West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City; The Hawthorns, Saturday 29th April, 5.30pm
After Carlos Corberán watched his side lost 2-0 at home to Sheffield United in his first game in charge at the Hawthorns at the end of October, Albion found themselves bottom of the Championship with a relegation battle on their hands. Exactly six months later, the Baggies play their final home game of the season with a chance of finishing in the top six and thereby competing in play-offs for promotion back to the Premier League.
With all the recent disappointments as Albion have won just two of their last eight matches, we should not lose sight of the positive impact that Carlos Corberán has had on the team. Indeed, had the improvement been more gradual rather than a run of nine wins in ten league games after that defeat to the Blades, there would be very little dissatisfaction with the Baggies’ current position. However, there is a feeling of an opportunity lost as less than a week ago, Albion had a top six spot in their own hands, but successive defeats have left them relying on others dropping points.
In fairness, that is exactly what many of Albion’s rivals for a top six spot have been doing in recent weeks with Millwall, Blackburn Rovers, Watford and Saturday’s opponents Norwich City all picking up fewer points than the fifteen that the Baggies have acquired since the start of March. Sunderland (+1 point), Preston North End and Coventry City (both +2) have done marginally better and it is small margins that will decide which two clubs make the final two spots in the play-offs to compete with Luton Town and Middlesbrough for a place in the top flight.
Any two from Coventry City in fifth with 66 points to Swansea City in twelfth with 62 points could make the top six, and it may well come down to goal difference which leaves Preston (-8) and Blackburn (-3) at a distinct disadvantage while the two clubs in possession currently, Coventry and Sunderland, also have the best relative goal difference of +10.
The permutations are numerous, particularly given that several teams in the fight are playing one another. As well as Albion’s game with Norwich, on the final day Millwall play Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End host Sunderland and, of course, Swansea City host the Baggies. This weekend, wins for two of the four contenders coupled with a draw or defeat for Albion will leave them out of contention ahead of the final day, but a victory keeps the Baggies in it irrespective of other results.
Of course, with the pressure seemingly telling on the players in the last two games, it would be a very optimistic Albion fan who will be expecting them to win their last two matches. It’s feasible that 69 or even 67 points might be enough to make the top six this season; the latter would be an all-time low since the second tier has had 24 teams and only once before, in 2013, has it been lower than 70 points.
This season has been something of a shock for Norwich City having won the title in each of their previous two seasons at this level. The decision to sack Daniel Farke in November 2021 backfired somewhat as his replacement, Dean Smith failed to have any real impact in the Premier League winning just four of his 28 league games in charge last season. The Canaries finished rock bottom picking up just five points in their last fifteen games. This season, with City failing to trouble the top two as was expected, Smith was sacked after a 2-1 defeat at Luton Town on Boxing Day despite it leaving them in 5th place in the table. Former Huddersfield Town boss, David Wagner, was appointed as his replacement and despite an early uptick in form that saw them back in the top six in early March, results since then have been disappointing and they, like Albion, need a win in this fixture to keep their faint hopes of the play-offs alive.
Carlos Corberán needs to his inspire his team to a final push and hope for results elsewhere to continue to be kind. I’d like to see Taylor Gardner-Hickman given another start as recognition of his impact at Bramall Lane before his unfortunate error. He was probably the best player on the pitch up until that point and more than warranted his selection ahead of John Swift. Swift has immense talent but he can sometimes go missing in games while TGH is energetic, enthusiastic and always looking for the ball. He suits the number ten role better than a deeper midfield position in my opinion.
Most other positions pretty much pick themselves assuming there are no other fitness concerns, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle Bartley back in the starting line up if only because of his prowess in the opposition area as much as his own. Albion’s scoring record in open play has been dire of late and set pieces seem to present their best chance of a goal – Bartley is perhaps the most prolific from such situations that we have, so why not give him a chance.
