After another draw, this time away to Preston North End, the pressure is mounting on Valérien Ismaël to get Albion to return to winning ways, although I suspect that pressure is only coming from a section of supporters rather than from the club hierarchy.
There is dissatisfaction with the style of play from some quarters, and I agree that it has been particularly ugly in recent games, but eight (unbeaten) games into a season is surely far too early to write off Val-ball completely? It will evolve over time as the players learn how to adapt in game, and as the coaching staff find new ways to counter opposition tactics aimed at disrupting Albion’s approach.
Indeed, it is a flattering that Albion’s last four opposition coaches have opted to completely change their tactics to counter Ismaël’s approach and, while it has worked to a degree, I expect both players and coaching staff at the Hawthorns to come up with a solution.
Furthermore, the statistics suggest that the Baggies are consistently creating more opportunities than their opponents and, with better finishing, they probably should have beaten both Derby County and Preston North End. As Ismaël said after the last match, the players need to be more clinical.
There will always be some that will complain when Albion do not play neat pretty football on the ground, but most will accept a more pragmatic approach providing it produces results. Bilić’s football got us promoted but never looked like keeping us up, Val-ball may have more success – that remains to be seen.
With a full week to work with the players, Big Val will undoubtedly have a well-prepared plan to take on QPR, many of whom will have played on Tuesday evening. Whether Val’s plan will involve a tweak to the starting personnel, or even the formation, we can only speculate. While Matt Clarke is unlikely to play, we could get a first view of Kean Bryan with Conor Townsend moving back out to his strongest position as left wing back.
There is an argument that a slight change to the setup of the front three may be helpful, with one of them playing more as a ten behind two forwards. It’s probably no more than semantics as they have tended to be fairly fluid most of the time anyway, and it would be difficult to pick one who is really suited to the number ten role. If Mark Warburton does opt to repeat the tactics of Rooney and McAvoy not allow the Baggies to press, Albion will need to be more considered in their attacking play as they were in the second half against Derby. That was a successful approach albeit not one rewarded with a goal, but it didn’t appear to be a noticeable change in formation.
Mark Warburton’s side have had an encouraging start to the season albeit back-to-back league defeats at Bournemouth and then at home to Bristol City have dented that to a degree. A fairly kind fixture list saw them beat Hull City and Middlesbrough on the road while defeating Coventry City and drawing with Millwall at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium before those two defeats dropped them to 8th place in the table with 12 points. They have also progressed to the Fourth Round of the EFL Cup beating Everton on penalties on Tuesday evening.
Warburton fielded a fairly strong side for the Everton match including former Baggies striker, Charlie Austin, who tripled his goal tally for the campaign with a brace against the Toffees. Albion fans are obviously concerned that Austin will come back to haunt his former club with a goal at the Hawthorns on Friday evening, and those fears could be well-placed given that he scored four goals in two games for the R’s against the Baggies in his previous spell in west London in the 2014/15 Premier League season.
Another name that Albion fans will remember is that of Chris Willock – given limited opportunity by Slaven Bilić in a loan spell in 2019, he had his revenge when on loan at Huddersfield Town scoring one of the two goals that condemned the Baggies to a damaging defeat later that season. He moved permanently to the R’s that summer and scored three goals in 38 appearances for them last season, and already has a couple of goals in the current campaign.
Stefan Johansen, another former Albion loanee, is the current QPR captain while Sam Field, who moved to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium from the Hawthorns on a permanent deal in the summer after a successful loan spell, is currently recovering from knee surgery.
In Albion’s squad, Matt Phillips, Darnell Furlong and Jordan Hugill have all spent time at QPR and I’m sure the latter will be hoping to do better should he get a chance like the one he had against another of his former clubs, Preston, last weekend!
I’m not sure I have ever seen the level of criticism labelled at an unbeaten Albion side that has been evident this season, but in today’s world where instant gratification is sought, nothing surprises me. Should the Baggies avoid defeat on Friday, it will equal the club’s longest unbeaten start to a campaign, but if that is achieved by a draw rather than a defeat, you can rest assured that the social media knives will be out once again.
Ismaël needs a win, but only to quieten a few dissenters as his job is certainly not at risk. Three points would be a welcome relief for all at the club but Rangers are the highest placed of any of the clubs the Baggies have faced this season, so it will not be easy.
However, if Albion take their chances, victory should be well within their grasp.
The last meeting between the clubs was an important one as it was the game that sealed Albion’s promotion back to the Premier League at the end of the COVID-affected 2019/20 season, albeit the point that they secured was only enough because Brentford were beaten at home by Barnsley. Rangers’ previous visit to the Shrine saw them hammered 7-1 by Darren Moore’s Albion, not surprisingly the Baggies’ biggest ever win over the West London club.
QPR’s biggest win at the Hawthorns was in April 2015 when Chris Ramsey’s side, Ramsey having taken over from Harry Redknapp a couple of months earlier, including future Albion players Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin took a surprise 3-0 half time lead thanks to goals from Vargas, Austin and Zamora – Big Victor Anichebe pulled one back for Albion before Mulumbu was sent off and Joey Barton’s stoppage time strike made the final score 4-1. The visitors had lost their previous five games and would go on to pick up just five further points in their remaining seven games finishing bottom of the table.
Rangers did the double over Albion that season but they have won only one other league meeting since January 2001. The Baggies have won nine of the last sixteen league fixtures between the sides, with four having been drawn. QPR have won only four league matches at the Hawthorns and we have to go back to 1999 for the one before the 4-1 result in 2015.
Another big home win for the Baggies came in Tony Mowbray’s Championship winning campaign in September 2007. A brace from Kevin Phillips plus goals from Ishmael Miller, Robert Koren and Jonathan Greening saw the hosts win 5-1 lifting them to second place in the table, just a point behind leaders Watford. QPR were left rock bottom but recovered to finish 14th and, of course, hosted Albion on the final day of the season as they secured the title with a 2-0 win.
|Queen’s Park Rangers||W||W||D||L||L||D|
All competitions; most recent game on the right
22 Jul 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Diangana, Robinson)
Queen’s Park Rangers 2 (Manning, Eze)
28 Sep 2019 – League Championship
Queen’s Park Rangers 0
West Brom 2 (Ferguson, Pereira)
Last win at the Hawthorns
18 Aug 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 7 (Phillips (2), Gibbs, Rodriguez (2 pens), Gayle, Robson-Kanu)
Queen’s Park Rangers 1 (Lynch)
Albion’s Record against Queen’s Park Rangers
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