West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City; The Hawthorns, Tuesday 18th October 2022, 8pm
Fresh from a fantastic and much needed victory at Reading, Albion welcome Nigel Pearson back to the Hawthorns on Tuesday evening along with his Bristol City team. With the search for a permanent replacement to Steve Bruce ongoing, Richard Beale will once again take charge of a Baggies side that will be full of confidence after the win in Berkshire.
While it was by no means a perfect performance at the Mad Stad, Beale got the big calls right, not least the choice of Taylor Gardner-Hickman in midfield, a decision that the player repaid with a man-of-the-match performance including a goal and an assist. That was the only change to Bruce’s final starting eleven, but the bench was significantly different with Reach and Rogic dropping out of the squad to be replaced by Furlong and 18-year-old Reyes Cleary. The latter made his league debut and, while he didn’t have the impact he would have wished for, it was an important step in his development.
Beale has insisted that all players are in contention for Tuesday night’s game, rubbishing reports that Tom Rogic looks “off the pace” and also heaping praise on Kyle Bartley’s efforts in training despite having been frozen out of the squad since the defeat to Swansea City immediately after the international break. Whether he will be brave enough to change a winning team, however, is another thing entirely. As an interim manager, he can probably afford to take a risk or two, but no one at the Hawthorns would blame him for sticking with the same line up on Tuesday assuming they’re all fit.
Nigel Pearson’s spell as caretaker manager at the Hawthorns in 2006 was very successful as he guided the team to three wins and a draw in his four games in charge, signing off with a 5-1 win at Ipswich before Tony Mowbray was appointed. He brings his Bristol City side to the Shrine looking to recover their good early season form.
The Robins found themselves fourth in the table after the first weekend in September having picked up fourteen points from their opening eight games and also progressed through to the third round of the EFL Cup despite being drawn away in the first two rounds. Since then, however, they have won just once, a 2-1 win at home to Preston North End last week, and find themselves in 17th place. Such has been their drop of late that Albion would move to within a point of them with victory on Tuesday evening.
Pearson took over at Ashton Gate in February last year and had an immediate, if brief, impact. Taking over a team on a run of seven successive defeats, he guided them to three wins in his first five games before form slumped again as they picked up just two points from their final nine games and finished in 19th place. Last season, they failed to trouble the top half of the table after October but never looked to be threatened by relegation and ultimately finished 17th.
The lack of progress is perhaps more a reflection of City’s financial constraints rather than Pearson’s ability. Under owner, Steve Lansdown, the club has had to cut costs to recover from club-record losses having tried to reach the play-offs under Lee Johnson, finishing 8th in 2019. Given that Pearson was retained after an underwhelming campaign last season, it seems as if he will be kept on as the club look to rebuild.
The only former-Baggie in the Robins’ ranks is former academy full back, Kane Wilson, who found his way to Ashton Gate via Forest Green Rovers. Unfortunately, he has just undergone knee surgery and is out for four months.
Albion fans will, however, remember Austrian forward, Andreas Weimann, who has scored twice against Albion for the Robins and more painfully for Villa in a 4-3 defeat at Villa Park in 2014. He started this season well with a goal in each of the first four games of the season, albeit he hasn’t found the net since. Weimann tends to play behind the front two of Tommy Conway and Nahki Wells who have 13 goals between them this season and, having scored 23 league goals already this season, finding the net has not been City’s problem. That has been conceding what Pearson refers to as “soft” goals, and only Hull City have let in more than the 24 that have found their way into the Robins’ net in league games this campaign.
I’m sure Richard Beale and his coaching staff will be well aware of City’s defensive frailties, and I would expect to see a front foot approach from Albion once again. An early goal would be fantastic with City having lost their last three away games and only earned one point from the seven games in which their opponents have scored first.
More importantly, however, for the first time in a while, Albion fans will be looking forward to a game at the Hawthorns with optimism. Gourlay may remain silent, but his decision to sack Bruce has worked and his interim team is also working. Let’s hope that continues, and also that he can get the next decision right.
Bristol City last won at the Hawthorns on the day after Boxing Day 1993 when City legend Brian Tinnion’s goal just before half time proved to be the winner in a game that the hosts should have won comfortably. Carl Heggs missed a host of chances in a game that Birmingham Post reporter, Adrian Milledge, described as “footballing larceny”.
Almost exactly a year later on Boxing Day 1994, the Robins were the visitors for the first game in front of the newly built all-seater Birmingham Road End and this time it was the hosts’ turn to steal the points, earned thanks to an unfortunate own goal from Stuart Munro with eight minutes to go.
Since then, the Baggies have won five and drawn two of the seven meetings with City at the Shrine with three of the victories finishing 4-1, one 4-2 and the most recent, in October last year, 3-0. 4-1 is Albion’s biggest win over the Robins and is a result they also achieved in the Third Round of the FA Cup in January 1926. The more recent occurrences include another Boxing Day fixture in 2007 when Bednár, Koren and a Kevin Phillips double earned the points and a repeat performance on City’s next visit in November 2009 with Jerome Thomas, Chris Brunt, a Lewis Carey own goal and Simon Cox doing the damage. Slaven Bilić oversaw the most recent 4-1 victory in November 2019 when Keiran Gibbs, Matheus Pereira, Hal Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin scored the Albion goals.
That 1-0 win for the Robins in 1993 is the latest of just three victories that they have earned at the Hawthorns. The first, and biggest, was in Division Two in February 1906 when Walter Bennett, Sammy Gillgan and Willie Maxwell all found the net for the visitors in a 3-1 victory.
Their only other victory was another that was settled by the only goal – Gerry Sweeney scored it in a Division Two fixture in March 1976 that looked to have put a huge dent in Albion’s promotion push. City were top of the table and that result put them six points clear of John Giles’ side who were down in fifth. By the end of the season, the Baggies had caught the Robins up and both sides were promoted on 53 points with City in second on goal difference three points behind Sunderland with Bolton Wanderers the side to miss out.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
19 Mar 2022 – League Championship
Bristol City 2 (Wells, Weimann)
West Brom 2 (Grant (pen), Reach)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
23 Oct 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Hugill, Bartley, Grant)
Bristol City 0
Albion’s Record against Bristol City
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