Another televised fixture on a Friday night and, with the West Midlands Metro out of action, it is a game that will present more challenges than usual for Albion fans to attend. Coupled with recent performances less encouraging than expected, the actual attendance is likely to be somewhat lower than the “tickets sold” attendance that most clubs use these days as some season ticket holders opt to not bother and watch in the pub or at home.
Moving Saturday afternoon fixtures to a weekday evening offers most inconveniences for match-going supporters and the Baggies have had more than their fair share this season. Of Albion’s fourteen scheduled Saturday afternoon fixtures this season, this will be the sixth to be moved to a Friday evening, the third of seven at that Hawthorns. That means that Albion will have played just four of their opening ten home fixtures on a Saturday.
While the fixture changes present problems for fans, Valérien Ismaël apparently quite likes a Friday night fixture and Albion have won their two at the Hawthorns so far this season, beating QPR and Birmingham City. He certainly needs his side to continue that run with Albion having won just once in their last five games dropping eight points behind the top two.
For that to happen, Albion need to start making the most of their opportunities. On Tuesday at Blackpool, I felt that the intensity levels were back to where they should be and the Baggies won the ball back high in the opposition half on numerous occasions, but they failed to capitalise on any of those opportunities and thus failed to take the three points their domination of the game deserved. It is strange how different observers saw that particular game and I have seen descriptions ranging from “tremendously exciting” to “dreadfully dull” – I wouldn’t go to either end of the scale but I certainly don’t think it was dull and Albion should have won easily.
With none of the regular five choices for the front three really firing of late, I do wonder whether Val should be looking at some of the promising youngsters to at least get some time from the bench. The much-talked-about Reyes Cleary has apparently had some training time with the first team but hasn’t looked close to making the bench so far, while Rayhaan Tulloch, who made a few matchday squads early in the season and made one brief first team appearance, is another who might be under consideration. Both netted in a 4-1 PL Cup win over Arsenal last week but it was another goalscorer that night, attacking midfielder Tom Fellows, who caught Ismaël’s eye enough to earn him a place on the bench at Bloomfield Road for his second involvement in a first team squad. Owen Windsor and Jamie Soule have both been out on loan at league clubs but have not done enough to get close to the first team squad at Albion while arguably the club’s best attacking prospect, Callum Morton, is enjoying a productive loan spell at Fleetwood Town, scoring seven goals so far this season, following on from decent spells at Lincoln City and Northampton Town in previous years. I’m sure that Big Val will be looking to bring in a senior striker in January, but he may also opt to recall Morton to give him another option.
If I’m honest, I’m not expecting any serious involvement from the youngsters in the short term, but maybe there will be one or two opportunities from the bench. It is the senior pros who need to start delivering once again.
In the middle of the park, Jake Livermore will serve the second of his three match ban meaning that Mowatt and Molumby are likely to get the nod once again. Robert Snodgrass was surprisingly omitted from the matchday squad on Tuesday with no indication that he has an injury. It will be interest to see if that changes on Friday.
At the back, Cédric Kipré had another difficult evening at Blackpool and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Semi Ajayi recalled. Ismaël likes his compatriot’s use of the ball but he has looked vulnerable defensively on far too many occasions. Bartley also had a poor night on Tuesday, but I’m sure he will keep his place with plenty of credit in the bag.
In the other dugout, Steve Cooper’s biggest selection problem seems to be at left back. His two primary options are unavailable with Max Lowe out injured and Jack Colback serving a suspension following a red card in Forest’s draw with Luton Town on Tuesday. The front runner for selection appears to be Gaëtan Bong, the former Brighton defender who Baggies fans will remember as accusing Jay Rodriguez of making a racist comment towards him, charges that were found unproven. Bong last played in the draw with Derby at the end of August.
Forest have won just one of their last six matches, albeit they are unbeaten in five having drawn four of their five games since the 4-0 demolition at the hands of Fulham last month. That followed a run of five wins in six games that represented a complete turnaround in their season having lost six of their first seven league games. That topsy-turvy set of results has left the east midlanders firmly in mid-table with 24 points from their opening 19 games, five points off the play-off places.
It is difficult to know what to expect from Forest to be honest. They have a decent record at the Hawthorns as I cover in more detail in the History section below, and only the top two have picked up more points on the road this campaign. Meanwhile, only Fulham and Coventry have picked up more points at home than the Baggies!
Given the respective expectations, Albion need the points more than the visitors, so let’s hope that proves enough for them to claim the victory.
It is perhaps a little surprising that Albion have not beaten Nottingham Forest at the Hawthorns for more than 20 years when Uwe Rösler’s only goal for the club was enough to earn Gary Megson’s side all three points in November 2001. Rösler is, I believe, the only German to have pulled on the famous blue and white stripes and made five appearances in a loan spell from Southampton.
With Albion having spent 13 years in the Premier League since then, and Forest having dropped down to the third tier between 2005 and 2008, there have only been four meetings between the sides at the Hawthorns since then with the Tricky Trees winning in 2004 and 2010 and the last two, in 2019 and 2020, finishing all square. Both those ended 2-2 with a late goal – in 2019, a late J-Rod penalty squared things up, controversially won by Dwight Gayle (for which he was subsequently banned) while last year it was an injury time strike from Matty Cash that earned the visitors a point.
Nonetheless, the Baggies have a good overall record over Forest with 58 wins to 46 in 137 meetings, but that is largely down to an excellent record at the City Ground where Albion have won almost as often as they have lost. Forest have won 18 times at the Hawthorns, which is a decent away win percentage of 26%, and there have been some notable victories for them over the years.
Most memorable in my mind was in February 1984 when Brian Clough’s wonderful side thumped Albion on their home turf with a Colin Walsh penalty, an own goal from Ken McNaught and further goals from Ian Bowyer, Garry Birtles and Viv Anderson producing a stunning 5-0 victory, not surprisingly their biggest at Albion.
The Baggies have dished out a few thumpings themselves over the years, the biggest being an 8-0 trouncing at Stoney Lane in April 1900, just a few months before the move to the Hawthorns. Perhaps more notable was Forest’s next visit to the Shrine after their 1984 win. In October of the same year, Garry Thompson stunned Cough’s side with a hat trick to add to Steve Mackenzie’s opener and the visitors were on the end of a 4-1 defeat.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
15 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Robinson, Figueiredo (o.g.))
Nottingham Forest 2 (Bartley (o.g.), Cash)
3 Aug 2019 – League Championship
Nottingham Forest 1 (Cash)
West Brom 2 (Edwards, Phillips)
Last win at the Hawthorns
4 Nov 2001 – League Division 1
West Brom 1 (Rösler)
Nottingham Forest 0
Albion’s Record against Nottingham Forest
If you cannot see the tables, click here.