West Bromwich Albion v Rotherham United; The Hawthorns, Saturday 17th December 2022, 3pm
Things are looking up for Albion fans and there will be a genuine expectation that Carlos Corberán’s team will record a fifth successive victory on Saturday when Rotherham United visit the Hawthorns.
Of course, football is not that simple and results, particularly in the Championship, are not that easy to predict. Back in February 2004 when the Millers made the same trip to B71, Gary Megson’s team were on a seven match league unbeaten run at home and were riding high in second place in Division One while Ronnie Moore’s newly-promoted side where languishing the bottom half of the table. But it was the visitors who took all three points in what is their only victory at the Hawthorns to date.
However, after an excellent win at Sunderland on Monday evening, the team will be full of confidence and ready to provide some early Christmas cheer for the Albion faithful. Only three years ago, the two clubs met at the same time of year and Darren Moore’s team won 4-0 at the New York Stadium with Dwight Gayle grabbing a hat trick.
Despite the result, Semi Ajayi was excellent for the Millers that day and made the switch to the Hawthorns the following summer. Corberán was hopeful that he would be fit to make his return from injury this weekend for what would have been the Nigerian international’s first appearance against his former club, but the Spaniard reported on Thursday that Ajayi would be out until Boxing Day at least. However, fellow centre-back, Kyle Bartley, and winger Grady Diangana are both back in training and the Baggies boss has an almost fully fit squad to choose from.
After his match-winning cameo on Monday, I’m sure fans will be hopeful of seeing Daryl Dike in the starting line up, while Tom Rogić’s equally pivotal display may well have earned him a start. Having said that, with five substitutes able to be used this season, players should be happy with a place in the squad rather than just the starting eleven. It is becoming more of a squad game and we potentially could be moving towards having players that are “finishers”, a concept taken from Rugby Union, where the use of substitutes is planned ahead of time to provide additional impetus towards the end of the match rather than necessarily being a reaction to injury or a need to change the game.
While the back four is likely to be fairly settled when everyone is fit, I’d expect to see the six in front of them being rotated amongst the ten or twelve players in those positions on a regular basis. I’m guessing that Corberán will want to have two players for each position with some of those able to cover more than one, whatever formation he sets up. The Albion squad could probably boast that right now, but I’m not sure that all of the alternatives are of the right quality and I would expect the Spaniard to be on the look out for some additions in January assuming finances permit.
It’s been something of a turbulent season for Rotherham United having been forced to appoint a new manager in October. They were promoted from League One last season, as runners up to Wigan Athletic, under the stewardship of Paul Warne. It was Warne’s third promotion with the Millers but he had been relegated on each of the previous two occasions – they started this season well and were in eighth place having lost just one of their opening nine matches when Derby County came calling and Warne opted to move to Pride Park. A few days later, Rotherham appointed Matt Taylor as their new boss. Former centre-back Taylor, who, like Corberán, actually started his football career as a goalkeeper, spent his playing career in the lower leagues. He cut his managerial teeth at Exeter City, the club for whom he made most appearances, replacing Paul Tidsdale in the summer of 2018 and guided them to promotion to League One last season.
At the New York Stadium, Taylor has been unable to maintain the positive start made under Warne and the Millers have slipped down the table. Since his appointment, Rotherham have picked up just three wins and 12 points from 12 games conceding 21 goals in the process. One of their wins was a surprise 1-0 win away to Sheffield United in what is a fierce local derby, but that is their only victory in their last eight matches.
Form certainly points to a home victory but nothing can be taken for granted. Having said that, it is the first time for more than a year that I have felt confident that Albion will win their next match. Cue ignominious defeat, I guess!
Saturday will see just the 14th meeting between the Baggies and the Millers as this season is just the fifth in which the clubs have found themselves in the same division. While Albion have won eight of the thirteen previous meetings, only one of those has been a league match at the Hawthorns, the last meeting between the sides in April 2019. Even on that occasion, it needed a late comeback to claim the win for the hosts – Clark Robertson had given Rotherham the lead before Jay Rodriguez equalised from the spot with 13 minutes left. Two minutes later, Rekeem Harper scored the winner with what was his only league goal for the Baggies.
At the end of each of the four previous campaigns in which the two clubs were in the same division, either one or both has been in a different division the following season. 1992/93, 2001/02, 2003/04 all saw Albion promoted while 2018/19 saw United relegated.
Perhaps the most memorable Hawthorns encounter was the day of the infamous “goal that never was” for Jordão. His effort was a yard over the line but missed by the officials and the game finished 1-1, the only one of the last eight games of the 2001/02 campaign that Albion didn’t win. It didn’t cost the Baggies as they secured promotion on the final day, but it did cost Crewe Alexandra who were relegated on goal difference on the same points as Rotherham United.
The Baggies’ biggest win over Rotherham is 4-0, a result they achieved on their first meeting at the Hawthorns in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 1954 – a Johnny Nicholls brace was followed up with goals from Ronny Allen and Reg Ryan as Vic Buckingham’s side progressed serenely into round five, and ultimately to winning the cup with a 3-2 win over Preston North End in the final.
That scoreline was repeated in the very next meeting more than 20 years later in a match made memorable as Cyrille Regis’s Albion debut in the second round of the League Cup in August 1997. Big ‘C’ scored twice, including one from the spot with Bomber Brown missing from the line up, and also scored on his league debut against Middlesbrough four days later.
Perhaps the most dramatic game between the sides was another second round League Cup tie at the Hawthorns, this time in August 2009. Craig Beattie gave Roberto di Matteo’s Albion an early lead but Mick Cummins equalised for the visitors before half time. The hosts were ahead once again, this time through Graham Dorrans, just after the break but Tom Pope equalised for the Millers almost immediately and it stayed 2-2 until the end of 90 minutes. Eight minutes into extra time, Pope grabbed his second to give the visitors the lead for the first time, but Beattie quickly levelled for the Baggies before Simon Cox scored the winner to send Albion through 4-3.
United have only ever beaten Albion twice and only once at the Hawthorns. That was in February 2004 when Chris Sedgwick scored the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute to inflict the Baggies’ third home league defeat of the campaign.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
27 Apr 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Rodriguez (pen), Harper)
Rotherham United 1 (Robertson)
Albion’s Record against Rotherham United