Lee Johnson’s Bristol City will present another tough challenge for Slaven Bilić’s team as they look for a third successive victory on the road. The Robins currently sit in seventh place, only out of the play-off positions on goal difference, having won five of their last seven Championship games.
That run followed a spell of five defeats in the previous six games which is illustrative of Lee Johnson’s teams – they tend to be streaky. For Baggies fans, there is the hope that City’s defeat to Leeds United last Saturday was the start of a new losing streak rather than a blip in their current spell of good form.
It’s been a strange season for the Robins as they have hovered on the edge of the promotion picture for much of it. After losing at home to Leeds on the opening day, they went unbeaten for the next ten games, although a number of draws meant that it was only good enough for sixth place. They were then hammered 3-0 at Luton before another run of five games unbeaten was ended when they visited the Hawthorns at the end of November. A poor run over Christmas saw them drop as low as 10th but they are now firmly back in the play-off picture.
They have had a difficult week, however, with a number of players struck down with illness. Most are expected to be back training ahead of Saturday’s match but it’s hardly the ideal preparation to face the league leaders. Striker, Benik Afobe, who they signed in August from Stoke City, has spent much of the season on the treatment table and, while he is close to getting back on the training pitch, he won’t be involved against Albion. That means that the goalscoring duties fall to Famara Diédhiou, who scored City’s goal at the Hawthorns, and former Villa striker, Andreas Weimann. Both have scored nine league goals this season although the Austrian hasn’t found the net since the turn of the year.
In January, they added Nahki Wells to their ranks as a further option up top – the Moroccan had been on loan at QPR from Burnley for the first half of season, but City purchased him for a fee rumoured to be in the region of £5m towards the end of the window. Wells scored on his full debut in the 3-2 victory over Derby County.
Johnson switched formations between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 for much of the season, but has played 4-2-3-1 in recent games other than in their home win over Derby. The fitness or otherwise of his striking options may influence his choice of formation, but he may choose a more defensive line up given Albion’s likely approach to impose themselves on the game.
With a week’s rest, it would not be a surprise to see Bilić field the same starting line-up for the fourth game in succession. The Baggies may not have beaten Nottingham Forest, but their performance was just as dominant as the previous two victories at Reading and Millwall, and it would be difficult to justify any changes for any reason other than fitness.
The trio of Pereira, Krovinović and Robinson have quickly developed a fantastic understanding with Hal Robson-Kanu the perfect foil with his ability to hold the ball up in tight spaces and feed the players around him. Livermore has also been given licence to play a little further forward and according to WhoScored.com, only Krovinović made more key passes than the former England midfielder against Forest, and overall he was the third best Albion player on the field behind Robinson and Pereira.
Kyle Bartley has had a couple of difficult games, but for me he remains the best option alongside Semi Ajayi. Again, looking at WhoScored.com, the own goal made his performance against Forest his worst of the season statistically by some distance, but his form has been generally good and he does not deserve to be dropped.
Bilić’s desire to play only one attacking full back is leaving Darnell Furlong chomping at the bit on the subs bench. Dara O’Shea is looking ever more comfortable at right back while Kieran Gibbs will have a job on his hands to get back in the side given the performances of Conor Townsend.
One player to come in for criticism lately is Romaine Sawyers. He was one of the best performers in the early stages of the campaign illustrated by the statistic that he made 25 key passes in his first 18 league games of the season. In the 13 games since, he has made just 3 – his passing accuracy remains high but his influence has waned a little. He was regularly exceeding 70 passes per game but attempted less than 40 in three of the last four games. For me, however, it is merely a dip in form and I would still be minded to keep him in the side. Brunt or Barry could perform a similar role, but I’d still keep Sawyers in there and hope that his form recovers soon.
It should be a close game at Ashton Gate, but Albion should fear no one at the moment, and another win is the target.
History – played for both clubs
Rather than look at the history of this fixture, I thought I would use this section as an excuse to look back at a player who played for both clubs scoring a combined 189 goals in more than 500 appearances for Albion and City. He first made his name at Ashton Gate but became a legend at the Hawthorns – that man is, of course, “Super” Bob Taylor.
