Baggies should be fearless ahead of play-off campaign

West Bromwich Albion v Southampton; The Hawthorns, Sunday 12th May 2024, 2.15pm

At the start of this season, I, like most Albion fans I guess, was hopeful more than expectant of a top six finish. Obviously, as the season came to its climax with Albion having been in the top six for months, the expectation rose, but having achieved that first goal, I believe the team can go into the play-off campaign without a fear of failure, but with an opportunity of an unexpected success.

It is similar, in some ways, to the 2000/01 play-off campaign when a new manager had rescued the club the previous season before guiding them to a top six spot against all the odds. To be fair to Gary Megson, the expectation levels were much lower and he had to effectively rebuild the squad – I’d argue that much of Corberán’s squad was underperforming rather than lacking in quality, so the job he faced was different. Nevertheless, at both times the club was in a recovery phase and, while Albion failed in 2001, it was the start of something very special.

With Carlos Corberán in charge of the team and Shilen Patel in charge of the club, I certainly have the feeling that the club could be on the verge of something very special once again. But, as in 2001, success in this play-off campaign is not essential and, for that reason, Albion should go into it without pressure. However, I believe this team is better equipped for success than Megson’s team was 23 years ago, and not only should they not fear failure, they should not fear their opponents either.

Southampton have been Albion’s expected play-off semi-final opponents for much of the past couple of months and, given that they have beaten the Baggies twice this season and Russell Martin has a 100% record as a manager against Albion, recent history appears to favour the Saints. Of course, football is never that predictable and there are plenty of reasons for the Baggies to be optimistic.

First of all, Albion’s performance at St Mary’s in November warranted at least a point with their display in the second half particularly strong. Furthermore, that was done without the man who has become one of Albion’s most potent threats, Mikey Johnston. Southampton deservedly won the game at the Hawthorns in February, but Albion were without Bartley that day, with Erik Pieters deputising, while Johnston was not yet in full flow starting only his second game for the Baggies.

Perhaps the strongest reason for optimism, however, is the man in the Albion dugout. There is no doubt that Corberán has a preferred setup and a preferred style of play, but he is far more of a pragmatist than his opposite number and will have learned a lot from the last two games. While the result didn’t go Albion’s way, the switch to a back three at Leicester City was a tactical success let down by poor finishing. Furthermore, there have been plenty of instances when Albion have reverted to the longer ball when struggling to break an opponent’s press. Russell Martin, on the other hand, is much more wedded to his passing style and, when it goes wrong, it can go wrong spectacularly as was shown in their own recent 5-0 defeat at the King Power.

Of course, football is ultimately about players and how they perform on the day. In recent weeks, good performances against Leicester City and Preston North End sandwiched an absolute dog of a display at Hillsborough, but that has thankfully been a rare occurrence under Carlos Corberán. Let’s hope that is the last one we will see in this campaign!

There is a perception that Albion’s finishing has been poor, and in certain instances that is undoubtedly the case, but overall, the Baggies are far outperforming their xG notching an average of 1.52 goals per game against an xG of 1.13 according to FootyStats. Even Brandon Thomas-Asante, who has come in for some significant criticism for his finishing, is only slightly under his xG in the Championship this season, scoring 11 goals against an xG of 11.29.

The rumblings of discontent about Thomas-Asante will continue, but it is important to remember that goalscoring statistics are only one aspect. BTA’s two “big” misses at Preston are fresh in the memory, but his link-up and off-the-ball work in that match was excellent. As a striker, he will always be judged on goals, but if his work is helping to contribute to others’ goals, it should be recognised and applauded. In the first minute or so of the game against Preston, he won a free kick as he stood firm defending the ball against a much bigger defender, something he would have struggled to do last season, and won another fifteen minutes later with a smart turn that left Lambley on a yellow card for the rest of the game. He continued to worry the Lilywhites defence throughout the game and, while he didn’t get on the scoresheet, there is no doubt that he contributed to the victory significantly

It seems unlikely that Josh Maja will be fit enough to start a game this season, so BTA remains the only natural centre forward available to him. Jed Wallace has been used as a number nine fairly regularly in recent weeks and, while he can certainly “do a job” there and is undoubtedly a good finisher, he is not a natural centre forward and, for me, lacks the instincts in the box that a true striker has. BTA has more of those instincts, although he is by no means perfect, and I feel he does enough in the rest of his play to allow for the occasional wayward finishing.

Corberán may decide to tweak the formation for Sunday, if only to surprise his opposite number, but if he sticks to a back four, I expect the starting line up won’t be too different to the one we saw on Saturday. Again, my only choice would be between Wallace and Fellows, and perhaps the skipper will get the nod this time.

The Baggies stepped up to the task last weekend and produced an excellent result and performance backed by a vociferous Hawthorns crowd. I’m sure the sold-out crowd will be just as vociferous on Sunday and let’s hope that the result can be just as good.

I go into this play-off campaign with more hope than expectation but, as I have indicated, I don’t think Albion should fear any opponent – they have enough to beat any of them on their day and, while it may not all go to plan, I’m determined to enjoy it come what may.

Come On You Baggies!!

Play-Off First Leg History

Sunday’s match marks the start of Albion’s fifth play-off campaign since the Football League Play-Offs were introduced in 1987 with the Baggies having only been successful in the first of those, in 1993. This is the first time that the Baggies have finished in 5th place to enter the play-offs having finished 4th on three occasions and 6th in 2001. That also means that this is only the second time that they have played the first leg at the Hawthorns.


