If you are looking for omens, this season is just the fourth in which West Bromwich Albion and Rotherham United have been in the same division and, in each of the previous three seasons, Albion have been promoted.
In two of those seasons, the two clubs have met in the closing stages of the season at Millmoor in May 1993 and at the Hawthorns in April 2002 in the infamous “goal that never was” game that you card read about here.
What you may find surprising is that, while Albion have won every home cup game against Rotherham scoring 15 goals in four games, they are yet to record a home league victory over the Millers having drawn two and lost one of the three league meetings at the Hawthorns so far.
Jimmy Shan’s team will be looking to put an end to that particular record in the Baggies final home game of the regular season this weekend, and I feel that they will need to take all three points if they are to secure the fourth spot that will guarantee a home second leg in the play-off semi-final.
Having said that, the statistics suggest that it may not be that important – teams finishing 5th in the second tier have been promoted via the play-offs on eight occasions (Huddersfield Town being the last in 2017), while those finishing 4th have been successful six times, with Hull City being the last in 2016. Despite the feeling that the team finishing third can often be demoralised, it remains statistically the best place to finish to be successful in the play-offs – twelve third-placed second tier teams have been promoted since the play-offs took their current form in 1989.
After rotating the squad over the Easter weekend, Shan may feel that it is now time to play his first eleven to get them ready and firing for the play-off campaign and, of course, build momentum. The only player he may need to protect is, perhaps, Ahmed Hegazi. The Egyptian has been struggling with an ankle injury that Albion’s caretaker boss admits he doesn’t really understand, but it is understood not to be serious. As I pointed out before the Reading game, the Baggies have not won a league game in which Hegazi has not started this season, stretching to eight matches following the trip to the Mad Stad, which underlines his importance to the team.
There was frustration in the away end at Reading that Shan had risked too much and, should the hosts have had a clinical finished, Albion would probably have lost the game. However, they could have easily won it with the chances they created in the last half hour and, if I was to criticise Shan for one thing, it was not bringing Gayle on sooner.
While Shan may start to begin the match with something close to his first eleven, I would still expect a few fringe players to see some game time. He threw another twist into the mix in an interview reported by the Express & Star this week – although he was asked about Wes Hoolahan, he brought up Jonathan Leko as someone who “has not figured a lot, but we have done a lot of planning for the play-offs” and that “we’ve got to make sure he is ready to go” suggesting he is likely to feature in at least one of the next two games.
It is certainly difficult to second-guess not only what the team might be against Rotherham, but also what Shan feels is his best eleven. While the front two and the back line pretty much picks itself, the midfield three remains the question mark. I think that Jimmy would pick a starting midfield three of Brunt, Johansen and Livermore but its difficult to read his thoughts based on the last few team selections.
The Millers may be fighting for their lives, but the recent results suggest that they don’t have enough. They have lost three of their last four games and have conceded twelve goals in their last three on the road. The situation at the bottom of the table means that Paul Warne’s team need all three points if they are to have any realistic hope of staying up which could play into the Baggies’ hands in that the visitors cannot afford to sit back.
Should Millwall get any sort of result against Stoke City in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, the Millers will know that defeat at the Hawthorns will see them relegated back to League One.
A win for the Baggies would be a fifth successive home league victory for the second time this season.
Saturday will be just the thirteenth meeting between West Bromwich Albion and Rotherham United, and just the eighth at the Hawthorns. The clubs first met in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 1954 at the Hawthorns. It was, of course, a victory for the Baggies on their way to the FA Cup triumph that season and the Millers were dispatched comfortably with a double from Johnny Nicholls and further goals from Ronnie Allen and Reg Ryan easing the hosts to a 4-0 win.
That scoreline, which is Albion’s biggest win over Rotherham, was repeated in the clubs’ next encounter some 23 years later by which time Ronnie Allen was manager at the Hawthorns. This time it was a League Cup tie in August 1977, also at home, and there were some equally iconic Albion goalscorers. Mick Martin and John Wile got themselves on the scoresheet but the headlines were made by an 18-year-old new signing who was making his debut for the club – Cyrille Regis scored twice, including one from the spot, and earned his place in the starting line up for the next league match against Middlesbrough the following weekend. The rest, as they say, is history.
Seven years later, the clubs were once again drawn together in a cup competition. After a 0-0 draw at Millmoor in the third round FA Cup tie in January 1984, the clubs met at the Hawthorns for the replay and Ron Wylie’s Baggies won comfortably in the end. After a goalless first half, Garry Thompson opened the scoring just after the break and Tony Morley became the third Baggie to score a brace against the Millers in three games to complete the 3-0 scoreline.
The clubs finally found themselves in the same division for the first time in 1992/93. Rotherham had been in Division 4 when Albion played their first third tier campaign the previous season, but their promotion saw them visit the Hawthorns in October 1992 for the first league meeting between the sides. Another first that day was for Rotherham midfielder, Mark Todd – his 25th minute penalty for the visitors was the first goal that Rotherham had ever scored against Albion and also gave them the lead. Bob Taylor equalised twelve minutes later before Kevin Donovan put the hosts ahead just two minutes after that. There was still time for Todd to score his second before half time and, with no further goals in the second half, the game finished 2-2.
The next meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns was the infamous game in the run-in of the 2001/02 season that I covered in my Step back in time piece last week, while the Millers recorded their only victory at the Hawthorns in Megson’s next promotion campaign. That game finished 1-0 with Chris Sedgwick scoring the only goal of the game.
The last meeting between at the Hawthorns was another cup tie, a dramatic encounter in the second round of the League Cup in August 2009. By this time, it was all settled on the night in the competition and the two clubs took some separating. Craig Beattie opened the scoring for Albion on the 10th minute before Micky Cummins equalised for Rotherham just before the half hour. Just after the break, there were two quick goals, one for Graham Dorrans to put the hosts back in front only for Tom Pope to square the match once again. That’s how it stayed and extra time was required. Pope scored his second to put the Millers ahead for the first time on 98 minutes only for Beattie to score his second three minutes later to make it 3-3. The game was finally settled by Simon Cox who grabbed the winner for the Baggies with four minutes of the extra period remaining.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
22 Dec 2018 – League Championship
Rotherham United 0
West Brom 4 (Gayle (3), Barnes)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
26 Aug 2009 – League Cup 2nd Round
West Brom 4 (Beattie (2), Dorrans, Cox)
Rotherham United 3 (Cummins, Pope (2))
Albion’s Record against Rotherham United