With Albion’s season effectively over following their home defeat to Stoke City last weekend, Steve Bruce is now looking ahead to next season. While a top six spot remains mathematically possible, the reality is that it is now beyond the Baggies’ reach, and the Albion boss could make some significant changes to the starting line up when Neil Critchley’s Blackpool visit the Hawthorns on Friday.
With the Premier League vultures now circling around Albion’s prime asset, Sam Johnstone, Bruce has suggested this week that the number one spot for next season will be fought for by the club’s existing ‘keepers, namely David Button, Alex Palmer and Josh Griffiths. These remaining five games would seem an ideal opportunity to try one or two of those out and the Baggies boss announced on Thursday that Button would start in this match. I’d prefer to have seen Palmer given the nod – we have seen Button in cup games and during Johnstone’s suspension but Palmer’s only appearance for the Albion first team was in the 6-0 defeat to Arsenal in the League Cup in August last year. Hopefully, he will get a game or two before the end of the season.
Another player that Bruce has identified for future inclusion is Dara O’Shea. The Albion boss has surmised that the Irishman is future captain material but, with Albion’s back three having been largely solid of late, O’Shea has had few chances to play since his return from injury. However, with Bartley having a stinker against Stoke and Matt Clarke only on loan, perhaps it is the perfect opportunity to give him a chance.
Furthermore, Bruce is known to favour 4-3-3 but found that the current defence were struggling to cope with a man less at the back when he first tried it – he may now be willing to give it another shot with the consequences of failure less important. The advantage of that formation is that it would give him a chance to play Grady Diangana in his favoured position on the wing – he doesn’t suit a 5-3-2 and he has not been able to show his abilities in his favoured position of late. He is one player that Albion need to make a decision on in the summer, and it would seem appropriate to give him a run in the side playing where he has impressed previously rather than being shoe-horned into a formation that doesn’t suit his talents.
An interesting topic to emerge from Bruce’s pre-match press conference was his dissatisfaction with how far away a number of the Albion players live from the training ground. David Button was one and, while contract talks are ongoing, Bruce suggested that they would not continue if the Stevenage-born ‘keeper was unwilling to relocate from his Brighton home, or at least take a second home closer to Carrington’s Way.
I would imagine that Matt Clarke and Jayson Molumby are also on that list with them both being on loan, with perhaps the likes of Alex Mowatt and Grady Diangana potentially being distant given their relatively recent transfers and former clubs. It will be interesting to see how the issue affects the squad reorganisation and how much weight Bruce gives to it should it become a sticking point for new signings.
Bruce’s starting line up, and the performances of those we haven’t seen too often, are without doubt the most interesting aspect of Friday’s match, for Albion fans at least. Blackpool are safely in 16th place and could actually move to within a point of the Baggies should they get their first win at the Hawthorns for nearly 60 years.
After failing to win any of their opening six league games, Neil Critchley’s newly promoted side found a decent run of form in the autumn that took them to sixth place by the end of October, but one win in the next ten saw them in mid-table by the turn of the year. They’ve hovered around lower mid-table ever since – a run of three successive victories in February/March ended any lingering relegation worries they may have had although two points from the next four also ended any faint play-off hopes.
The game is likely to be either a dull end-of-season affair or an entertaining match between two sides with no pressure on them. Let’s hope it’s the latter and we at least get a little entertainment to kick off the Easter weekend.
Albion haven’t beaten Blackpool for more than a decade, although the clubs have only met twice since then. It was on the Tangerines last visit to the Hawthorns that they were last beaten by the Baggies, in a Premier League fixture in January 2011. The visitors took the lead through David Vaughan before goals from Peter Odemwingie and James Morrison either side of half time put Albion ahead. Gary Taylor-Fletcher equalised for Ian Holloway’s team with ten minutes left but Odemwingie popped up with a winner in the final few minutes.
Since then, League 1 Blackpool knocked Sam Allardyce’s Premier League Albion out of the FA Cup on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road in January 2021 – promotion for the Seasiders and relegation for the Baggies saw them in the same division for this campaign and the meeting in Lancashire earlier this season finished goalless.
Blackpool were founder members of the Lancashire League in 1889 and were invited to join the Second Division of the Football League in 1896. The clubs first met in the 1901/02 season when Albion dropped down into the second tier. After a 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road, Albion won the return fixture 7-2 with Chippy Simmons scoring a hat trick.
It wasn’t until the thirties that the two clubs found themselves together in the top flight. The Seasiders were first promoted to Division One in 1930 with Albion following them back up a year later. The first top flight meeting was at the Hawthorns in September 1931, Albion’s first home game of the season. It was another comfortable win for the Baggies with Ginger Richardson (2), Tommy Glidden and an own goal from Eric Longden handing the hosts a 4-0 win.
The Baggies biggest win over Blackpool was in April 1962 – Derek Kevan scored a hat trick in the first 25 minutes of the match before a goal from Ray Charnley made it 3-1 at the break. Jack Lovatt and Bobby Robson extended the Baggies lead in the second half before Don Howe made it 6-1 from the spot with six minutes to go. The Tank wasn’t finished, however, and he scored his fourth and Albion’s seventh in the 86th minute.
The Seasiders’ biggest win at the Hawthorns came in those early years when the clubs only met in Division Two. In April 1910, a brace from Walter Miller and another from Arthur Wolstenholme saw Blackpool run out 3-0 winners. They have not registered a victory at the Hawthorns since November 1964 when the soon-to-be England World Cup winner, Alan Ball, scored twice in a 3-1 victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
23 Nov 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
15 Jan 2011 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Odemwingie (2), Morrison)
Blackpool 2 (Vaughan, Taylor-Fletcher)
Albion’s Record against Blackpool