Queen’s Park Rangers’ newly named Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium plays host to two of the Championship’s top scoring teams on Saturday lunchtime as the Baggies visit west London looking to extend their unbeaten run.
Slaven Bilić’s side head the scoring charts with 15 goals in their eight games this season, while Rangers are joint second with Preston on 14. Both sides have also been conceding fairly freely having let in 22 goals between them which should mean that there will be goals for the Sky TV viewers to enjoy.
Mark Warburton’s side are in great form having won their last four league games. After opening with an away win at Stoke City, they then drew at home to Huddersfield Town (the Terriers’ only point of the season so far) before losing their next two to Swansea City and Bristol City. Since then, wins over Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday, Luton and Millwall have seen them rocket up the table and they sit just one place behind Albion on goal difference. Given the early kick-off, a winner in the match will move to the top of the table for a few hours at least with the top five separated by just one point.
Rangers’ success this season has largely been down to their strike pairing of Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill who have scored eleven goals between them.
Bermudan international, Wells, made his name at Bradford City in League Two, winning promotion with them before moving to Huddersfield Town in 2014. He was a member of the Terriers’ promotion winning team of 2016/17 before moving to Burnley. He is on his second season-long loan at Rangers and is certainly enjoying his time in west London this season. He is already just one short of the total of seven league goals he managed for the R’s in the last campaign, although that was the first time since he broke into the Bradford side that he has failed to hit double figures in a season.
Hugill, meanwhile, is also on loan for a second season, although he spent the last campaign playing for former Baggies boss, Tony Pulis, at Middlesbrough. In contrast to Wells, he has only once managed to score 10 goals in a season but he impressed enough in his time at Preston North End for David Moyes to take him to the London Stadium in 2018. He, too, is just one short of his goal tally for last season – he managed just six for the Smoggies last term, three of which were from the spot.
As a pairing, they do seem to have clicked while the other player to keep an eye on is Eberechi Eze. The 21-year-old midfielder is their primary creative spark having has notched three times himself this season as well as providing two assists. He also has a pass completion rate of more than 90% and was man of the match in each of the R’s last two home victories.
Given the statistics, it will be an achievement if the Baggies can keep them out for the first fifteen minutes. Albion have a developed habit of conceding early having let in four goals in the opening quarter of an hour this season, more than any other Championship side. Their ability to recover, however, has been well documented having come from behind in seven of their eight games. Rangers aren’t too far off on that stat having conceded first on five occasions, although they have gone on to lose two of those.
In what is undoubtedly a successful start under Slaven Bilić, the propensity to start slowly and the failure to keep a clean sheet are the chief concerns. It took until the ninth league game of the season to keep a clean sheet under Darren Moore last season, and Saturday’s match is Albion’s ninth. However, it will be a surprise if the Baggies do keep Rangers’ impressive front two out for the entire match, although the defensive performance at Fulham in their last away match was impressive and, while they may have ridden their luck on occasion, it was only a freak goal that prevented their first shut out of the campaign.
Unfortunately, normal service was resumed at the Hawthorns last Sunday, as the Albion net was breached on two occasions, with the second a direct result of an error. It is something that can be fixed, and it needs to be fixed soon if the Baggies are to challenge for the top two. So far, their fire power has been enough to pull them through, but that will not always be the case.
While the attacking support players have been starring for Albion this season, the central strikers have not yet turned up. Zohore’s two goals have both come from the penalty spot while the only goal scored by a striker in open play this season is Charlie Austin’s opener against Millwall in the Carabao Cup.
Austin is looking sharper every game and came close to opening his league account on Sunday, but I wonder whether he may have more success in a front two. Bilić does seem wedded to the 4-2-3-1 formation despite hinting in pre-season that he would play two up top, and there is no doubt that the threat from the wide areas is significant. However, I would like to see someone play a little closer to Austin as Hal Robson-Kanu did in the closing stages at Craven Cottage.
I’m not expecting that to change this weekend, however, but Bilić does have his usual selection dilemma for the attacking line-up.
Phillips is perhaps the only player sure of his place in that front four having started every Championship game so far. His brace against Huddersfield brought his goal total to four, only one short of his tally for the whole of last season.
Pereira looks to be the more dynamic of the options as the central attacking midfielder, although Krovinović remains a good alternative, particularly if Albion need to contain a team and retain possession – he doesn’t penetrate as well as the Brazilian, but his ball retention is superb.
On the left, Diangana and Edwards have both impressed in recent games, although it is the West Ham loanee who has the edge in terms of goals, assists and minutes this season. Having said that, two of Diangana’s three goals and both of his assists have come as a substitute, so Bilić may opt to use him from the bench.
There may also be decisions to be made at the back. Ahmed Hegazi is nearing fitness with Kyle Bartley seemingly the obvious candidate to drop out should Bilić feel the time is right, while Kieran Gibbs may also be ready to fight for his left back slot. Personally, I wouldn’t change the full backs – Furlong has played extremely well on the right, while Ferguson has continued to excel, despite being on his wrong side. Furthermore, the 18-year-old offers more defensive protection than Gibbs and allows whichever left sided player in front of him the freedom to attack with abandon.
It is the start of a big week for Albion. After the trip to fifth-placed Rangers, they face top-of-the-table Leeds United at Elland Road on Tuesday before a home game with Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City next weekend. Five points would be a respectable total from those three matches – any more would be excellent.
It may surprise many readers that, on Christmas Day 1968, the legendary Jeff Astle was in the midst of a lean spell having gone nine league games without a goal. The Cup winning striker had last scored in the First Division in a 2-0 win at Filbert Street in mid-October, although he had netted in a Cup Winners’ Cup tie against Dinamo Bucharest that helped the Baggies progress to the quarter finals.
The “King” may have brooded over that as he munched on his turkey dinner in the knowledge that he had the chance to end that run in the Boxing Day match at Loftus Road where the Baggies would take on bottom-of-the-table Queen’s Park Rangers.
Meanwhile, Albion’s league form was mixed having won just twice in the previous nine games following on from four successive wins in October, leaving them in ninth position.
More than 18,000 were at Loftus Road for the festive fixture and, if the home crowd had hopes of a victory, those took a dent early on when Ian Collard opened the scoring for the visitors on 14 minutes. Former England ‘keeper, Ron Springett, was caught in two minds after Collard pounced on a blunder in the Rangers defence, and the Baggies midfielder was able to find the net with ease.
There was another easy finish for Collard just before the break to double Albion’s lead. John Kaye fed Dennis Martin on the wing, and his cross was nodded down by Astle for Collard to fire home.
It was pretty much one way traffic throughout and it was no surprise when the visitors made it 3-0 just after the hour mark. Astle was once again the provider as his cross was headed home by Martin.
Albion’s number nine was still looking for that elusive goal as the match neared its conclusion. Four minutes from time, he had a chance when Springett fumbled a cross, but Jeff saw Ronnie Rees in a better position and laid on his third assist of the match as the Baggies winger thumped it home from 25 yards to make the final score 4-0.
Astle scored in Albion’s next match, a 3-0 FA Cup win over Norwich, but it wasn’t until February that he finally found the net in the league when he scored a last minute equaliser away to Stoke City, ending a run of 12 league games without scoring. Something else that ended that month was the Baggies’ involvement in Europe as they surprisingly went down 2-1 on aggregate to Dunfermline Athletic in the quarter final.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
19 Feb 2019 – League Championship
Queen’s Park Rangers 2 (Freeman, Hemed (pen))
West Brom 3 (Montero, Murphy, Livermore)
Albion’s Record against Queen’s Park Rangers