If results in the earlier kick-offs go Albion’s way, it could provide a massive boost ahead of kick off, although that will also mean that results have gone Norwich’s way! Home advantage could be key and it is our responsibility as fans to make a difference.
Make it loud and proud, Baggies!
Norwich City was formed in 1902 and their first visit to the Hawthorns was in the second round of the FA Cup in February 1907 when Chippy Simmons goal was enough to send the hosts through to the next round. The clubs wouldn’t meet again for more than 30 years after City went into liquidation during the First World War before being reformed in February 1919 and joining the inaugural Third Division for the first league season after hostilities ceased.
The Canaries moved from their original ground, The Nest, to Carrow Road in 1935 having been promoted to Division Two a year earlier. The first league fixture between Albion and Norwich took place at their new stadium in September 1938 after the Baggies had been relegated to the second tier. The visitors won 3-2 and completed the double the following April with a 4-2 win at the Hawthorns with Ginger Richardson and George Banks grabbing a brace apiece.
Another three decades passed before the clubs met again, back in the FA Cup again in January 1969. Albion were, of course, the holders and earned a comfortable victory at the Hawthorns thanks to an own goal from Duncan Forbes, a strike from Ronnie Rees and a penalty from Jeff Astle. Four seasons later, the clubs met in the top flight for the first time and the Canaries recorded their first win over Albion at the Hawthorns in April 1973. Future Albion striker David Cross scored the only goal of the game for the visitors managed by future Albion manager, Ron Saunders.
City’s biggest win at the Hawthorns came in November 1995 when Martin O’Neill was in charge at the Canaries and Alan Buckley was at the Hawthorns. Andy Hunt gave Albion the lead but City, who had beaten Bayern Munich in the Olympiastadion just two years earlier, were level on the stroke of half time thank to a goal from Robert Fleck. Keith Scott, Neil Adams and Ashley Ward added further goals for the visitors in the second half to make the final score 4-1.
Albion’s biggest home win over Norwich is 5-1, first achieved in a Texaco Cup match in August 1974, but repeated 22 years later. In December 1996, Buckley was still in charge of Albion but the Canaries had been through significant change. O’Neill had resigned after a dispute with club chairman, Robert Chase, over transfer funds, leaving another future Albion boss Gary Megson in charge until the end of the season. Chase eventually stepped down and Delia Smith and her husband took over the club in 1996 and reappointed Mike Walker in attempt to recreate their success of a few years earlier. Walker’s team were second best at the Hawthorns in what turned out to be Alan Buckley’s penultimate victory as Baggies boss. Ian Hamilton Andy Andy Hunt both scored twice with Paul Peschisolido also on the scoresheet. It was already 5-0 when future England full back, Danny Mills, was dismissed with nine minutes left, before Keith O’Neill scored a late consolation for the visitors. Buckley was sacked a month later to be replaced by Ray Harford.
Albion have only beaten Norwich in two of the last nine meetings at the Hawthorns dating back to Gary Megson’s last home encounter with his former club at the Hawthorns in October 2003, a match that finished goalless. The Canaries have won five of those nine matches with their last victory in B71 coming in March 2016 when Robbie Brady scored the only goal of the game.
For the Baggies’ last home win in this fixture, we have to go back more than a decade to December 2012 when Zoltán Gera and Romelu Lukaku scored as Albion recovered from goal a goal behind to a strike from future Albion midfielder, Robert Snodgrass.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Sep 2022 – League Championship
Norwich City 1 (Byram)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (O’Shea)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
12 Jan 2019 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Gayle)
Norwich City 1 (Rhodes)
11 Aug 2018 – League Championship
Norwich City 3 (Rhodes, Pukki, Hanley)
West Bromwich Albion 4 (Rodriguez (2, 1 pen), Barnes, Robson-Kanu)
Last win at the Hawthorns
22 Dec 2012 – Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Gera, Lukaku)
Norwich City 1 (Snodgrass)
Albion’s Record against Norwich City
If you cannot see the tables, click here.