I’ve read a wide range of opinions on message boards and social media since the heavy defeat to Derby County on Wednesday, and I’m staggered at the number of fans who are calling for Darren Moore to be sacked. As Tony Mowbray returns to the Hawthorns, perhaps they would do well to look back at his most successful season in charge of the Baggies.
My article from earlier outlines why I think sacking Big Dave would be a mistake, but I also believer that this season is shaping up very similar to the successful one under Tony Mowbray which ended with Albion winning the Championship title. The tactics were slightly different, but it was a similar approach in that the Baggies went out to score more than the opposition and were often found wanting at the back. After 14 games, that side had two more points than the current team, had scored two fewer and conceded seven fewer, but were six points off the top of the table despite having just 3-0 won away at leaders Watford in what was the pivotal game of the season to date. That season, Albion also suffered some big home defeats, 4-2 to Coventry and 4-1 to Leicester, but ultimately had enough to win the title, albeit with just 81 points but an impressive 88 goals.
Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn side doesn’t have the quality of that Albion team, or indeed the current Baggies team, although their stand out player, Bradley Dack, continues to attract envious looks from the Albion hierarchy. It’s been a mixed season for Rovers with some excellent results like the wins over Leeds United and Stoke City, mixed with some disappointing results such as the 4-1 reverse Ashton Gate and home draws with struggling Millwall and Reading. However, like Derby were before Wednesday’s game, Rovers sit just three points behind Albion and could move into the congested top six should they inflict a third successive defeat on Darren Moore’s team.
Many Albion fans look back on Mowbray’s reign with pleasure, particularly the two seasons in the Championship and he will get a good reception back at the Hawthorns. He wasn’t able to adapt Albion’s approach to suit the Premier League, however, and the one season we had in the top flight under Mowbray was disappointing as Baggies finished bottom of the table.
I’m sure the discontent amongst the fans will not be high on Darren Moore’s worry list in the run up to the game as he is sweating on the fitness of four players including top scorer, Dwight Gayle. The Newcastle United on loan striker suffered a calf injury on Wednesday and is unlikely to play, while Hegazi, Barry and Gibbs are all touch and go. If Hegazi and Gibbs don’t make it, that means more changes to the troubled back line with Conor Townsend likely to deputise for Gibbs.
Livermore will be available having served his suspension for the red card at the DW Stadium, and it will be interesting to see whether Sam Field did enough to keep his place. Given that Barry may not be fit and Brunt has already played two games this week, the local youngster could be the default option to play alongside Livermore in the middle of the park.
Gayle’s absence could see Bakary Sako make his debut, although Moore has so far preferred to play Hal Robson-Kanu up front when Gayle has been substituted. Gayle has started every league game since the win at Norwich in August, while HRK has not started a Championship match since the opening day but has appeared in all but two scoring twice, the last of which was in the 7-1 win over QPR.
So there are many decisions for Darren Moore, and Albion will need to step up from Wednesday if they are to get a result.
For the second time in four days, the Baggies face a fellow founder member of the Football League at the Hawthorns with Saturday being the 113th league meeting between the clubs.
However, before the first league meeting at Blackburn’s Leamington Road ground in September 1888, the two clubs had already met on three occasions in the FA Cup. Rovers won the first ever meeting between the sides in a sixth round tie in February 1885 winning 2-0 in front of what was a record crowd of just under 17,000 at Albion’s Four Acres ground.
A year later, the clubs were paired together once again, although no draw was required as they were the last two clubs left in the competition. It was Blackburn’s third final in succession having defeated Scottish club, Queen’s Park, in the previous two years. The game was played at the Kennington Oval on 3rd April 1886 and finished goalless. The replay was played a week later at the Racecourse Ground in Derby, the first time the final had been played outside London. Rovers won 2-0 to win the Cup for the third time in succession. It was Albion’s first appearance in the final, although they reached it in each of the next two seasons, winning it for the first time against Preston in 1888.
This weekend’s fixture will be the first meeting in the second tier since the 2000/2001 season when Rovers finished runners-up to Fulham to return to the Premier League having been relegated just five years after winning the title.
That season, the two clubs exchanged 1-0 home wins with Lee Hughes grabbing the winner at the Hawthorns in September 2000. The Premier League meetings at the Hawthorns were not too successful for the Baggies as they won just two of the six meetings since then, although the most recent was a 3-0 win in 2012 thanks to a first half own goal from Martin Olsson followed in the second half by strikes by Marc-Antoine Fortuné and Liam Ridgewell.
Albion’s biggest home win over Blackburn came at Stoney Lane in 1899 when Albert Flewitt and Archibald MacKenzie both grabbed a brace to add to goals from Ben Garfield and the legendary Billy Bassett as the hosts ran out 6-2 winners. At the Hawthorns, the Baggies’ record win came in their title winning season – Fred Morris, Tommy Magee, Howard Gregory, Jack Crisp and Alf Bentley all scored in a 5-2 win over a Rovers side that escaped relegation that season by a single point.
Four decades later, the scoreline was reversed as the visitors recorded their biggest win on Albion soil. A hat-trick by Fred Pickering helped Rovers to a 5-2 win with Bobby Hope and Fred Carter scoring the Baggie’ goals in a Division One fixture in November 1962.
Albion haven’t lost three successive games in the Championship since Tony Mowbray was in the home dugout. Sunderland (H), Wolves (A) and Palace (H) did the damage in March 2007 although the Baggies recovered to make the play-offs that season. I’m not expecting a third straight defeat, but it could be a hairy afternoon. Albion to nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
7 Apr 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (M Olsson (o.g.), Fortuné, Ridgewell)
Blackburn Rovers 0
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers