Steve Bruce will be introduced to the Hawthorns crowd as the new Albion manager for the first time on Monday evening as one of his predecessors, Tony Mowbray, brings his current team, Blackburn Rovers, to B71.
Earlier in the season, Rovers were on the end of the Baggies’ third successive victory leaving them joint top of the fledgling league table. Since then, the fortunes of the two clubs have switched around and it is Blackburn who are challenging the top two with Albion sitting in a lowly ninth place, their lowest league position for 20 years if you ignore the league table in the opening few games of a season.
Bruce’s new team are, however, just one point off the play-off positions, although many of the sides around them have games in hand, but some thirteen points behind Bournemouth in second place. Automatic promotion is close to being beyond Albion and if any dreams in that direction are to be kept alive, victory on Monday evening is a must. In reality, they can barely afford to drop any points in the remaining 16 games with second spot likely to need a points tally in the high 80s.
Such a run of form seems highly unlikely for a team that has picked up just four points from the last 21, so the more realistic question is whether Bruce can turn the form around enough to get a top six finish. He was not helped by his captain at Sheffield United on Wednesday evening and, with Livermore starting a four game suspension, it leaves Bruce short of central midfielders, particularly if he wants to continue with the 4-3-3 formation that he employed at Bramall Lane.
It was Jayson Molumby that he turned to after the sending off on Wednesday, but many fans would like to see Taylor Gardner-Hickman, one of this season’s few bright spots, given a chance in the middle of the park having impressed there earlier in the season.
One element of positive news from the trip to the Blades was the return to first team action of Dara O’Shea. One of Albion’s most consistent performers of the last few seasons, O’Shea had been out of action for five months after fracturing his ankle on international duty in September and his return to the squad gives Bruce another option either in central defence or as a full back. With Kyle Bartley doubtful to be involved having been struck down with a mystery illness, the young Irishman will be a welcome addition to the squad.
The visitors have had a dip in form of late but remain third in the table, albeit five points behind Bournemouth having played a game more. Mowbray’s side stormed up the table in late 2021 as they picked up 22 points out of 24 as a response to being beaten 7-0 at home by Fulham. Since the turn of the year, things haven’t been so impressive and they have lost three of their last five games, including the last two 1-0 away to Swansea City and 2-0 at home to Nottingham Forest. The squad has been disrupted by various injuries and an international call up for top scorer, Ben Brereton Díaz, as he represented Chile in World Cup Qualifiers, although he will be available for Monday’s game.
That the match is on a Monday, and on Valentine’s Day no less, is a source of frustration for many as Albion’s games continue to be moved away from the traditional Saturday 3pm slot. The Baggies have had just six home matches at that time this campaign and will have a maximum of another two but only if the matches against Stoke City and Coventry City in April escape the attentions of the TV executives. The lack of concern for the match-going fan is stark and continues to get worse season after season. It is beginning to impact the match day income of clubs such as Albion as fans are increasingly opting to stay away, and there are many fans considering not renewing their season tickets should Albion stay in the Championship due to the number of midweek matches. The EFL need to recognise what is happening and consider this when the next TV deal comes up for negotiation, although I won’t hold my breath.
As for the match itself, the majority of fans will be getting their first view of Bruce’s Albion and they will be hoping for a positive impact and result with the new man having had a few more days to work with the squad. There were some positive signs at Bramall Lane ahead of the red card – if they can take that same attitude and add the missing clinical touch, things could go well. Rovers will be a tough test, but one that Albion need to overcome if they are to get back into the race for promotion.
Albion have lost just one of the last seven meetings with Blackburn Rovers, winning four of those matches including their last encounter at Ewood Park in August. Rovers’ last win at the Hawthorns was just after Christmas in 2010 when a brace from Nikola Kalinić and another goal from Mame Biram Diouf earned Steve Kean’s team the points with a 3-1 victory – Jerome Thomas netted Albion’s goal. Kalinić was subsequently sent off as was Baggies defender Gabriel Tamaș in what was an incident-packed game.
Blackburn are one of only nine clubs against which Albion have scored eight goals in one game. Rovers’ turn was in January 1936 and it will be no surprise to those familiar with the club’s history that W G Richardson was amongst the goals that day. “Ginger” scored a hat trick, as did Jack Mahon, with the other goals coming from Walter Robbins and Jack Sankey. Ermie Thompson netted a first half goal for the visitors making the final score 8-1.
Blackburn’s best result in West Bromwich was in November 1962 when a Fred Pickering hat trick helped them to a 5-2 win in a Division One fixture at the Hawthorns. Geoff Carter and Bobby Hope netted for the hosts.
The last time that Rovers played at the Hawthorns in February was a massive match as Bryan Robson’s side looked to pull away from the relegation zone in 2006. Goals from Jonathan Greening and Kevin Campbell secured a 2-0 victory, but it proved to be the last win that the Baggies would record that season and they ended up finishing in 19th place and were relegated.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
21 Aug 2021 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Brereton Díaz)
West Brom 2 (Mowatt, Phillips)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
31 Aug 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Phillips, Livermore, Diangana)
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Dack, Johnson)
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers
If you cannot see the tables, click here.