Huddersfield Town v West Bromwich Albion; John Smith’s Stadium, Saturday 27th August 2022, 3pm
Such has been the life of an Albion fan recently that it was no surprise to see the optimism gained from last weekend’s 5-2 defeat of Hull City soon quashed by a disappointing 1-0 defeat in the Carabao Cup at Derby on Tuesday evening. The caveat is, of course, the ten changes that Steve Bruce made to the starting line up at Pride Park, but it does demonstrate that the squad is severely lacking in depth, something that staff and fans alike will be desperate to see addressed in the last week of the transfer window.
Huddersfield Town, Albion’s opponents this weekend, have their own problems having lost four of their five games in all competitions so far this campaign. With many expecting them to be struggling at the wrong end of the table last season, they reached the play off final under Carlos Corberán, but defeat to Forest has been followed by a difficult summer which included the Spaniard surprisingly resigning from his position at the club. His successor, Danny Schofield, was appointed quickly but he has seen two of their best players, Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo both depart to join the side that beat them in that Wembley final while incomings have been largely restricted to free transfers from lower league clubs. It is, perhaps, no surprise therefore to see them struggling this season losing to Burnley and Birmingham City before being thumped 4-1 at home by Preston North End in the first round of the Carabao Cup. The only positive result of the season saw them beat Stoke City 3-1 a fortnight ago before they were beaten by Norwich City a few days later with former Terrier, Daniel Sinani, scoring what proved to be the winner.
Town’s game at Coventry City was postponed last weekend due to the Sky Blues’ ongoing issues with their pitch which means that they will have had ten games without a game to prepare for this fixture. Most of Albion’s first team have had the week off although Steve Bruce was forced to play Dara O’Shea for the whole match at Derby and introduced Swift, Grant, Diangana and Wallace in the last half in an attempt to force an equaliser.
However, given that Bruce admitted that none of the fringe players we saw at Pride Park really did enough to force their way into his plans, we can expect the same eleven to start at the John Smith’s Stadium as started against Hull City at the Hawthorns, assuming all are fit.
One would hope that the performance and result last Saturday will provide some confidence ahead of the trip to Huddersfield. However, it cannot be ignored that, were it not for a couple of excellent saves from David Button, Albion could have been two down before their fortunate opening goal. It was by no means a perfect performance, few are, but the result was hugely important. If Bruce’s team can capitalise on the Terriers’ poor start and take another three points on Saturday, it will put them back on track in terms of results, but the actions off the field in the next week could be more important.
While the need for a striker is paramount, Albion are also short of cover at central defence while Kean Bryan remains sidelined, and in the centre of midfield, albeit there are the less than ideal options of Matt Phillips and Adam Reach who can fill in, and Taylor Gardner-Hickman who himself would prefer to play at right back. Steve Bruce will have a very busy week with not only Saturday’s game but also Tuesday’s trip to Wigan to prepare for on top of his efforts in the transfer window, although I hope that much of the groundwork is done by Ron Gourlay, Ian Pearce and the rest of the recruitment team.
As the end of the window nears, things should start to move, particularly in terms of Premier League clubs developing a greater understanding of which players they can afford to let go out on loan, and I suspect that is the market Albion are working in more than most.
While the injury to Dike and the inability to offload Zohore are mitigating factors, it would be crazy if Albion did not have a list of striker targets, but there is little coming out of the club to suggest that there is. Perhaps it is an unwillingness to show their hand, but fans will only be satisfied if a solution can be found to their striking problems, and a better solution than Jordan Hugill proved to be.
As it was last season, taking big chances is their biggest issue so far this campaign. Only Fulham had a higher overall xG in 2021/22 and the Baggies sit third in that particular table this season with an xG of 8.8 according to infogol. This may not too different from their actual goals tally of 8, but 5 of those came against Hull when their xG was just over 2 and their “expected position” is second based on xG for and against on a game by game basis. Perhaps spare a thought for Boro who are top of both those statistics but sit second bottom of the actual table.
Where xG is higher than actual goals scored, it is down to a combination of below average finishing and above average goalkeeping, and Albion have been a victim of both this season. However, it is only the former than the club can do something about, and getting that clinical goalscorer into the team is surely their most important task in the next week.
Obviously, picking up three points in West Yorkshire would be a decent start!
It’s been more than a decade since Albion tasted victory in Huddersfield, albeit they have only visited the Kirklees Stadium, or whatever it happens to be called at the time, on three occasions since the 2-0 FA Cup Third Round victory in January 2010 courtesy of goals from Graham Dorrans and one of Chris Wood’s three senior goals in a Baggies shirt.
The 1-0 defeat in the Premier League in November 2017 to the newly promoted Terriers was effectively the death knell to Tony Pulis’s Albion tenure albeit he wasn’t dismissed until after the 4-0 home defeat by Chelsea a fortnight later.
In July 2020, the 2-1 defeat on a Friday night thanks to a goals from former under-used Baggie, Chris Willock, and Arsenal loanee, Emile Smith Rowe, looked to have condemned Albion to relying on a place in the play-offs until Brentford lost at Stoke City the next day and handed Slaven Bilić’s team a lifeline that they just about clung to thereby securing automatic promotion. Last season, a 1-0 defeat at the John Smiths Stadium was in the midst of a four game winless streak for Valérien Ismaël’s team with Daniel Sinani scoring the only goal of the game.
Overall, the Terriers have the edge in this fixture with 31 wins to the Baggies’ 26 and, in Huddersfield, Albion have won just nine times in 38 attempts. The first of those was the very first meeting between the sides on Christmas Eve 1910 at Town’s Leeds Road stadium. Frank Waterhouse and Sid Bowser scored the Baggies’ goals in a 2-0 victory. It was a different story on their next visit, however, almost a decade later when the hosts won 5-1 in October 1920, the Terriers’ biggest win over Albion, mocking the fact that Town were a newly promoted side and Albion were defending League Champions! Huddersfield, of course, went on to win three league titles of their own in the 1920s.
Albion’s biggest win at Leeds Road came almost 70 years later in a Division Two fixture in March 1988. The author was in attendance that day when three goals in seven minutes, a double from Andy Gray and another from loanee Kenny Swain (unsurprisingly his only one in an Albion shirt), saw the visitors come from a goal down to win 3-1. Robert Hopkins’ red card (one of two he received while at the Hawthorns) a few minutes after Albion’s third goal did not affect the result.
That result was bettered a decade later at Huddersfield’s new stadium when Denis Smith’s Baggies won 3-0 at the McAlpine Stadium, as it was then called, with all three goals coming in the space of seven minutes once again. This time, James Quinn scored a brace off the bench (replacing Fabian De Freitas) while Lee Hughes added a third.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Mar 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Grant (pen), Carroll)
Huddersfield Town 2 (Ward (2))
Last meeting at Huddersfield Town
20 Nov 2021 – League Championship
Huddersfield Town 1 (Sinani)
West Brom 0
22 Sep 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Phillips (2), Furlong, Ajayi)
Huddersfield Town 2 (O’Brien, Grant)
Last win at Huddersfield Town
2 Jan 2010 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Huddersfield Town 0
West Brom 2 (Dorrans, Wood)
Albion’s Record against Huddersfield Town