With seven senior players unavailable for this weekend’s FA Cup tie with Brighton and Hove Albion, Valérien Ismaël will be forced to make changes but the expectation is that the team won’t have more than a couple of the senior players that started the game against Cardiff City last Sunday.
Adding to the long term injuries to Dara O’Shea and Kean Bryan, Ismaël will be without Jayson Molumby and Matt Clarke as they cannot play against their parent club, Alex Mowatt and Sam Johnstone due to suspension and Semi Ajayi who has joined up with Nigeria for the Africa Cup of Nations. The news that Aiden Flint’s red card, received in the same incident as Johntone’s, has been overturned suggests that the club should probably have appealed against the England goalkeeper’s suspension.
Furthermore, Matt Phillips is only recently back in training and it would seem unlikely that Robert Snodgrass will feature having been frozen out by the French head coach. Meanwhile, Kenneth Zohore has been out injured and hasn’t played any football since early November while new signing Darryl Dike will not be risked as he works to build his fitness up in time for the Championship fixture against QPR.
So even without prioritising the league, there would need to be changes for the visit of Brighton, but I expect there to be limited first team experience in the starting eleven. Ismaël did play relatively strong sides in the FA Cup for Barnsley last season as they progressed to the fifth round, but he had already led them clear of the relegation zone by January and the Tykes’ squad was not as big as Albion’s. As it turned out, their cup run sparked them into a fantastic run in the league that lifted them into the play-offs.
Albion have had positive experiences from a cup run coinciding with a successful promotion campaign. In 2002, Gary Megson’s team beat two Premier League sides on their way to the quarter-finals while still reeling in Wolves to finish second and, in 2008, four successive away cup wins propelled Tony Mowbray’s side to the semi-final alongside a title-winning campaign.
I’d love to see a cup run, but it is not something I am expecting. Two of the players who may well retain their place from the Cardiff match are Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Tom Fellows while I would expect a few senior pros to be retained. Jake Livermore and Kyle Bartley may well play, while David Button will almost certainly be in goal, but we could see the rest made up from the U23 squad. We may even get to see the much-discussed Reyes Cleary given a game while the likes of Owen Windsor, Rico Richards, Mo Faal, Ethan Ingram and Caleb Taylor hoping for some involvement and there is also another Teixeira on the books – Áurio Teixeira has been a regular starter in the PL2 team this season. Quévin Castro, probably the stand out player from the EFL Cup defeat in September, has been unable to play for the U23s for some time due to an “administrative issue” according to the Birmingham Mail so, without any regular football recently, it would seem unlikely that he will feature.
FA Cup Third Round day remains an important date in the English football calendar, but it is, unfortunately, not what it was. The decline in the competition’s importance in the top two divisions means that most managers play weakened teams leading to declining attendances and it is only in the lower leagues, when one of the big boys comes to town, that the excitement persists at this stage. It’s a real shame, and I’m not sure what the solution is, but it is league football that is the most financially rewarding and it is money not glory that rules in 21st century football.
It took 117 years for the two Albions to be drawn against each other in the FA Cup since Brighton’s first foray into the world’s oldest cup competition in 1901/02, but just three years after that first meeting in 2019, the clubs find themselves FA Cup opponents once again.
Three years ago, the south coast club were drawn at home in the Fourth Round and, after a 0-0 draw at the Amex Stadium, the Seagulls won 3-1 at the Hawthorns in the replay with two goals from Glen Murray in extra time. Baggies boss, Darren Moore, picked a much weakened team with promotion very much the priority with the likes of Jonathan Bond, Tyrone Mears, Conor Townsend (not a regular at that time), Sam Field, and Wes Hoolahan in the starting line up for the Hawthorns fixture and Morgan Rogers coming on in extra time for his only senior appearance for Albion before being sold to Manchester City. Jonathan Leko also made one of only three starts he made for the Baggies in the game at the Amex while Rayhaan Tulloch got his first senior appearances for the club as a substitute in both games.
Kyle Bartley gave the hosts the lead at the Hawthorns with 13 minutes to go but Florin Andone equalised five minutes later before Murray’s extra time brace put the visitors through to round four.
The only other cup game between the sides at the Hawthorns was their first ever meeting in the third round of the League Cup in 1976. John Giles’ team had just been promoted back to the top flight and were still finding their feet. The Seagulls, under the stewardship of Alan Mullery, were top of Division Three and had just beaten York City 7-2 the previous weekend. Peter Ward, who had scored a brace against York, repeated that feat at the Hawthorns as the south coast Albion progressed.
Whether that result had a positive impact on the Baggies, I’m not sure, but they scored four in each of their next two home games, beating Spurs 4-2 and Man Utd 4-0. Brighton, meanwhile, continued their good form and were promoted as runners-up to Mansfield Town at the end of the season and were in Division One by the end of the decade.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
27 Feb 2021 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Bartley)
Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Albion’s Record against Brighton & Hove Albion
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