Expectation is sometimes a dangerous thing, but West Bromwich Albion seemed to have developed a habit of getting wins in the last few weeks, irrespective of whether the performance is as good as it should be. Consequently, as we look ahead to the visit of Swansea City on Sunday, there is a genuine expectation that the Baggies will make it six wins on the trot.
Ahead of Monday evening’s trip to Preston, there was a quiet confidence that Slaven Bilić’s team would get a result, particularly given the hosts’ injury problems, but even though that result was achieved late and in “controversial” circumstances, the performance has done nothing to dent the confidence that Albion are capable of winning every time they take to the field at the moment.
Reflecting on the key moment from Monday’s game, while the award of the penalty could be said to be a little soft, I find the level of outrage expressed in some quarters completely at odds with the incident itself. Perhaps the most telling consideration is that I’m unable to recall a similar incident where a penalty has not been given. Edwards may have exaggerated the contact, and may have been unlikely to get to the ball, but the fact remains that Ruddy did not make contact with the ball, he did make contact, albeit minimal, with Edwards, and his presence certainly impeded the Albion winger. The Preston ‘keeper may have tried to pull out, but his momentum took him into Edwards. As a former referee, I’m struggling to think of a reason why it is not a foul.
You can forgive the machinations of Preston and Leeds fans, as one-eyed as any football fan can be (I accept that I may also be guilty of this, as impartial as I am trying to be), and you can expect the sensationalism of Adrian Durham on TalkSport, but I was particularly surprised by the comments by former referee, Keith Hackett. While he may have used the incident to make a point about the fitness of some referees, to say that the decision would have been different had Langford been closer to play is stretching the point.
Having said that, I thought that Langford had a poor game overall, in common with many of the referees we have seen in the Championship this season.
One other point to support the penalty decision, or at least that it wasn’t as scandalous as some make out, is that there has been no suggestion from the FA that Edwards is to be charged with “successful deception of a match official” as Dwight Gayle was last season. And I highly doubt that it would have been overturned by VAR had it been in operation, particularly given its usage in the Premier League this season.
The result, of course, saw Albion regain top spot from Leeds United, and they could be playing catch up again this weekend. Unitied face the short trip to Huddersfield Town for the Saturday lunchtime kick off while the Baggies must wait until Sunday before welcoming another of the season’s early pace setters at the Hawthorns.
After winning five of their opening six games, including a victory at Elland Road, Steve Cooper’s side found themselves top of the Championship in September. However, three wins in their next thirteen matches has seen them drop away from the automatic promotion race although still in touch with the play off places in eighth, just a point off Preston in sixth.
The Swans are currently on a run of four games without a win, although they were, perhaps, a little unfortunate to be beaten by Fulham last time out having been the better side for long periods.
Having ended Preston’s unbeaten home record on Monday, Slaven Bilić’s side are looking to end another unbeaten record on Sunday as Swansea are the only team in the top four divisions other than Liverpool to remain unbeaten on their travels. Their five league defeats this campaign have all come at the Liberty Stadium, with Steve Cooper adept at setting them up to be difficult to beat on the road.
However, given the Baggies recent form and their ability to get results, the hosts will certainly be favourites to end the Swans’ impressive run and make it six league wins on the bounce for the first time in fifteen years.
There are no reported injury concerns for Slav, so he should have a fully fit squad to choose from once again. I’m not expecting any changes to the starting line up, although with three goals from the bench in recent weeks, perhaps Charlie Austin is pushing for a starting spot once again as Hal Robson-Kanu did with a similar record some weeks back. Big money signing, Kenneth Zohore, remains third choice and, consequently, excluded from matchday squads at present, but it is not a decision you can really argue with.
One concern I’m sure that the Croat will have is with some of the treatment dished out to Pereira and Diangana by opposition players. They are evidently being targeted as the Baggies’ chief attacking threats, and most referees are failing to offer appropriate protection. It seems inevitable that one of them will suffer an injury that could see them miss a game or two, particularly as we approach the hectic holiday season.
