Following Albion’s wretched defeat at home to Preston, the Express and Star conducted a poll that suggested that as many as 90% of Baggies fans wanted Valérien Ismaël to be sacked, but the club confirmed that the Frenchman would be conducting his pre-match press conference as usual on Friday morning, so it would seem that he will get at least one more game.
There have been suggestions in some quarters that a decision to dispense with his services has been made, but that it will be announced after the Millwall game. Something similar happened to Slaven Bilić when he found out that he was sacked on the coach on the way home from earning a surprise point at the Etihad, so they have form, but Val does seem to have been involved in the signing of Andy Carroll on a short term deal that was completed in time for him to play at the New Den. Personally, I think that if there is a marked improvement at Millwall, he will be given more time, but if the E&S poll is to believed, that won’t be a popular decision.
In his pre-match press conference on Friday, Val suggested that the team had lost its identity and that he did not recognise the one that played so poorly against Preston. He also took responsibility for the defeat and said that his game plan was wrong.
Many feel that his game plan has always been wrong, but I don’t think it is that simple. It has been obvious to me that the level of intensity has rarely got back to the heights we saw in the opening half dozen fixtures of the season, but that seemed to be largely down to a change in approach when teams opted to defend deep against Albion. With a more considered passing game, the high press got lost, or at least it was inconsistent.
It is a positive sign that Ismaël is signalling a return to what he calls his “DNA”, the consistent high press, but does he have a solution to the low block that some teams will inevitably adopt? But then will he be in charge long enough to find out? His words on Friday were not those of a man expecting the sack, they were those of a man confident in his ability to turn it around. There do not seem to be many who share that belief.
Andy Carroll’s arrival has had a mixed reception amongst Baggies fans. It’s certainly not an exciting signing and, I’m sure, not one the club would have considered but for the injury to Daryl Dike. For me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer – he won’t cost a lot, expectation won’t be that high but, if he can stay fit, he can be a useful option. He is “only” 33 and, given his injury problems of the past, there aren’t that many miles on the clock. At his best with the right service, he is unplayable, so I don’t think there’s much downside. Reading had wanted to extend his deal but the former England international opted to look elsewhere. He is expected to make his debut at the New Den, but I suspect that may be from the bench.
It will be interesting to see if Val makes any notable changes to the side that started against Preston. Diangana aside, there aren’t many who would deserve to keep their place after Wednesday. Cédric Kipré was the first to feel his ire on the night when he was withdrawn at half time – Semi Ajayi is back from the Africa Cup of Nations so could be an option there, but Kipré has been one of Ismaël’s favourites this season.
I felt that Alex Mowatt and Karlan Grant were particularly disappointing on Wednesday, another two of Val’s favourites. Grant has only failed to start two of Albion’s league games this season; he came off the bench at Preston in September and was ruled out due to a positive COVID test for the trip to Derby just after Christmas. Meanwhile, Mowatt has been a 100% starter when available having missed eight league games through injury, COVID or suspension. Either not make the starting line up at Millwall would indicate that they are no longer sacred cows.
But whatever the team, there needs to be a massive reaction to the last game, although many fans have already lost patience and I’ve even seen some state that they hope that Albion lose to force the board to get rid of the head coach.
As for the opposition, Gary Rowett’s team were as high as eighth when they beat Birmingham City in early December, but four defeats in five in the league and four successive defeats in all competitions have seen them drop away from play-off contention. They currently sit in 15th place some eleven points adrift of the top six albeit with two games in hand.
An injury to Jed Wallace has coincided with their loss of form as Millwall have struggled in front of goal. It has been their principle problem all season (sound familiar?) as they have managed just 27 goals in their 26 games – only four Championship clubs have a worse record.
In an attempt to address those issues, Rowett has signed former Baggie, Oliver Burke, on loan from Sheffield United. Three goals in the last two and a half seasons is not a record that would suggest he can solve that particular problem but, while he didn’t manage to score against Albion in any of his three appearances against them for the Blades, there is the fear that he will come back to hurt the Baggies as Charlie Austin did a couple of weeks ago.
It should be an intriguing contest with plenty of side stories. If Albion fail to start well, the fans’ reaction is easy to predict, but if they do manage to put in a performance to impress, how will those who want Ismaël gone react? I personally hope that we get to find out.
Slaven Bilić’s team broke Albion’s duck at the New Den on their last visit in the midst of Storm Ciara. Goals from Filip Krovinović and Dara O’Shea earned the points in what was an accomplished performance from the visitors as they adapted to the difficult conditions superbly.
That makes the Baggies’ record at Millwall’s new home P7 W1 D2 L4, hardly one to be proud of, and their previous victory in Bermondsey was at Cold Blow Lane in April 1987 when Bobby Williamson scored the only goal of the game for Ron Saunders’ team.
Albion’s only other two league victories away to the Lions were a 2-1 win in October 1946 and a 5-1 thrashing in December 1938 when Harry Jones scored two adding to goals from Sammy Heaselgrave, Sandy McNab and Ike Clarke.
Millwall’s biggest win over Albion at home was the last ever meeting between the two sides at the old stadium. Terry Sheringham scored a hat trick and Alex Rae also scored as the Lions won 4-1 – Colin West scored the Baggies’ goal.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Sep 2021 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Bartley)
Millwall 1 (Ballard)
Last meeting at Millwall
9 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Krovinović, O’Shea)
Albion’s Record against Millwall