Pressure is on as Bruce’s Baggies return to action

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City; The Hawthorns, Saturday 1st October 2022, 3pm

After a fortnight largely out of the spotlight, Steve Bruce will be back under the microscope on Saturday for the first in a run of ten games ahead of the World Cup that will almost certainly define his immediate future. Six of those ten are at the Hawthorns, and five of those are against sides outside the current top eight of the Championship.

First up are 16th-placed Swansea City managed by former Scotland international, Russell Martin. The 36-year-old took over at the Swansea.com Stadium at the beginning of last season having enjoyed a brief but successful spell with Milton Keynes Dons. Despite a mediocre 15th-placed finish last season, Martin has already made history in south Wales becoming the first manager in history to complete a league double in the South Wales Derby winning 3-0 at home and 4-0 in the Welsh capital, a quite remarkable statistic.

The Swans have endured a difficult start to the season, although two wins from their three games in September, all of which were at home, has seen them move up the table into 16th, five places and two points better off than the Baggies. Their last match was a 3-0 win over Hull City, a result that has subsequently seen the Tigers’ boss, Shota Arveladze, sacked.

The summer saw the Welsh club hold on to their sought-after strike pairing of Joël Piroe and Michael Obafemi but lost Ben Hamer, who moved on a free transfer to Watford, and midfielder, Flynn Downes, who moved to West Ham for a fee of around £12 million. Most incomings have been on loan although one notable acquisition was that of former Liverpool midfielder, Joe Allen, who returned to the club where he started his career on a free transfer from Stoke City.

Steve Bruce has a number of decisions both in terms of team selection and formation. New signings Tom Rogic and Martin Kelly are both available for selection and a slightly tweaked 4-3-3 formation at Norwich produced a much better defensive performance albeit the tactic of surrendering the ball that was employed at Carrow Road is unlikely to go down well on Saturday given the venue and opposition.

The selection quandaries are there from front to back. David Button has endured a difficult few games and it will be interesting to see if Bruce opts to give Alex Palmer an opportunity. O’Shea would seem the most likely to keep his place in the back four while Pieters has also impressed in his two appearances. Kelly may be brought in as a natural centre back in place of Townsend, although the former Scunthorpe man did well in the middle at Norwich. At right back, there is little to choose between Furlong and Gardner-Hickman.

In the middle, Livermore gave his prospects a huge boost with an excellent display in Norfolk, but Okay will be refreshed after a two week break and could be recalled. Molumby has been the most consistent of Albion’s midfield three all season, while the availability of Rogic could impact the selection of John Swift. I suspect that Swift will start, but I think Rogic will be given some game time against Swansea.

As for the front three, Wallace and Diangana would seem to be shoo-ins if fit while Thomas-Asante looked quite lively on his first start at Carrow Road and, for me at least, did enough to keep his place. Interestingly, in his pre-match press conference, Bruce has also shined a spotlight on Reyes Cleary’s performances in training over recent weeks, so he may well be in for a spot on the bench.

The additional options will be welcome for Bruce as he tries to find a winning combination. Albion have played well in most games, and certainly deserve to have more points that they do, but with almost a quarter of the season gone, the time for excuses is almost over. The Baggies probably need something like 18-20 points from this run of ten games, and this home game against Swansea is one that they must be targeting to win.

The equivalent fixture last season produced one of the worst performances of Bruce’s reign to date as the visitors won 2-0 – a repeat would be disastrous. Any win would do, but a comfortable win and a decent performance should hopefully get at least some of the fans back on side and can hopefully spark the run of results that Albion, and Bruce, require.

History

For fans of my generation, this fixture always brings back memories of the Division Two play-off semi-final in 1993 when Ossie Ardiles’s side recovered from a 2-1 deficit from the first leg at the Vetch Field to win 2-0 on the night and set up Albion’s first trip to Wembley for 23 years. That particular evening was more memorable for the incredible atmosphere at the Hawthorns rather than the game itself but, for the record, Andy Hunt and Ian Hamilton scored Albion’s goals, both inside the first 20 minutes, while Micky Mellon for the hosts and former Baggie Colin West for the visitors both received red cards. Two future Baggies were involved for the Swans that night with future Albion assistant and caretaker manager, Frank Burrows, was their manager while their young Wolverhampton-born right back, Des Lyttle, would be one of Gary Megson’s deadline day signings seven years later when he joined, initially on loan, from Watford. That night was to be one of the last big nights at the Shrine before the terraces were torn down a year later.

Younger fans will better remember Matheus Pereira’s master class in December 2019 when Albion, under new Watford boss Slaven Bilić, demolished a Swansea side managed by current Forest manager Steve Cooper. The mercurial Brazilian scored one and made two as Albion won 5-1 in what is the Baggies’ most recent victory over the Swans.

The Baggies dismal home defeat in this fixture in February was the first time that the Swans had won at the Hawthorns in seven attempts since a victory by the same scoreline in September 2013.

Four of Swansea’s five wins at the Shrine have come in the 21st century with their only win prior to the millennium coming in a Division Three fixture in January 1992. On that occasion, Graham Roberts scored twice in the first half for the Baggies, the second coming from the penalty spot, but the game was dramatically turned on its head when Steve Thornber came off the bench to score a hat trick in the final eleven minutes to steal all three points for Frank Burrows’ team. Bobby Gould’s team were still in the top three and beat the two teams above them, Brentford and Birmingham City, in their next two fixtures, but that capitulation would be repeated in the league as a whole as two wins in the following fifteen games saw them drop out of promotion contention.

The Baggies biggest win over the Swans was on the third time they faced the Welsh club at the Hawthorns. Swansea Town, as they were then known, were beaten 5-2 on their first trip to West Bromwich in 1927, 5-1 on their second a year later, and then 6-2 in October 1929 in the midst of the financial world imploding. In between Wall Street’s Black Thursday and Black Tuesday, Swansea had their very own Black Saturday as Tommy Glidden scored four of Albion’s goals with Frank Cresswell and Joe Carter scoring the others. Jackie Cheetham scored both of the visitors’ goals.

Stat Attack

Current Form

Albion L D D D L D
Swansea City L L D W L W

All competitions; most recent game on the right

Last matches

Last meeting

28 Feb 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 0
Swansea City 2 (Piroe, Christie)

Last win

8 Dec 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Ajayi, Pereira, Robson-Kanu, Phillips, Edwards)
Swansea City 1 (Surridge)

Albion’s Record against Swansea City

  Overall   Home
  P W D L F A   P W D L F A
League 44 16 9 19 71 65   22 12 5 5 50 25
FA Cup 1 0 0 1 2 3   0 0 0 0 0 0
League Cup 2 1 1 0 2 1   1 1 0 0 2 1
Total 47 17 10 20 75 69   23 13 5 5 52 26
  Premier League Record
  Pld W D L F A Pts
Home 7 3 2 2 10 8 11
Away 7 1 0 6 4 14 3
Total 14 4 2 8 14 22 14

If you cannot see the tables, click here.

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