Sunday’s match is the first of seven Championship games in 25 days culminating in the mouth-watering clash with Leeds United at the Hawthorns on New Year’s Day. It seems clear that Bilić will need to use his squad during this period and, with a trip to Wigan Athletic to come in midweek ahead of an early kick off at St Andrew’s next weekend, it could be that he is considering changes for Sunday.
Whatever teams he sends out will be full of confidence and capable of getting the three points, and the Hawthorns crowd is slowly starting to expect a win every week.
For Hawthorns encounters with Swansea City, the obvious choice would be the play-off match in 1993, but given that I’ve covered that a few times in recent months, I thought I’d go back to a match just over a decade earlier.
In 1977, John Toshack took over as manager of Fourth Division Swansea City and, after three promotions in four seasons, the Swans played in the top flight for the first ever time in 1981/82. They opened the season in style beating Leeds United 5-1 at Vetch Field on the opening day and following that up with a 2-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Goldstone Ground.
Match number three of the season saw them take on Ronnie Allen’s Albion at the Hawthorns. The other Ron had left the Hawthorns for Old Trafford over the summer, and would shortly return to take Bryan Robson and Remi Moses to United, but they were still Albion players as they faced Swansea City on 5th September 1981.
Ronnie Allen’s team were struggling without their former mentor, however, and had lost their opening two games of the season away to Manchester City and at home to Arsenal. League tables weren’t published that early in the season in those days, but if they had, it would have shown Albion bottom of Division One and Swansea top.
A number of the great 78/79 side remained in the Albion line up, including Godden, the back four of Batson, Statham, Wile and Robertson plus Robson and, of course, the great Cyrille Regis. The world’s first half-million pound footballer, David Mills, was also in the line up, as were Remi Moses, Gary Owen and Steve MacKenzie who had been bought on the back of his goal for Manchester City in that summer’s Cup Final.
The visitors included former Blues and Everton striker, Bob Latchford, who had scored a hat-trick on debut on the opening day, plus Swansea legends Leighton James, Jeremy Charles, Alan Curtis and Welsh international ‘keeper, Dai Davies. Somewhat exotically, they also included the Yugoslavian pair of Ante Rajković and Džemal Hadžiabdić (both from what is now Bosnia).
After a cagey opening quarter of an hour, the hosts took the lead on 18 minutes. Remi Moses played a delightful through ball for Cyrille Regis who was through on goal with just Davies to beat, and he calmly placed it into the net. Albion’s number nine had been missing through injury from the Baggies opening two games, and his return proved to be decisive.
Curtis had a good chance to equalise for the visitors when he skewed the ball wide from just six yards out but there were few other opportunities before the break and the Baggies went in 1-0 up.
Swansea striker, Leighton James, brought a good save from Godden with a shot from 25 yards, but it was Albion who got the second goal of the game on 68 minutes. Gary Owen lifted a long ball up towards Regis, who out jumped Colin Irwin to knock the ball on – the Albion powerhouse then ran on to his own knock-on and slid the ball past Davies for his second goal of the game.
A minute later Regis got his head onto another long ball, this time from John Wile, and flicked it on towards David Mills. Mills then hooked it into the path of Steve MacKenzie who finished powerfully from just inside the box to make it 3-0 to the hosts. It was MacKenzie’s first goal for Albion.
That brought out chants of “West Brom are back!” and “Atkinson, we don’t need you anymore” from the Baggies faithful, and their joy was further enhanced five minutes later when Regis completed his hat-trick. It was route one again for Albion, but this time it was Mills who flicked the ball on and Cyrille was through on goal and finished with ease.
Alan Curtis hit the post for the visitors before Swansea did pull a goal back a few minutes later. It was the goal of the game as full back, Neil Robinson, fired in an unstoppable shot into the top corner from near enough 30 yards.
He went close with another from distance before the end, but the match finished 4-1 and Albion will have felt that the new boys had been put firmly in their place.
City, of course, would go on to have an impressive season finishing 6th while Albion struggled to 17th as their post-Atkinson decline set in. The Swans would suffer relegation first, the following season, and their decline was as rapid as their rise. When the Baggies lost their First Division status in 1986, Swansea were relegated back to the fourth tier.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
13 Mar 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Brunt, Holgate, Rodriguez)
Swansea City 0
Albion’s Record against Swansea City