League leaders face stern test at Stoke

After a comfortable victory in south Wales, Albion are away from home once again for their next fixture, at one-time bogie side, Stoke City. The times when all Baggies would fear a meeting with the Potters as a matter of course are behind us, but having struggled for a few seasons after they were relegated along with Albion in 2018, they seem to be finding some form under Michael O’Neill and it will be a tough test for Ismaël’s team.

As one of the leading lights in the second tier, Albion’s match has once again been chosen for Sky TV coverage meaning that the fans have to travel up to north Staffordshire on a Friday evening. It is the Baggies’ third Friday evening fixture after the matches at Bournemouth on the opening weekend and QPR at home last week. It would be their fourth had it not been for the late change to the Peterborough trip and the next game after the international break, at home to Birmingham City, is also on a Friday night. While TV coverage is convenient for the armchair fans with a Sky TV subscription, it does make life difficult for those of us who like to attend the matches!

Disgruntlement about Sky TV aside, it seems like a decent time to be a Baggies fan after Tuesday’s excellent victory at Cardiff. Both the result and the performance were encouraging as the tactics are evolving into a mix of styles that can be switched according to the opposition’s approach. With McCarthy opting to play five centre backs, high crosses into the box were not going to be successful, so Albion played a passing style that we were more used to seeing under Bilić, and the Bluebirds had no answer bar a few set pieces. Cardiff, however, were poor and we cannot get too carried away with that result – Friday night will be a much sterner test.

Stoke City are unbeaten at home this season with Barnsley the only side to leave the Bet365 Stadium with a point. They also knocked Premier League Watford out of the EFL Cup and have lost only twice so far in all competitions – at Fulham and, surprisingly, at Derby County. O’Neill has normally used a 3-5-2 formation this season, but he switched to a 3-4-3 for their draw at Preston on Tuesday evening, and perhaps one eye was on matching up with Albion’s formation on Friday.

He does, however, have a selection headache. Romaine Sawyers has settled nicely into the Stoke midfield but will be ineligible to play against his parent club and his obvious replacement, Sam Clucas, is suspended having already picked up five yellow cards this campaign. O’Neill will hope that Joe Allen is passed fit having picked up a toe injury.

O’Neill’s front line at Preston saw Mario Vrančić and top scorer, Nick Powell, operating just behind Jacob Brown, a slight tweak from earlier games when the Bosnian international was operating in central midfield behind a front two. It will be interesting to see whether O’Neill does the same again on Friday. I’d be surprised if he opts to change Stoke’s possession-based approach, but other head coaches have done the same to counter Albion’s high press and I guess it depends on how confident he feels in his players’ ability to counter the intensity of Val-ball.

As for Ismaël, I don’t see him making too many changes. There is the chance that he may be able to call on the services of Matt Clarke. The Brighton loanee was reportedly recovering quickly from his hamstring injury and could be available before the international break – as this is the last game before that break, there is the chance that he will be fit enough to feature. Given how well Townsend and Reach have been performing on the left side of defence, and that Kean Bryan has not seen more than a few minutes’ action, I can’t see Big Val risking Clarke unless he is 100% ready.

Up front, it will be the usual “perm three from five” for the starting eleven, but I don’t see any other changes unless there are any fitness concerns, particularly given that Albion won’t be in action for another fortnight.

The Championship is a tough league but I feel that Ismaël is developing an approach that could master it. It is still a work in progress, but Tuesday’s win at Cardiff was a step change in that approach in my opinion. The poor quality of the opposition makes that performance difficult to assess reliably, but if Albion can come close to repeating that display at Stoke and take all three points, it would be a massive statement.


Albion fans of a certain age will remember Stoke City as a massive bogie side as the Baggies won just two of thirty-four league games between December 1988 and March 2015. However, such days are long gone and the Throstles have won seven of the last eleven meetings between the sides including their last two visits to the Bet365 Stadium.

Before “City” was added to their name, Stoke were, of course, Albion’s first ever league opponents in September 1888 when they won 2-0 at the Victoria Ground thanks to goals from Joe Wilson and ‘Spry’ Woodhall.

The Potters are responsible for Albion’s biggest ever defeat, a 10-3 victory in 1937 which is the only time the Baggies have conceded goals into double figures. Albion’s biggest win at Stoke is 3-0, a result first achieved in April 1930 but most recently in September 1982 thanks to goals from Cyrille Regis, Peter Eastoe and Ally Brown.

Stat Attack

Current Form

Albion W D D D W W
Stoke City W D L W W D

All competitions; most recent game on the right

Last matches

Last meeting

20 Jan 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Stoke City 1 (Campbell)

Last meeting at Stoke City

4 Nov 2019 – League Championship
Stoke City 0
West Brom 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu (pen))

Last win

4 Nov 2019 – League Championship
Stoke City 0
West Brom 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu (pen))

Albion’s Record against Stoke City

  Overall   Away
  P W D L F A   P W D L F A
League 142 46 35 61 190 208   71 13 22 36 68 123
FA Cup 5 3 2 0 12 6   1 0 1 0 2 2
Other 1 0 0 1 1 2   1 0 0 1 1 2
Total 148 49 37 62 203 216   73 13 23 37 71 127

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