Albion welcome league leaders, Leeds United, to the Hawthorns for the televised game on Saturday evening looking to end their current run of poor results which has seen Albion slip from the top of the table to outside of the play off positions.
Moreover, the Baggies need to put an end to their tribulations on TV having not won a televised fixture since their surprise 1-0 at Old Trafford in April. So far this season, Albion have drawn at Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City and lost at home to Derby County in the official televised games, and with four of their next five games selected by Sky for live coverage, it’s a record that the Baggies need to put an end to quickly.
If there were any positives to come out of the trip to Hull, it was the performances of Conor Townsend and Tosin Adarabioyo. Townsend was one of the few players that continued to try and urge Albion forward throughout the match, while a couple of consecutive appearances have seen Tosin grow in confidence and I would be surprised if he were to lose his place to Bartley at the weekend.
You could, perhaps, suggest that Townsend didn’t react quick enough for the goal at Hull, but that would be harsh and I think he is an able understudy to Gibbs who should return to the starting line up on Saturday.
Along with Gibbs, Gareth Barry and Dwight Gayle are also expected to be fit for the weekend and, while everyone will expect Gayle to come straight back in, I’m also expecting to see Barry come back in to replace Brunt who went off injured on Humberside. As I surmised in my article earlier this week, Barry and Brunt are probably the only players in the squad with the experience and personality to be the captain Albion need at this moment in time.
Albion fans will be hoping that the return of Gayle will have the desired impact this weekend, and Marco Bielsa knows all about the impact that losing key players can make. Former Baggie Kemar Roofe missed a few games along with midfielder, Pablo Hernández, coinciding with a drop off in form that saw Leeds lose ground on the likes of Albion and Middlesbrough. A few weeks later, those two players are back and Leeds are back at the top of the league.
However, while you may feel that Albion were fortunate in some games earlier in the season, Leeds have benefitted from a handball goal by Roofe against Forest and an almighty clanger from the Wigan defence on Sunday to earn the four points that have lifted them to the summit.
This league is likely to remain extremely tight all season and, despite no win in four, Albion are just five points off the top of the table, but also just five points above Wigan in 16th place.
On a more poignant note, this weekend marks the centenary of the end of the First World War and I was pleased to see the club honouring it in an unusual and meaningful way. If you haven’t seen it, the club have added two former players, both of whom were killed in battle in the Great War, to the first team profiles on the club website. Chris Brunt and Jay Rodriguez were also involved in the planting of two memorial trees in honour of the two men, Harold Bache and William H. Jackson, at the club’s training ground.
It is entirely fitting for the club to commemorate the sacrifice these men made and helps us to remember that football isn’t all that important really.
It’s been more than a decade since the Baggies faced Leeds United, last doing so in the 2006/07 season when the Whites were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history. It was a steep decline for the club who were Albion’s first ever Premier League opponents at the Hawthorns just five years earlier, having finished in the top five in each of the previous five seasons. Their 3-1 victory that day (Kewell, Bowyer and Viduka for the visitors, Lee Marshall scoring the Baggies’ first ever Premier League goal as a late consolation) took them to the top of the early season table, but the financial mismanagement of Peter Ridsdale was beginning to come to the fore and they ended up finishing 15th that year before being relegated the following season.
Fast forward four years and the clubs’ next shared a division after Albion’s Great Surrender under Bryan Robson. They met three times in 2006/07 with those games producing a total of fifteen goals, ten of them scored by Albion who did completed the league double over United as well as knocking them out of the FA Cup in round three. The first of those games was under the caretaker stewardship of Nigel Pearson at the end of September after Robson had been sacked. The Baggies ran out 4-2 winners thanks to a brace from Diomansy Kamara and goals from Martin Albrechtsen and Kevin Phillips. Super Kev was again on the mark when the Whites returned for the cup tie in January, along with Paul McShane and John Hartson as Albion progressed with a 3-1 victory.
That defeat in 2002 is Albion’s only reverse against Leeds in the last eight meetings, of which the Baggies have won five. Prior to that, however, Leeds won four in a row against Albion in the late eighties including a 4-1 win at the Hawthorns in January 1988 which is their best ever result on Albion soil. John Sheridan, Gary Williams, John Pearson and Bobby Davidson all found the net for the visitors before Leeds-born Albion substitute, Martin Dickinson, scored a late consolation.
Leeds’ previous visit to the Hawthorns in December 1986 was infamous. The game itself was fiery with Albion’s Carlton Palmer and Leeds’ Ian Snodin and John Stiles all receiving red cards as Albion ran out 3-0 winners thanks to a brace from Clive Whitehead and another from Garth Crooks, but the game will be remembered for disturbances in and around the Smethwick End with the visiting supporters setting fire to a groundsman’s hut behind the stand.
The Baggies’ biggest win over Leeds came back in 1934 when the legendary Ginger Richardson scored four goals to add to strikes from Wally Boyes and Joe Carter as the hosts won 6-3 in a Division One fixture at the Hawthorns.
The 1978/79 season is one of the most memorable Baggies fans as Ron Atkinson’s brilliant team captured the imagination of the nation as they pushed Liverpool for the league title, but what may be forgotten is that they met Leeds on no less than seven occasions that season. The first meeting was at the Hawthorns in the second round of the League Cup in August; after 0-0 draws at the Hawthorns and again at Elland Road in the replay, Leeds finally won the tie in a second replay at Maine Road thanks to a goal from Paul Hart. The Baggies won the league fixture at Elland Road 3-1 in October before the clubs met three times in less than a week in February and March. Leeds won 2-1 at the Hawthorns in a league fixture on 24th February 1979 before Albion surrendered a 3-1 lead two days later to draw 3-3 in a re-arranged fourth round cup tie on a Monday evening. Leeds had been drawn at home but were banned from playing at home in the FA Cup so the tie was switched to the Hawthorns. The replay, also in West Bromwich, was just three days later with Albion winning 2-0 in extra time thanks to goals from Ally Brown and John Wile in what was the first of nine matches that the Baggies played in March that year. Nonetheless, that still left them fourteen fixtures to play in the final seven weeks of what became an extended season with Albion’s final league fixture played six days after the FA Cup final.
This should be a tight match and, if Albion can recover their form from prior to the last international break, they could go into the next one on a high. It will be tough against Leeds, however, and I’m going for a draw.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
20 Jan 2007 – League Championship
Leeds United 2 (Flo, Thompson)
West Brom 3 (Greening, Kamara (2))
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
6 Jan 2007 – FA Cup 3rd Round
West Brom 3
Leeds United 1
Albion’s Record against Leeds United
Pictures courtesy of Laurie Rampling