At the end of January, Albion’s season seemed to be on the verge of turning around. Unbeaten in four games and fresh from a fantastic victory at Anfield, the Baggies finally seemed to be getting the results that their improved performances under Pardew warranted. Three matches later and optimism seems to have been well and truly destroyed.
But let’s look at the facts. In the three games so far in February, Albion have lost at the homes of the runaway league leaders and last season’s champions, both of which were expected, and the one result that was a real blow was the defeat to Saturday’s opponents Southampton. Even that result had mitigating circumstances given the injuries to Evans, Gibbs and Krychowiak, so the real reason for the change in heart on the terraces, and back in China, it seems, is probably more to do with how the teams immediately above Albion have performed leaving the Baggies seven points from safety.
As an aside, it is interesting how challenges by Albion players on the superstars of Manchester City have been widely covered in the media, while the stamp on Grzeg by Fernandinho that kept him out of the last game at the Hawthorns was glossed over by both media and the FA; after all, it wouldn’t do to charge one of Guardiola’s angels with violent conduct while he is complaining about how his players are not protected by referees.
Returning to Albion’s situation, at the beginning of the month, they had 14 games to save their season and probably needed 5 or 6 wins to get enough points to be safe. Now they still need those 5 or 6 wins but now have just 11 games left, but most people would’ve written off two of the three we have played anyway. OK, there was the hope that Albion could get something at Chelsea on Monday and, given the way they started the game, had they scored in that opening 20 minutes, a good result was eminently possible, but it was the defeat to Southampton that has ultimately led to the recent gnashing of teeth.
The one thing that nobody saw coming this week was Guoachan Lai’s decision to remove both John Williams and Martin Goodman from their positions as Chairman and Chief Executive. Many fans, myself included, feel that their biggest mistake was giving Tony Pulis a new contract last summer rather than sacking him, closely followed by their failure to sign a striker in that transfer window, and perhaps that was enough to cost them their jobs. The Chinese owner, however, is rumoured to have dismissed them because they did sack Pulis, considered a “safe pair of hands”, and their new man has overseen the club’s drop into the relegation zone.
In some ways, it’s difficult to argue with the logic when you look from the outside, but then that is the problem. The fact that Lai is an absent owner and seems to be primarily concerned with Albion’s position in the Premier League and not whether the fans are happy, or even turning up, has led him to make a decision that some will think is the right one, but he has not done it for the right reasons.
In my opinion, if Williams and Goodman needed to be removed, the timing is completely bizarre. Their removal at this stage of the season is completely pointless given that the transfer window is closed and any change in the board room could only a very limited positive impact on Albion’s survival and, indeed, could unsettle all the staff and potentially have more of a negative effect. Furthermore, it comes at a time when the club’s recent activities off the field have been widely praised, particularly by the fans, in relation to the recent tributes following the deaths of Cyrille Regis and Richard Eades. It smacks of an owner who is completely out of touch with the club and its fans and is, perhaps, the most worrying recent development for the long term future of the club.
Turning to Saturday’s game, it is unusual to play a club twice at the same venue in such a short period of time and anecdotal evidence suggests that the results are often different. I don’t have any stats to back this up, however, and Albion’s most recent example in 2015 goes against that belief when they faced Aston Villa in the league and cup inside a week at Villa Park and lost them both. I’m not expecting Pardew to play anything other than a full strength side with Albion desperately in need of a win once again, but Pellegrino may have different ideas and could be willing to forego a cup run to concentrate on Premier League survival.
Personally, I would happily get relegated if it meant we won the FA Cup this season. Albion haven’t won a trophy in my lifetime but I’ve seen plenty of relegations and promotions. A cup win is something that can’t be taken away, and it would also mean European football at the Hawthorns for the first time for more than 30 years (assuming you don’t count the Anglo-Italian Cup). Obviously I’d like to stay up as well, but if I had to choose, it would be the cup for me.
If Southampton do field a full-strength team, it would be interesting to see how Lemina would cope against Grzeg in the middle of the park. I’m not sure the Gabonese has another performance in him like he had the Hawthorns a fortnight ago anyway, but Krychowiak’s energy in the middle of the park will be a massive difference. Pardew will no longer have a choice to make up front following Sturridge’s injury on Monday evening. It was the fear that we all held when we signed him but, let’s face it, if he didn’t have that physical flaw there is no way a player of Sturridge’s quality would be at the Hawthorns. Let’s hope he will be available in a week or so.
Pardew will have one more player to choose from, however, as Ali Gabr has finally received his work permit and is now available for selection.
Having covered some of the league meetings between the sides in the preview a fortnight ago, this time I’m looking at the history in Cup meetings.
The only place to start is a half century ago as everyone knows that Albion not only beat Liverpool on the road to their 1968 cup win, but also Southampton. It was a fourth round tie on that occasion and the sides met at the Hawthorns on 17th February 1968 with the match finishing all square thanks to a Tony Brown penalty and a goal from Frank Saul for the visitors. The replay at the Dell four days later saw both players on the scoresheet once again, but Hugh Fisher also scored for Saints and Jeff Astle grabbed a brace to send the Baggies through 3-2.
The most recent cup meeting was in the FA Cup 5th Round in 1979, a repeat of the 5th Round tie from three years earlier. On both occasions, the teams drew 1-1 at the Hawthorns and Southampton won the replay, 2-1 in ’79 and a thumping 4-0 in ’76. Tony Brown scored Albion’s goal at the Hawthorns in ’76, while his namesake Ally found the net three years later with the late great Laurie Cunningham scoring the Baggies’ goal at the Dell.
The only other cup meetings between the sides were in the early 20th century and were, in fact, the first two times that the clubs met. Both games were at the Dell and Southampton were victorious on both occasions. It was 2-1 to Saints in a third round tie in February 1900 with Charlie Simmons grabbing Albion’s goal, while Saints won 1-0 in a second round tie eight years later.
All that means that Albion have been drawn against Southampton in the FA Cup on five occasions, three times at the Hawthorns all of which have been drawn, and have progressed only once, in 1968.
I think Albion will be determined to get revenge for the result two weeks ago, and they desperately need to regain their confidence with a victory. I don’t think Southampton really want a cup run and I believe the Baggies will progress to their fourth quarter final in the 21st century.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Feb 2018 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Hegazi, Rondón)
Southampton 3 (Lemina, Stephens, Ward-Prowse)
31 Dec 2016 – Premier League
Southampton 1 (Long)
West Brom 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu)
Last win at the Hawthorns
28 Feb 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Berahino)
Albion’s Record against Southampton
|Premier League Record|