When it comes to facing newly promoted clubs, their first home game is not necessarily the ideal opportunity as the players and fans will be pumped up for their first game back in the Premier League. Having said that, if you look at Albion’s record in their first home game after promotion (W1 D1 L2), it’s not necessarily an assertion that holds up.
For Albion though, Saturday’s trip to Vicarage Road is potentially their best opportunity to pick up some points before the end of August given the next two games at home to Chelsea and away to Stoke, so the pressure could be said to be on for Tony Pulis’s men already.
It was refreshing to hear Pulis apologise for getting it wrong on Monday night, rather than blame it on everything else as most managers tend to do – The Guardian‘s Jacob Steinberg wrote a particularly good piece on the subject earlier in the week – but it was such an uncharacteristic decision that I’m still at a loss as to why he did it.
It will, therefore, be very interesting to see if he resorts to type on Saturday. Last season, Pulis showed little ambition on the road irrespective of the opposition. Sunderland, for example, were on a horrendous run of form when Pulis went there and played for a point, while the back-to-back away wins at Crystal Palace and Manchester United were very much “smash-and-grab” rather than all-out attack.
But so far, Albion’s signings this summer have been mostly attacking in nature, and he should have two new attacking options to consider this weekend in Serge Gnabry and Salomón Rondón.
Watford have been very busy over the summer, the busiest in the Premier League so far, signing ten players with three of them, Étienne Capoue from Spurs, José Jurado from Spartak Moscow and Matej Vydra who signed permanently from Udinese, all believed to have cost a new club record fee of £6 million (the previous record fee being when they signed Nathan Ellington from the Baggies in 2007 for £3.25m). The Hornets also broke their previous record with the signing of Steven Berghuis from AZ Alkmar for £4.6m.
Of those, only Capoue and Jurado started in last weekend’s creditable draw at Everton, although there were some other new signings on show in Valon Behrami, Sebastian Prödl, Allan Nyom and José Holebas. That means that, of the eleven players who started the match at Goodison Park, only five played for them last season and, of course, they were also playing under a new manager, Quique Flores (right), their fifth in the last twelve months.
Flores appears to have done a remarkable job in getting all the new players to gel, as there were few signs that they were struggling having led twice against Martínez’s side. Watford managed to do the majority of their transfer business by the end of July which will obviously have helped them to hit the ground running, but the result was certainly unexpected.
It should be an interesting contest on Saturday and a fantastic atmosphere at one of the smaller Premier League stadia, and undoubtedly another tough test for the Baggies.
Saturday’s match at Vicarage Road will be just the 36th meeting between the sides of which the Baggies have won almost half. The first meeting was as recently as 1977 when the Hornets were still in the Fourth Division, a League Cup tie at the Hawthorns which Albion won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Bomber Brown.
Despite that result, the 1977-78 season proved to be the start of something special for the Hertfordshire club. Elton John had become the club chairman the previous year and he appointed Graham Taylor as manager in April of 1977. Watford won the Fourth Division title in 1978 and began a momentus rise which meant that the next time the clubs met, it was in a First Division fixture in September 1982. Watford were, by then, a force to be reckoned with, and a brace from future Baggie, Luther Blissett, plus another from Les Taylor gave them a 3-0 win over Ron Wylie’s Albion.
Watford completed the league double over Albion with a 3-1 win at the Hawthorns the following April when future England winger John Barnes opened the scoring. Les Callaghan and Jan Lohman were the visitors’ other scorers while Martin Jol grabbed a late consolation for the Baggies. The Baggies, were of couse, at the start of their long decline but when they won just four games in the 1985-86 season, one of them was a home win over Watford thanks to a penalty by Steve Hunt and goals by Robbie Dennison and Imre Varadi. Earlier that season, however, Watford had recorded their biggest ever win over Albion, a 5-1 drubbing at Vicarage Road when another pair of future Baggies were on the scoresheet, Colin West grabbing a hat-trick and Brian Talbot also scoring.
The first 14 games between the sides all resulted in wins for one or the other, 7 for Albion and 7 for Watford. The first draw between the sides was in the Division Two fixture at the Hawthorns in December 1990 when a pair of penalties, one for Watford’s Gary Porter and the other from Graham Roberts, decided the match. The return fixture that season was also a 1-1 draw, in the midst of the remarkable nine-match unbeaten run (2 wins and 7 draws) that preceded Albion’s relegation to Division Three.
In 1996, just short of 12,000 spectators witnessed a remarkable game between the sides at the Hawthorns in League Division One. Bob Taylor (2) and Richard Sneekes had given Albion a 3-0 lead inside half an hour only for Craig Ramage and Colin Foster to score for the visitors in the space of 5 minutes to make it 3-2 at half time. Albion appeared to have wrapped up the points when Super Bob completed his hat-trick with 11 minutes to go, but Ramage and Foster scored another quick double in the 85th and 86th minutes them to make the final score 4-4.
Albion’s biggest win over Watford came at the Hawthorns on the last day of October 2009 as goals from Jonas Olsson, Graham Dorrans (penalty), Luke Moore, Gianni Zuiverloon and Simon Cox gave the hosts a 5-0 win and put them back on top of the Championship. Their biggest win at Vicarage Road was a couple of years previously when, with both sides having started the season promisingly, Ishmael Miller inspired Albion to an unexpected 3-0 win as he opened the scoring just after the half hour, a lead that was quickly doubled by Kevin Phillips. Martin Albrectsen completed the scoring just after half time.
This season is Watford’s third in the Premier League, but as neither has coincided with one of Albion’s spells in the division, this will be the first at this level since the Premier League was formed. The last meeting in the top flight was that 3-1 win for Albion back in December 1985, and Albion’s only top flight win at Vicarage Road was in May of that year when Garry Thompson and Gary Owen scored in a 2-0 win.
The Baggies have had the upper hand in recent years, having not lost a league match to Watford for 20 years. The Hornets’ only success over Albion in the last 15 contests was the FA Cup Fourth Round tie in 2003 which Watford won 1-0.
With Gnabry and Rondón available for Pulis, the starting line-up may not be easy to predict. I fully expect Yacob to start having been erroneously left out on Monday, and I’ll be interested to see whether Pulis decides to persist with Chester at right back rather than switch back to Craig Dawson. Of the new boys, I suspect Gnabry the more likely to start, particularly if Pulis opts for a five-man midfield. Rondón is thought to be lacking in match fitness.
Former Watford ‘keeper, Ben Foster is not expected back until October, while Albion’s only other injury doubt is Gareth McAuley who missed Monday’s game with a calf strain. Berahino got some fairly rough treatment from City’s players on Monday evening but there have been no reports of any lasting effects.
For the home side, Lloyd Doley and Joel Ekstrand are both long-term absentees, while new signing, Steven Berghuis, and Almen Abdi are doubtful to be included.
Matej Vydra has been vocal this week about having something to prove against the Baggies having spent an unsuccessful period on loan at the Hawthorns a couple of years ago. He was an unused substitute at Goodison Park with Troy Deeney playing as a loan striker, but he may get the nod should Flores opt to play with two up front at home.
I expect Pulis to play with five across the midfield and keep it tight having been caught out on Monday. I think Watford will struggle to break the Baggies defence down, and I can see Albion nicking a goal on the break and taking the points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 Apr 2010 – League Championship
Watford 1 (Graham)
West Brom 1 (Brunt)
31 Oct 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Olsson, Dorrans (pen), Moore, Zuiverloon, Cox)
Last win at Watford
3 Nov 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Miller, Phillips, Albrechtsen)
Albion’s Record against Watford