After retaining their spot at the top of the table with a hard fought win on Teesside, Albion look to consolidate their position on Tuesday evening as Barnsley visit the Hawthorns.
The Tykes are enduring a difficult season back in the Championship and parted company with head coach, Daniel Stendal, just before the international break. Caretaker coach, Adam Murray, managed to guide the team to a 1-1 draw at home to Swansea City on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the table.
Barnsley started the season with a surprise 1-0 win over Fulham, but that remains their only victory of the campaign and, away from Oakwell, they have picked up just one point from their six matches so far thanks to a 0-0 draw at Wigan Athletic. Their one and only goal away from home came in the 5-1 defeat to Preston North End earlier this month.
It would probably be considered a home banker by most observers, but no game in the Championship can ever be considered a foregone conclusion, and we have seen a number of big surprises already this season. Albion will need to approach the game with the same discipline as any other if they are to secure the three points.
Nonetheless, Slaven Bilić’s side should go into the match full of confidence having successfully navigated a tricky trip to the north east at the weekend to establish a two point lead at the top of the table. In their last three games at the Hawthorns, the Baggies have scored eleven goals and, should they play with the same intensity and quality as they have done in those recent games, they will surely feel that they can continue that good run on Tuesday evening.
With three games in a week, there is an increased chance that Bilić will shuffle the pack a little for the starting line up. Ahmed Hegazi got his first minutes in an Albion shirt as a substitute on Saturday and could soon be in line for a recall, although another clean sheet will not have hurt Bartely and Ajayi’s chances of maintaining their partnership.
Matt Phillips missed the game on Teesside through injury, but could be fit to face the Tykes. If not, it will be interesting to see if Bilić plays Krovinović as he did at the Riverside, or perhaps brings in Kyle Edwards instead, and let’s not forget that Chris Willock is still waiting for his first chance.
I don’t expect to see too many other changes based on the Croatian’s selections so far this campaign although, as the season progresses, the need to rotate the squad will increase to avoid burnout.
Hope is now turning to expectation at the Hawthorns, and that is another challenge for the squad to face. Barnsley will not make it easy for Albion, but the Hawthorns crowd will be expecting the table-toppers to simply swat the relegation-threatened Tykes aside with a minimum of fuss. This division is rarely that straightforward.
The late eighties was a difficult time to be an Albion fan. The despair at being relegated from the top flight in 1986 was compounded by two poor seasons back in the second division under the two Rons, Saunders and Atkinson.
Brian Talbot briefly sparkled with a promotion challenge that ultimately faded in the 1988/89 season, but by the time Barnsley visited the Hawthorns just six weeks before the end of the eighties, Albion had drifted to a lower mid-table second tier team with the odd good result.
In their previous match at the Hawthorns, Newcastle United had battered Albion 5-1 and, after another defeat at Ipswich, the Baggies were in 16th place ahead of the Tykes’ visit.
There was a lively start to the game with Tony Ford marauding down the left wing. He won a free kick after just three minutes near the touchline, and took it himself, swinging the ball into the near post where Don Goodman rose highest to give the hosts the lead.
Four minutes later, Ford was on the scoresheet himself. Bernard McNally swing the ball in from the right side and the former Stoke City winger rose above the defender to power a header in to the far post from about 8 yards.
Barnsley threatened briefly when David Currie’s strike was deflected onto a post by Chris Whyte, but Albion were soon in the goals again. Brian Talbot volleyed the ball from the centre of the pitch over the visitors’ defence to put Goodman through on goal. He coolly rounded the ‘keeper to notch his second of the match just before half time.
He didn’t have long to wait to complete his hat-trick and Talbot was once again the provider. Just a minute into the second half, it was another ball over the top and, this time, Goodman lobbed the ‘keeper to make it 4-0.
Two minutes later, Tykes’ ‘keeper, Ian Wardle, spilled a fairly tame shot from Tony Ford, and Kevin Bartlett was on hand quickly to bundle the ball home for Albion’s fifth.
It didn’t stop there. The next goal was a fantastic break that started in the right back position when Steve Parkin cleared with an overhead kick towards Goodman. He nodded it to Ford, now on the right wing, near the halfway line and he accelerated forward before returning ball to Goodman. He then squared it to Bartlett and the pacy winger finished clinically to make it 6-0 in only the 51st minute.
It was one way traffic and Albion soon had their seventh. Just 54 minutes was on the clock when Malcolm Shotton handled in the area. Bernard McNally fired the spot kick high into the net.
With more than half an hour to go, double figures appeared to be on the cards but, while Martyn Bennett hit the bar and substitute John Thomas had a goal disallowed for a foul on the ‘keeper, Albion couldn’t add to their tally, even when Barnsley were reduced to ten men late on.
It was an encouraging display but was ultimately just a flash in the pan as Albion struggled for the remainder of the season and finished 20th. It couldn’t get worse we thought – how wrong we were.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
2 May 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Dorrans)
Barnsley 1 (Colace)
1 Sep 2007 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Teixeira, Beattie)
Albion’s Record against Barnsley