Taylor was born in Easington, County Durham, in February 1967 and first signed for Leeds United in 1986. After scoring 13 goals in 53 appearances for the Whites in the Second Division, he dropped down a tier to move to Ashton Gate in March 1989 at the age of 22.
He was an instant hit with the Robins as he scored eight goals in twelve appearances at the end of the 88/89 season and then followed that up with an impressive 34 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions the following season as City were promoted back to the second tier. His importance to the side was underlined as he missed the final six games of the season through injury and City’s form suffered and they missed out on the title as Bristol Rovers overtook them in the final few weeks.
Taylor was named City’s Player of the Year for the 1989/90 season but he found goalscoring a little harder in the Second Division and managed just eleven goals in the Robins’ first season back in the second tier. Taylor had played against Albion a couple of times while at Leeds United, but he faced the Baggies four times in the 90/91 season with the clubs drawn together in the first round of the League Cup with City victorious over two legs.
It was in the fourth meeting of that season that Taylor scored his first goal against Albion, the second in a 2-0 win for the Robins at Ashton Gate on the day before he turned 24.
Whether Albion’s caretaker manager, Stuart Pearson, noted Taylor’s performance that day, I’m not sure, but as he struggled to score with regularity for City the following season, the next permanent Albion boss, Bobby Gould, brought him to the Hawthorns in January 1992 for a fee of £300,000.
The Baggies were by then playing in Division Three and, as he had when he dropped to the third tier three years earlier, Taylor hit the ground running scoring three goals in his first two games in an Albion shirt.
Gould’s team were struggling, however, and while a return of eight goals from nineteen games was respectable, when Ossie Ardiles showed up at the Hawthorns, Taylor flourished. In Albion’s 1992/93 season, Taylor became the first Albion player to score 30 league goals in a season since Derek Kevan in 1961/62 and ended up just three short of W.G. Richardson’s club record total of 40 goals in all competitions in 1935/36.
Super Bob’s legendary status at the Hawthorns was largely built on that season, but his goalscoring exploits continued as he banged in 21 goals in all competitions in a struggling side the following season, his best return for a second tier club, and managed to reach double figures in league goals in every full season at the Hawthorns in his first spell.
Taylor scored a number of braces in his Hawthorns career, but he only ever scored one hat trick for Albion in a 4-4 draw against Watford in March 1996.
The lure of Premier League football became too much for Taylor and, with Albion no closer to a return to the top flight during the nineties, he was allowed to join Bolton Wanderers in 1997, initially on loan, to test his skills against the big boys. He scored his first goal for the Trotters against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw and, after returning to Albion for a short time, he west back to the Reebok for a second loan spell that lasted until the end of the season.
Bolton were relegated but, with Albion only willing to offer 31-year-old Taylor a year’s contract, he signed for Bolton permanently in the summer of 1998. He was their top scorer in his first full season scoring 18 goals, including one against the Baggies in a 2-1 win in February 1999, as Colin Todd’s team missed out on promotion when they lost in the play-off final.
After finding opportunities limited the following season under new boss, Sam Allardyce, Gary Megson made the astute decision to bring Taylor back to the Hawthorns in March 2000. He scored five key goals as Albion escaped relegation and, while a bit-part player for the next two seasons, he found the net at crucial times and, of course, scored the Baggies’ second as they secured their place in the Premier League with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in April 2002.
Taylor made four appearances for his beloved Baggies in the Premier League and was granted a testimonial match in May 2003. He then played for Cheltenham Town, Tamworth and Kidderminster Harriers before retiring, but Albion is in his blood and he is often found at the Hawthorns or in the away end with the Baggies faithful.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
27 Nov 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Gibbs, Pereira, Robson-Kanu, Austin)
Bristol City 1 (Diédhiou)
Last meeting at Bristol City
9 Apr 2019 – League Championship
Bristol City 3 (Brownhill, Weimann, Hunt)
West Brom 2 (Gayle, Rodriguez)
Last win at Bristol City
19 Jan 2016 – FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
Bristol City 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Albion’s Record against Bristol City