West Bromwich Albion v Luton Town; Saturday 8th October 2022, 3pm
To the surprise of many, Seve Bruce remains in charge at the Hawthorns for the visit of Luton Town with most expecting that his team will need to produce something special for him to keep his job, with a victory, something that Albion haven’t achieved for seven weeks, the minimum requirement.
Many expected the Albion boss to have been sacked after each of the last two games, but in his pre-match press conference on Friday morning, Bruce revealed that he and Ron Gourlay had spent an hour discussing the poor start to the season on Thursday and that they both remain intent on turning things around.
Having had a full two weeks to prepare for the visit of Swansea City last weekend, Bruce’s team put in a shoddy performance, and he made six changes for the trip to Preston only to watch Albion lose once again. Some of the manager’s decisions this week smack of desperation rather than any particular plan. Given the amount of preparation for the Swansea match, to make six changes for a game three days later is either a kneejerk reaction to just shake things up, or an admission that he got it dreadfully wrong in the first place.
For me, it is more of the latter than the former. Button has been struggling for weeks and Rogić was evidently not match fit while keeping Townsend at centre back when you have a fit Martin Kelly available is a difficult call to support. Other changes for Tuesday were less understandable – putting Grant in for BTA was bizarre, particularly given the “senior” man’s penalty last Saturday, while Livermore was one of the better performers from the weekend. Perhaps he cannot play three games in a week but he does at least seem like a player who gives his all every time he is on the pitch.
From the outside, it definitely looks as if Bruce and his coaching team have run out of ideas. The basic tactical approach looks muddled and is evidently failing. Albion put more way crosses into the box than any other team in the division, averaging 28 per match according to WhoScored.com, but without an aerial threat in the front line, it seems entirely flawed. Having said that, they also average 15 shots per game, more than any other team, and only Sheffield United have had more on target. Furthermore, as any regular readers of these pages will know, Albion’s league position based on xG for and against is far better than their actual position – they are second in that table, behind Norwich City.
I still think that the team aren’t that far away, but individual errors in both boxes have cost them dearly and continue to do so. As time has gone on, confidence has started to wain, just as it did under Ismaël, and I fear it may be too late for Steve Bruce. Again, the players must take a significant share of the responsibility, but Bruce has not helped himself with some of his decisions. I think at least some of the players have lost confidence in him, and it is starting to show on the pitch.
Unfortunately, changing the manager is not necessarily going to fix things, in fact I think it is highly unlikely that it will. First of all, the same players will still be there with the same weaknesses. Maybe a new approach can get a tune out of Karlan Grant, after all, Bruce has managed to rejuvenate Grady Diangana, but some of these players have failed a number of managers and, as Bruce has said before, it will take another window or two to properly refresh the squad.
Secondly, I have no faith in the decision makers to appoint the right man. It’s not easy, but when Gourlay admits that he just “picked up the phone” to appoint Bruce with no recruitment process, it does not engender confidence that he has any idea of what coaches are out there or which one would suit the club best. It’s one reason why I was happy for Bruce to stay in charge for this campaign – I always thought promotion was a long shot and thought Bruce could navigate the difficult decisions about players and recommend a new man to replace him. I just never for one minute thought it would get this bad.
Saturday’s opponents have had a mixed start to the season but sit in a comfortable top half position in the table. Nathan Jones’ team surprised many by reaching the play-offs last season but it took them until the fifth match of this campaign to record a victory beating Swansea on their own patch. They returned to south Wales to also beat Cardiff and recorded their first home win of the season at home to Blackburn Rovers last month. The Hatters are currently on a four match unbeaten run and their away record is amongst the best in the division having lost just once on the road, at Bristol City in August.
Carlton Morris has emerged as a new star for Luton this campaign having scored six goals already, including four in September that earned him the EFL Championship Player of the Month award. The 26-year-old former Norwich City youth player has never scored more than seven league goals in any campaign so far, a tally he reached in each of his two seasons at Barnsley before his summer move to Bedfordshire, so he is obviously enjoying life at Kenilworth Road. Luton also picked up fellow Barnsley striker, Cauley Woodrow, in the summer, a player that had previously been linked with Albion, but he has not yet made an impact in this campaign making just two starts and not yet having found the net.
While many will feel that it is, I’m not convinced that this is Bruce’s last chance, at least while the decision rests with Gourlay. I think he will stick by his man for as long as possible and it may be down to the club’s absent chairman to force his hand. Not that it seems to matter, but Luton will not be an easy opponent – a victory will need to be hard earned.
The two clubs first met in the first round of the FA Cup in 1897 at Luton’s Dallow Road ground. Albion beat their second division hosts 1-0 in what was to be Town’s final season at their first home before moving to Dunstable Road later that year. It would be another 28 years before the clubs met again, once more in the FA Cup, but this time at the Hawthorns with Albion winning 4-0 thanks to a hat trick from George James and another from Charlie Wilson.
The clubs found themselves in the same division for the first time in 1938 after the Baggies had been relegated to Division Two when both sides won their home games. Luton recorded their first ever win at the Hawthorns in the next league season, albeit eight years later after the Second World War in December 1946 when goals from Hugh Billington and Dally Duncan earned the Hatters a 2-1 win – Geoff Richards netted for the Baggies.
That was the first of only three home defeats that Albion have suffered at the hands of Luton. The next came on Boxing Day 1985 when Albion were rooted to the bottom of the First Division. Marc North gave the visitors a 4th minute lead before Imre Varadi equalised for the Baggies just after the half hour. Mick Harford scored what turned out to be the winner on the stroke of half time.
The last time Luton won at the Hawthorns was in April 1996 when goals from Boncho Genchev and Kim Grant secured a 2-0 win for Lennie Lawrence’s team against a Baggies side managed by Alan Buckley. The Hatters were battling against relegation, a fight they ultimately lost winning just once more that season.
The Baggies have won all five of the meetings at the Hawthorns since then, including the second leg of a League Cup tie in September 1997. The first leg had finished 1-1 and Steve Davis opened the scoring for the visitors to put them ahead in the tie but Baggies’ centre-back Paul Raven equalised before half time. Andy McDermott and Paul Peschisolido put Albion 3-1 ahead on the night but Tony Thorpe pulled one back for Luton with 16 minutes to go. With two minutes to go, Pesch scored his second to make the final score 4-2.
That was one of six occasions that the Baggies have put four past Luton at the Hawthorns, but they have never scored more in this fixture. Four of those matches have finished 4-0, most recently in September 1984 when Steve Hunt, Cyrille Regis, Nicky Cross and Garry Thompson all found the net. That proved to be Regis’s last goal in an Albion shirt before he moved to Coventry City, although he did score at the Hawthorns once more when he returned with the Sky Blues the following month.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
19 Feb 2022 – League Championship
Luton Town 2 (Jerome, Campbell)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
14 Aug 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Naismith (o.g.), Robinson, Grant)
Luton Town 2 (Cornick, Mpanzu)
Albion’s Record against Luton Town
If you cannot see the tables, click here.