The Baggies return to South Yorkshire this weekend for their first 3pm Saturday kick-off for seven weeks protecting a six match unbeaten run, which coincidentally dates back those same seven weeks. Albion’s last defeat was at Hull in the 3pm kick-off on the first Saturday of November.
Darren Moore’s team are also looking to make it four away victories in succession for Albion for the first time since Tony Mowbray’s side won the final four away games of the 2007/08 season clinching the Championship title at Loftus Road on the final day.
Unfortunately, the impressive recent run of form has not lifted Albion into the top two as both Leeds and Norwich are enjoying a similar purple patch. The top three in the Championship are also the top three in the form table with Bielsa’s team having taken fifteen points from the last eighteen, while both the Canaries and the Baggies have taken fourteen. Villa are close behind on thirteen, but something will need to give this weekend as Dean Smith’s team host the current leaders, Leeds United, in a lunchtime kick off on Sunday.
Rotherham have proved difficult to beat in recent weeks, losing just one of their last ten games but they have only won one in their last fifteen leaving them in 20th place in the table having drawn ten of their twenty-two league games this season. Last time out, it needed a stoppage time equaliser for the Millers to rescue a point against Reading at the New York Stadium scored by none other than former Baggies left back, Joe Mattock. He has been a regular for Paul Warne’s team since he made the short move from Hillsborough in 2015.
Warne, who finished his playing career at Rotherham in 2012, took over as caretaker manager when Kenny Jackett was sacked after just five games in November 2016. The Norwich-born former striker, who had two playing spells with the Millers, was unable to prevent them from being relegated in 2017 but was confirmed as the permanent boss that summer and was subsequently able to guide them straight back to the Championship last season beating Shrewsbury Town in the Play-Off Final at Wembley.
Rotherham have proved to be a fairly solid outfit this campaign and have only conceded two more goals than Albion this season despite their lowly position. It is at the other end where their problems have been with only the bottom two sides having scored fewer than their 22 goals in 22 games, and none of their players have scored more than four goals this season.
Based on the Millers’ scoring record, Albion can pretty much guarantee the points with three goals as Rotherham have not scored more than twice in a league game this season, and they have managed to do that just six times with only one of those instances resulting in victory. They have recorded more clean sheets than Albion, though!
Saturday’s match is the first of five games in fifteen days over the Christmas and New Year period, so Darren Moore will need to use his squad. So far this season, the personnel changes between games have been infrequent and never wholesale. With some of the key squad players in their thirties, particularly in the middle of the park, it will be interesting to see how many changes Big Dave chooses to make in the next few weeks.
For this game, I don’t expect a line up markedly different from that used Bramall Lane. Gareth Barry’s man-of-the-match performance is likely to see him keep his place, although whether he will then be able to play again on Wednesday must be doubtful. The back four is likely to remain unchanged throughout assuming all remain fit, but the front six may well get swapped around.
Three players have started every league game for the Baggies this season. Sam Johnstone is likely to play every game assuming he stays fit, but I’m not sure whether Harvey Barnes and Jay Rodriguez will keep that run going over the next fortnight. I certainly expect to see the likes of Sako and Hoolahan get some time in the coming weeks. Hoolahan failed to make the bench for the first time last Friday, but I understand that he was suffering with an injury as opposed to it being an indicator as to whether his contract will be extended.
It’s tough to play so many games in a short time, but it is the same for all clubs and Albion are perhaps fortunate that all the clubs they play between now and Third Round Day are currently outside the top ten with 12th placed Blackburn, who the Baggies visit on New Year’s Day, being the highest-placed.
It represents a chance for Albion to narrow the gap on the two clubs ahead of them – Leeds face trips to Villa and Forest while Norwich face Forest and Derby at home. It might take five wins to close the gap completely, but eleven or twelve points should leave Albion well placed for when Norwich visit the Hawthorns in mid-January.
Having started their league history in Division Two as Rotherham County in the season that Albion won the League Championship, the South Yorkshire club dropped into Division Three North in 1923 and did not meet the Baggies in a league match until Albion themselves found themselves in the third tier in 1992.
While there were a couple of cup ties at the Hawthorns beforehand, the first meeting between the sides at Millmoor was in the FA Cup 3rd Round in 1984. On that occasion, the third division hosts earned a 0-0 draw but were dispatched 3-0 in the replay at the Hawthorns thanks to a goal from Garry Thompson and a brace from Tony Morley.
The Millers first goals against the Baggies came in the first league meeting between the clubs in 1992 at the Hawthorns, a 2-2 draw, but Albion were in the ascendancy once again in the return game at Millmoor which was the Baggies’ last away game of the season. Late goals from Paul Raven and Bob Taylor were enough to earn all three points.
Rotherham’s only home goals against the Baggies came in their 2-1 victory at Millmoor in November 2001. Christ Swailes and Alan Lee found the net for the hosts while current Baggies head coach, Darren Moore, scored a 90th minute consolation for the visitors.
There has been much upheaval for the Millers since Albion’s last match in Rotherham in 2003. A brace from Rob Hulse helped the Baggies to a 3-0 win on that occasion, but since then, United have been into administration twice, the second of which resulted in the club having to give up their home of more than a century, Millmoor, in 2008. They found a temporary home, the Don Valley athletics stadium in neighbouring Sheffield, at which they played for four seasons before returning to their home town in 2012 at the newly built New York Stadium.
Albion to make it an impressive four successive away victories by taking all three points at the New York Stadium.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
26 Aug 2009 – League Cup 2nd Round
West Brom 4 (Beattie (2), Dorrans, Cox)
Rotherham United 3 (Cummins, Pope (2))
Last meeting at Rotherham United
25 Oct 2003 – League Division 1
Rotherham United 0
West Brom 3 (S. Barker (o.g.), Hulse (2))
Albion’s Record against Rotherham United