a unique tactical challenge, although recent results suggest that other coaches have been able to meet it!
Tomasson has already been active in the transfer market already this month, signing 19-year-old left back, Ben Chrisene, on loan from Aston Villa, 20-year-old Swedish midfielder, Yasin Ayari, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion along with converting the loan signing of 24-year-old Icelandic international attacking midfielder, Arnór Sigurðsson, from CSKA Moscow, to a permanent deal. They were dealt a blow this week, however, when centre-back, James Hill, was recalled by parent club, Bournemouth – he has been a regular starter for Rovers since October and he will be missed.
Corberán, on the other hand, is yet to welcome any new faces to the club and, of course, lost one in the shape of Jeremy Sarmiento who returned to Brighton, and will be without Grady Diangana and Semi Ajayi for a few weeks as they compete for their countries at AFCON. He was, however, able to field Daryl Dike last weekend for the first time in eight months, so he is very much like a new signing!
With Jed Wallace and Adam Reach struggling with injuries, it could leave the Spaniard with just one fit senior winger in Tom Fellows, and he has suggested that it could lead to a change in formation to better accommodate the players he does have available. He remains hopeful that both Wallace and John Swift will be available to play some part, but that may not be from the start.
A switch to a back three with wing backs could see the first back-to-back Albion appearances for Caleb Taylor who did his reputation no harm with an assured performance alongside Kyle Bartley and then Cédric Kipré against Aldershot. Erik Pieters remains an option at centre back, but I would personally prefer to see Taylor given a chance, although Pieters’ left foot might edge him ahead in Corberán’s mind. The expectation would be that Furlong and Townsend would perform the wing back roles if that is the formation chosen, but Pipa must be in with a shout on either wing after another bright performance on Saturday.
Daryl Dike is not yet ready to start a Championship fixture but will be in the squad, so Brandon Thomas-Asante will start up front and, with John Swift and Jayson Molumby both unsure to be fit enough to make the squad, a few of the academy stars from the FA Cup win are likely to make the bench at least. I’m expecting Alex Mowatt and Okay Yokuşlu to be start in central midfield but Nathaniel Chalobah did his chances of more game time no harm at all against the Shots with a mature and assured performance and a first Baggies goal thanks to a fine finish.
Corberán’s skill in using his squad was aptly demonstrated last weekend, and I feel sure he will pick a team capable of winning this weekend. With many of his senior players having enjoyed some much needed rest since New Year’s Day, the squad should be fit and raring to go this weekend, ready to earn the Baggies’ first three points of 2024.
Saturday will see the 122nd league meeting between two of the Founder Members of the league and it is the visitors who hold the edge in the head-to-head statistics and are looking to record their 50th league victory over the Baggies. It was in the FA Cup that the clubs first met in what we now refer to as a major competition with Rovers knocking Albion out of the cup in both 1885 and 1886 on their way to lifting the trophy. The 1886 meeting was in the final as Rovers secured the third of three successive cup wins, and Albion made the first of three successive finals, the third of which they won in 1888.
Over the years, there have been some high scoring fixtures between the sides, none more so than the one at the Hawthorns almost 87 years ago in January 1936. Remarkably, Albion raced into a 5-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes through Ginger Richardson (7′), Jack Mahon (9′), Walter Robins (11′), Mahon again (15′) and Jack Sankey (19′). The visitors had the temerity to score themselves on the half hour through Ernie Thompson and all was then quiet until 14 minutes into the second half when Richardson scored his second. He completed his hat trick with 12 minutes left before Mahon also grabbed his third in the final minutes making the final score 8-1.
There have been five occasions when the clubs have shared eight goals, albeit only once were they shared evenly! All of those matches came before that 8-1 game from 1936, the first of them being the first ever league meeting between the sides at Blackburn’s Leamington Road ground in September 1888 when the hosts won 6-2. Albion returned the favour with a 6-2 win of their own just over a decade later at Stoney Lane in January 1899.
For the most part, things have been a little quieter in this fixture since the Second World War albeit Rovers’ biggest ever win at the Hawthorns came in November 1962 when Fred Pickering scored a hat trick for the visitors in a 5-2 victory. Albion’s biggest post-war home win in this fixture came the year before in November 1961 with Derek Kevan, Alec Jackson and Keith Smith (2) the scorers in a 4-0 triumph.
Since Albion returned to the Championship in 2018, they have managed just two wins over Rovers and only one of those has come at the Hawthorns, a 3-2 victory in August 2019; the other three home matches in that period have been drawn. In fact, the Baggies haven’t lost at home to Blackburn since Nikola Kalinić’s brace helped Steve Kean’s team to a 3-1 win in a Premier League fixture in December 2010, and we have to go back to December 1987 for Blackburn’s last second tier win at the Hawthorns when the only goal of the game was scored by Chris Price to give Don Mackay’s Blackburn the points during Ron Atkinson’s second spell at the Hawthorns.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 Aug 2023 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Markanday, Leonard)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Phillips)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
15 Feb 2023 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Molumby)
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Brereton Díaz)
21 Aug 2021 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Brereton Díaz)
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Mowatt, Phillips)
Last win at the Hawthorns
31 Aug 2019 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Phillips, Livermore, Diangana)
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Dack, Johnson)
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers