Slaven Bilić welcomes former Albion manager, Tony Mowbray, to the Hawthorns this weekend still looking for his first home win in charge of the Baggies.
Albion remain unbeaten in the league, but disappointing home draws with Millwall and Reading have left the Baggies faithful frustrated. The football is pretty, but the cutting edge has so far been lacking. It is important to remember, however, that it is a team that is still getting to know one another and Bilić’s principal striker, Charlie Austin, is still building up his match fitness.
Having made a positive impact in his last two substitute appearances, Matheus Pereira is pushing for his first league start since joining on loan from Sporting. He potentially has the skills to open up stubborn defences, as he demonstrated when winning the penalty at Derby last weekend, although I do think he will frustrate some as not everything he tries comes off.
One benefit of being knocked out of the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle means that the coaching team will have been able to fully concentrate on this weekend’s game all week, and I’m sure they will have been working on patterns to open up opposition defences.
It will be interesting to see what the squad looks like for the visit of Blackburn. It’s difficult to second-guess who Slav will pick for his front three – of the six options used so far, only Matt Phillips has started every game in the league. The form of Chris Willock in the PL2 team could bring him into contention, although he is perhaps more likely to play as a number ten rather than on the wing or as the main striker – that would mean he is fighting for the place so far occupied by Filip Krovinović.
The head coach’s compatriot has largely impressed with his ability on the ball, and has been instrumental in a few of Albion’s goals this season, but he has come into criticism from some quarters that he is not quick enough to release the ball on occasion. Willock may be an option worth considering off the bench.
Another option that Bilić has not yet tried is to put two strikers on the field at the same time. That would obviously leave the midfield a man down, but it may be something to try should Albion need a goal in the closing stages.
The return of Tony Mowbray to the Hawthorns sparks obvious comparisons between his Championship-winning side of 2007/08 and Bilić’s current team. The possession-based approach is common to both teams, although there are significant differences at both ends. It is still early days for the Croat, but his side seem to be somewhat more secure at the back than Mowbray’s team, but also less prolific. That title-winning side had Kevin Phillips up front, of course, which made a massive difference. Austin may ultimately be as influential as Phillips once he is up to speed, but let’s also not forget that midfielders Gera and Koren both hit double figures in terms of goals that season, as did backup strikers Roman Bednar and Ishmael Miller, as Albion topped a century of goals in all competitions that season.
This season’s side side need to find the net more frequently, as we know, but it’s also important that they come from all areas of the team. More than half of the Baggies’ goals last season came from two players – this season six different players have scored Albion’s eight goals so far now that Kyle Bartley appears to have been credited with the opener against Millwall so while the number is not high enough, the spread is encouraging.
Both managers received red cards in the past seven days for reacting to decisions and, at the time of writing, it’s not clear whether they will both be in the dugout this weekend. Matt Wilson of the Express and Star suggested that Bilić has the option of paying a fine and avoiding a touchline suspension for his two yellow cards at Pride Park, but it’s not clear if Mowbray, who received a red card in their cup defeat at Bramall Lane in midweek, has the same choice.
The defeat in mid-week was Rovers’ first since they lost their opening two games of the season. It doesn’t bode well for the Baggies that Blackburn have not conceded a goal in their last three league games, winning two 1-0 and drawing 0-0 last time out with Cardiff. Perhaps Mowbray has learned how to coach a defence since he was at the Hawthorns, as such a run of results was unheard of in those days.
Having spent last season on loan at the Hawthorns, Tosin Adarabioyo is on loan at Ewood Park this season but won’t feature this weekend having been sidelined through injury. Other summer signings that may be familiar include Stewart Downing, who joined on a free transfer from Middlesbrough, and Bradley Johnson who made the move from Derby County.
Last season, Rovers managed to frustrate Albion at the Hawthorns earning a 1-1 draw. Baggies fans will be hopeful that the result on Saturday is more akin to their previous visit to the Shrine in April 2012 when Liam Ridgewell scored one of his two goals for Albion as he rounded off a 3-0 win over Steve Kean’s team who would end up being relegated.
We’re not at must-win stage yet, but if the run without a home win continues, the worries will only increase.
This time, I go back to January 1936 when these two great old clubs, Founder Members of the Football League, both found themselves in the bottom half of Division One.
Rovers were in 18th spot just three points off the bottom of the table while Albion, albeit in 13th place, were just a point better off in what was a very condensed league table. A close contest was expected.
Before the match, snow had to be cleared from the Hawthorns pitch and a liberal amount of sand spread across the surface. Both sides were at full strength bar an injury to the hosts’ regular goalkeeper, Harold Pearson. He was replaced by Ted Crowe, who had made is senior debut against Blackburn in a 1-0 home defeat almost exactly two years earlier.
The tight match that was expected never materialised as the hosts dominated from the first whistle. Outside right, Jack Mahon, had already gone close before, in the seventh minute, his centre was met by Albion legend, W. G. Richardson, in front of goal. “Ginger” managed to fire the ball home following a brief melee for a 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Mahon was on the scoresheet himself as he fired home a rebound after inside right, Teddy Sandford, had hit the post. The goals kept coming as inside left, Walter Robbins, made it 3-0 on 11 minutes firing home Richardson’s through ball.
After a few minutes respite when Crowe had to clear on two occasions, Albion re-asserted their authority to register a fourth goal on 15 minutes through Jack Mahon once again running through on goal and finishing from a tight angle.
It was 5-0 before the first half reached the midway point as right half, Jack Sankey, found the net – Rovers’ goalkeeper, Cliff Binns, cleared the ball off Sandford’s head only for Sankey to return it into the net from long range.
It had been a superb display from the hosts on what was described by the Sports Argus a “veritable ice rink”, but Blackburn didn’t give up and had themselves a goal when centre-forward, Ernie Thompson, headed home Jack Bruton’s cross.
Richardson had a goal disallowed before half time and also fired into the side netting just after the break before the visitors had a few forays forward of their own with Bruton and Hamill both involved, but the Baggies defence stood firm.
It was not until the hour mark was almost reached that Richardson scored his second and Albion’s sixth assisted by Sandford. The Rovers’ ‘keeper, Binns, was called into action several times before “W.G.” completed his hat-trick with twelve minutes left having been put through by an overhead kick from Robbins. It was Richardson’s 26th goal of the season in which he finished with what is still a club record of 39 league goals.
Jack Mahon was not to be outdone, and he completed his own hat trick with just a minute left assisted by Richardson. That made the final score 8-1 and remains, unsurprisingly, Albion’s record victory over Blackburn. Rovers obviously didn’t take to the Black Country that season having also lost 8-1 at Molineux a few months earlier.
The Baggies survived the drop that season, ultimately finishing in 18th place, but Rovers were not so lucky. They propped up the final Division One table and were relegated – that defeat at the Hawthorns was the first in a run of 16 games in which they won just once. With World War II intervening, it would be another decade before Blackburn returned to the top flight.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
1 Jan 2019 – League Championship
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Mulgrew, Dack)
West Brom 1 (Rodriguez (pen))
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
27 Oct 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Dawson)
Blackburn Rovers 1 (Reed)
7 Apr 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (M Olsson (o.g.), Fortuné, Ridgewell)
Blackburn Rovers 0
Albion’s Record against Blackburn Rovers