The Baggies first play-off campaign was at the end of the remarkable 1992/93 season. While those at the top of the English game were enjoying the first ever Premier League season, Albion fans were enjoying their own “whole new ball game”, as Sky’s advertising campaign proclaimed, with the swashbuckling style of Argentine World Cup winner, Ossie Ardiles. Although automatic promotion was a possibility for much of the season, the Baggies’ defensive frailties cost them in the end and they finished fourth, but some twelve points clear of their semi-final opponents, Swansea City. The regular season game at the Vetchfield had ended in Albion’s only goalless draw of a season in which their 46 matches had seen a remarkable 142 goals. New goalscoring legend, Bob Taylor, had scored 30 of the Baggies’ 88 league goals, and with 37 in all competitions, he was tantalisingly close to WG Richardson’s club record for a season of 39 – surely with another two or three games he could match or beat it?

Those Baggies fans who travelled to the Swans’ old ground, famously opposite the prison, were expectant but the players never really turned up. The hosts were the better side on the day, a cold May Sunday lunchtime, and Albion found themselves 2-0 down with twenty minutes to go thanks to goals early in the second half from Andy MacFarlane and Martin Hayes. Then, a lifeline, Ian Hamilton swung in a ball to the edge of the box that Daryl Burgess, still advanced following a set piece, controlled to beat his defender before he managed to get a toe it to before being clattered by Swans ‘keeper, Roger Freestone. The ball looped into the air before dropping onto the bar before hitting MacFarlane on the line and over the line. It was a goal that the visitors scarcely deserved but the tie was now perfectly set up for a memorable second leg.


At the start of the 2000/01 season, Albion were looking to consolidate in Division One having only just escaped relegation the season before. The man who had engineered that survival, Gary Megson, transformed the team to one that were in the top six for the majority of the season securing a play-off place with a game to spare and faced third-placed Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final. With the East Stand under construction, the Hawthorns capacity was reduced to around 18,000, most there in hope rather than expectation.

Early in the second half, hopes were high however after Jason Roberts’ first half opener was added to by a Lee Hughes penalty after Roberts had been felled by Colin Hendry. However, it all went wrong for the Baggies in the last ten minutes – Gudni Bergsson scored with a header with nine minutes left before Bo Hansen went down under a challenge in the area from Phil Gilchrist and referee, David Laws, awarded the spot kick. Per Frandsen converted it and they went to the Reebok Stadium all square.


Six years later, Tony Mowbray was in charge having taken over from Bryan Robson in October 2006 tasked with ensuring another immediate bounce back to the Premier League. The Baggies briefly topped the table in February but a play-off spot always looked more likely although even that was not secured when they faced Barnsley on the final day of the season. After a 7-0 win that took their league goal total for the season to 81, they finished fourth setting up a mouth-watering semi-final tie with Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Albion fans were in confident mood for the first leg at Molineux. The clubs had finished on the same points but the Baggies had already recorded two 3-0 wins over the Dingles that season, one of them in the FA Cup at the Custard Bowl that gave rise to the infamous Tesco carrier bag incident in the South Bank. Wolves, however, had exacted a measure of revenge with a 1-0 victory in the league match at Molineux in February.

Wolves started the game well but some excellent defending kept them out and it was the Baggies who took the lead through the Dingle assassin, Kevin Phillips, who fired home Gary Breen’s weak clearance. The game then turned as Wolves scored either side of half time through Craddock and Olofinjana, but the visitors responded as Phillips scored a second and “Joe” Kamara made it 3-2 to Albion on the day to give them the edge ahead of the second leg.


At the end of the 2017/18 season, the late rally under the stewardship of Darren Moore was enough to earn “Big Dave” the permanent job and he kept Albion in the play-off positions all season with some swashbuckling football. However, it wasn’t enough for the hierarchy and they felt he was too influenced by his number two, Graeme Jones, and when Moore refused to let him go, he was himself sacked with the club well placed in 4th place in mid-March, albeit some distance from challenging the top two. U23 boss Jimmy Shan took the reins and kept Albion in 4th place and another local derby in a play-off semi-final. Dean Smith’s Aston Villa had enjoyed a late surge in form to finish fifth.

Albion had won comfortably at Villa Park earlier in the season so returned with some confidence for the play-offs with two 20+ goal strikers in the side. After one, Jay Rodriguez, saw an effort tipped onto the bar, the second, Dwight Gayle, gave the visitors the lead on 16 minutes capitalising on Glenn Whelan’s error. The game turned around in the second half as Conor Hourihane’s long range effort and a penalty from Tammy Abraham gave the hosts the lead. It was then the turn of referee Graham Scott to come to the fore as he first failed to award Albion a penalty for a clear push on Mason Holgate before handing Dwight Gayle a harsh second yellow card for a challenge on Villa ‘keeper, Jed Steer, that would see him miss the second leg.

Stat Attack

Current Form

Albion D W L L L W
Southampton W W L L L W

All competitions; most recent game on the right

Last matches

Last meeting

16 Feb 2024 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 0
Southampton 2 (Fraser, Brooks)

Last win

12 Apr 2021 – Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Pereira (pen), Phillips, Robinson)
Southampton 0

Albion’s Record against Southampton

  Overall   Home
  P W D L F A   P W D L F A
League 74 24 21 29 84 90   37 20 8 9 49 30
FA Cup 9 1 3 5 9 16   4 0 3 1 4 5
Total 83 25 24 34 93 106   41 20 11 10 53 35

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