Baggies set for final day test

West Bromwich Albion v Preston North End; The Hawthorns, Saturday 4th May 2024, 12.30pm

Back at the start of the campaign, I was optimistic that the squad would be good enough for a top six finish and would certainly have taken the current position had it been offered – avoid defeat in their final home game against a team with nothing to play for and a top six finish is secured. Obviously, having been in the top six since early November, dropping out on the final day would be extraordinarily disappointing, but backed by a sell-out Hawthorns crowd, I don’t expect that to be the case.

Both sides go into Saturday’s match after something of a slump in form. A few weeks ago, North End were one of the sides chasing Albion for a play-off spot. After beating Huddersfield Town 4-1 on 9th April, they were five points off sixth spot with a game in hand, but four successive defeats has seen their top six dreams crumble and they are left with only a top ten finish to hang on to. Meanwhile, the Baggies looked relatively secure in fifth spot at the last international break but have won just one of the seven games since then and look like stumbling into the top six assuming they can earn the point they need against Preston.

It’s not unusual amongst the sides currently in the play-off positions, however. In the last three games, Leeds United, Southampton, Norwich City and Albion have picked up just two wins and two draws between them with the Canaries the only team to have avoided defeat in that period. So if Albion do get into the play-offs, it is not as if the other clubs will be going in on great form.

Back to Saturday, it is a sell out with additional seats in the Smethwick End having been sold with the away allocation reduced. It should be a boisterous atmosphere that will hopefully help Albion to the fast start that they will be looking for. The first goal is normally all important at the Hawthorns – the Baggies have won every game at the Hawthorns this season in which they have scored first and have only twice earned a point at home when the opponents have opened the scoring.

Corberán has come into some criticism of late with regards to team selection and tactics. Tactically, I’m not sure he has done too much wrong – the tactical tweak at Leicester was working but his players failed to take the chances they created – but leaving Mowatt out at Hillsborough and the selections of M’Vila and Phillips from the start were certainly not ones I expected.

There is a feeling that the additional options as new players have come in or returned to fitness may have complicated things, but it’s easy to criticise in hindsight. Ultimately, those players who produced an excellent run of form for much of 2024 when options were limited are those that the fans trust the most, but I also suspect that they will be suffering from some fatigue at the end of a long season. Perhaps Corberán felt that they had a big enough margin for error that it was worth given some players a rest ahead of the play-off campaign, in the belief that the alternatives would be able to do enough.

If that was the gamble, it didn’t pay off but Albion still have things in their own hands. I wasn’t at Hillsborough, but reports suggest that the performance was as bad as we have seen under Corberán. We can only hope that it was a wake up call that the squad will all heed, and that the attitude will be 100% right on Saturday.

For me, the team selection is clear bar one position, and that is the choice of either Jed Wallace or Tom Fellows on the right of attack and I’d be happy with either, if I’m honest. So my team would be Palmer, Furlong, Kipré, Bartley, Townsend, Yokuşlu, Mowatt, Johnston, Diangana, Wallace/Fellows, Thomas-Asante. Swift, Maja and either Wallace or Fellows would offer the attacking impetus from the bench should it be needed.

In some ways, needing something on the final day could be an advantage – it means that the Baggies can rebuild some momentum to take into the play-offs, something that their semi-final opponents may not have. Their two likely opponents, Leeds United and Southampton, face each other tomorrow which will add another twist, but all Albion need to do is focus on the job in the hand and they should have too much for Preston.


My preview to last season’s final day fixture against Swansea City provides a lot of information on those final days where Albion have needed something and, in the majority of cases, the Baggies were successful with the final day matches in 2002, 2005 and 2008 the most memorable of the 21st century.

Last season, of course, Albion needed a miracle and it was on for a few minutes in the second half but results elsewhere went again Carlos Corberán’s team and the Baggies ended up losing anyway. On Saturday, of course, it is in Albion’s hands and the last time they failed in that situation was in 1991 when they failed to beat Bristol Rovers on the final day and were relegated to Division Three.

Albion’s history with Preston North End is a long one with the clubs having met for the first time in the FA Cup in March 1887 and the most important meetings between the sides have been in football’s oldest cup competition. The clubs have twice met in the FA Cup Final with Albion victorious on both occasions in 1888 and in 1954. This encounter is probably the most important since the ’54 final albeit there is nothing riding on it for North End.

The club’s did meet on the final day of the 2000/01 season at Deepdale. The Lancashire club won 2-1 on that occasion with future Baggie Sean Gregan opening the scoring for Preston, Clement equalising for Albion before the ever-reliable penalty-taker Graham Alexander won it for the hosts in the second half. Albion had already secured their top six spot the week before and Preston, who were in fourth spot, were also safely in the play-offs. Both sides ending up losing to Bolton Wanderers in the play-offs.

In more recent years, Albion have the edge in this fixture and have only lost two of the last eleven against the Lilywhites, while at the Hawthorns, the Baggies have won twelve of the last thirteen meetings. The only exception to that was North End’s 2-0 victory at the Shrine in January 2022 in Valérien Ismaël’s last home game in charge of Albion.

Since the two clubs first met in West Bromwich in the newly re-named Championship on Boxing Day 2006, the aggregate score in seven Hawthorns encounters is 17-7 with the Baggies twice netting four times. In that Boxing Day match, Albion won 4-2 thanks to goals from Jason Koumas, Diomansy Kamara and Nathan Ellington (2) while in April 2019, Dwight Gayle scored a hat-trick with Jay Rodriquez grabbing the other in a 4-1 victory – future Baggie Callum Robinson scored a late consolation for the visitors.

Stat Attack

Current Form

Albion D D W L L L
Preston North End D W L L L L

All competitions; most recent game on the right

Last matches

Last meeting

30 Sep 2023 – League Championship
Preston North End 0
West Bromwich Albion 4 (Furlong, Mowatt, Phillips, Bartley)

Last meeting at the Hawthorns

29 Dec 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Yokuşlu (2))
Preston North End 0

Albion’s Record against Preston North End

  Overall   Home
  P W D L F A   P W D L F A
League 107 43 25 39 156 156   53 28 11 14 94 66
FA Cup 8 6 0 2 14 9   2 2 0 0 3 0
League Cup 4 2 2 0 4 2   2 1 1 0 2 1
Total 119 51 27 41 174 167   57 31 12 14 99 67

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