The Baggies travel to the Valley on Sunday for the first of back-to-back encounters with Charlton Athletic, with the first being in the Third Round of the FA Cup.
After an improved performance against Leeds United on New Year’s Day, it is expected that many of the regular starters will have a rest for the first trip to south-east London for the cup match with league points the following weekend deemed more important.
Having exited the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle, Slaven Bilić has not had much opportunity to see the fringe players in action for the first team. The likes of Chris Brunt, Rekeem Harper, Jonathan Bond, and Dara O’Shea have had limited opportunities to play first team football, while Kenneth Zohore has had only a few minutes in the last couple of months as Robson-Kanu and Austin have been producing the goods up front. The desire to give these players some action coupled with the exhausting schedule over the festive period will probably lead to seven or eight changes for Sunday’s game.
Some absences are enforced with Ferguson, Gibbs and Diangana all out injured, which will probably mean that both Furlong and Townsend will be forced to start. I’d expect at least one of O’Shea and Hegazi to start, while it will be interesting to see who will make up the midfield. Harper, Barry and Brunt are those without many minutes this season, but I’m not sure that fielding all three from the start would be wise. As for the attacking players, Zohore will surely start and the fans are calling strongly to finally see Chris Willock in action. Rayhaan Tulloch may also get another opportunity to add to his two substitute appearances he made in last season’s FA Cup.
Meanwhile, Charlton boss, Lee Bowyer, have been forced to field youngsters in league games of late being in the midst of an injury crisis. Lyle Taylor, Macauley Bonne, Chuks Aneke, Tomer Hemed, Jonny Williams, Josh Cullen, Jake Forster-Caskey, Beram Kayal, George Lapslie, Lewis Page and Ben Amos are all sidelined while Baggies loanee, Sam Field, is also injured but would be unable to play against Albion anyway. Jon Leko, of course, has already returned to the Hawthorns to recover from his ACL injury that will keep him out until the next campaign.
As always at this time of the year, the question of priorities is raised and, while I am a fan of the FA Cup, I would support changes at least for this weekend given the recent fixture schedule. However, I would certainly not want to throw the game as I think winning is a habit and I’d be happy to see an extended cup run – it did Albion no harm in 2008 when a run to the FA Cup semi-final coincided with promotion to the Premier League as champions, a cup run that, coincidentally, started in round three at the Valley.
Slaven Bilić has a modicum of cup pedigree as a manager having guided West Ham to the quarter final in his first season at Upton Park, while also finishing seventh in the Premier League. A 5-0 thumping defeat in round three the following season was less impressive, albeit at the hands of Manchester City.
It’s not the first time that cup and league clashes against the same team have come in quick succession for Albion in recent years, and it’s not even the first time this season. One of the Addicks’ neighbours, Millwall, visited the Hawthorns twice inside a few days in August inflicting the Baggies’ only home defeat of the season, in the Carabao Cup match, before Boro won at the Shrine last weekend.
Last season, Wigan Athletic visited the Hawthorns twice in quick succession in league and cup, defeated on both occasions, while it was Southampton’s turn the season before, both ending in home defeats for the Baggies. The most painful, of course, were the successive defeats at Villa Park in 2015 in the Premier League and the FA Cup Quarter Final. Albion have, in fact, been drawn against opponents in the same division in six of the last nine cup draws.
Third Round Day is traditionally one of the best days of the football calendar, although televised matches now means that it is spread over four days. Having said that, I assume Albion’s match is on Sunday as Millwall were also drawn at home and play Saturday, although, strangely, Palace’s home fixture with Derby is at the same time as Charlton-Albion.
Nonetheless, I always look forward to it and I’m hoping the fringe players will give Bilić something to think about with an impressive performance and progression to round four.
Only twice before have Albion been drawn away to Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup, the first of which was the very first meeting between the clubs in the third round in February 1923.
Having won the League Championship just three years earlier, the Baggies were a Division One side albeit having hovered around mid-table since their title win. The Addicks, meanwhile, were in just their second season in the Football League, having joined the newly-formed Division Three (South) in 1921.
However, home advantage at the Valley would prove to be enough to produce a cup shock as Bert Goodman scored the only goal of the game just after half time to send the hosts through to Round Four, where they would go on to lose to eventual winners, Bolton Wanderers. That season saw, of course, the first ever FA Cup Final at the Empire Stadium, as it was then known.
While the clubs have been drawn together in the FA Cup at the Hawthorns on four occasions since then, the next time the first game was in south-east London was in 2008. There are, of course, some parallels between that season and the current campaign. Both sides in the second tier, with Albion challenging for promotion (the Baggies were top of the table ahead of the game) and the sides drawn together in the third round.
The game at the Valley saw the hosts take an early lead. There were less than two minutes played when Darren Ambrose headed a Lloyd Sam cross back across the goal for Zheng Zhi to turn and fire the ball past Dean Kiely.
The Baggies struggled to get their usual attacking style under Tony Mowbray going, but managed to grab an equaliser on their first meaningful attack of the game. Chris Brunt advanced down the left and crossed the ball in for Ishmael Miller to fire home.
Neither side wanted a replay, but Albion will have been the happier to keep the game level as Charlton had the better of the chances in the second half and the game ultimately finished 1-1.
It took penalties to separate the sides in the replay at the Hawthorns as Roman Bednár converted the decisive kick after Zhi missed for the visitors. The Baggies would go on to reach the semi-final, despite being drawn away in every round, with Charlton proving to be their toughest opponents until Portsmouth controversially won the Wembley encounter 1-0.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
26 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu)
Charlton Athletic 2 (Bonne, Cullen (pen))
Last meeting at Charlton Athletic
21 Mar 2008 – League Championship
Charlton Athletic 1 (Halford)
West Brom 1 (Phillips)
15 Dec 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Bednár, Gera (2), Phillips)
Charlton Athletic 2 (Iwelumo, McLeod)
Last win at Charlton Athletic
19 Mar 2005 – Premier League
Charlton Athletic 1 (Johansson)
West Brom 4 (Horsfield, Earnshaw (3))
Albion’s Record against Charlton Athletic