Heaven be praised, Albion are playing at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon! For just the third time at the Hawthorns this campaign, and the fourth time overall, the Baggies are playing a match when football should be played.
The opponents are Bristol City who are yet to win on their own patch this season but have won four matches on the road already (only Bournemouth have won more) and their overall record sees them in 16th place with 16 points from their opening 13 games.
Robins’ boss, Nigel Pearson, is well known to Baggies fans having been assistant to Bryan Robson at the Hawthorns in the mid-noughties not to mention being frequently linked with the Albion top job when it has come available in recent years.
Pearson was appointed at Ashton Gate in February after Lee Johnson was sacked following a run of six successive defeats saw the club’s challenge for the play-offs all but extinguished. The former Leicester boss failed to address the slide and, following a brief “bounce” that saw City win the first three away games of his tenure, they did not win again last season and finished in a lowly 19th place.
The Robins have not won at home under Pearson with their last victory at Ashton Gate coming against Huddersfield on 26th January but their form on their travels this season is impressive with wins at Reading, Cardiff, QPR and Peterborough. They come to the Hawthorns on the back of successive home defeats to Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest with the latter come as a result of two stoppage time goals for the visitors.
It’s not the first time that City have conceded important late goals and Nigel Pearson is well aware of the need to turn things around and has shouldered the blame for poor results in an interview this week.
Valérien Ismaël, on the other hand, blamed a mistake by Darnell Furlong for the defeat to Swansea on Wednesday evening – it was certainly a key moment and Albion may well have escaped with a point had Furlong played the pass more firmly, but there aren’t too many of the players on show who could come out with any credit from that performance. There are some Albion supporters becoming increasingly frustrated with Big Val’s tactics, but he is not going to change his principles.
He will, however, need to change his team for the visit of Bristol City as Jake Livermore picked up his fifth booking of the season at the Swansea.com Stadium and will have to sit out Saturday’s game. With Alex Mowatt also not certain to be available given his foot injury, it could be that both first choice central midfielders are unavailable. Jayson Molumby will also certainly play and, should Mowatt not make it, I would expect to see Robert Snodgrass step into the side. Doubts over Mowatt may have been behind the Frenchman’s decision to bring Snodgrass on in place of Molumby for the last eleven minutes on Wednesday.
Grady Diangana should be available and I would not be at all surprised to see him come into the side given the lack of creativity that the front three have shown in his absence. The only caveat to that thought is that he is most suited to the wide left role which is also the favoured position of Karlan Grant and, with the former Huddersfield man having scored five of Albion’s last eight goals, I can’t imagine he would be dropped.
The size of the squad means that there aren’t too many other options to be considered – centre backs and wing backs will be unchanged, fitness permitting, and it will be three from the usual five up front.
While Ismaël’s position is not in doubt, victory is important in this match given that Albion visit Fulham next weekend. Until the defeat to Stoke, there had been signs that the players were beginning to learn to adapt to different tactics employed against them, but the levels of performance in recent games have just not been good enough. For me, it’s not a question of the tactics employed, but of the quality of passing and decision making by the players. Whether that is a symptom of tiredness in that the intensity levels demanded are too much, I’m not sure – I’d be surprised if that was the case. Whatever the reason, it needs to change if Albion are to maintain their challenge – the players have shown that they are capable of better and the coaching staff need to work with them to ensure they can get back to the levels expected.
Bristol City are a side that Albion should be beating but their impressive away form means that it will be no foregone conclusion. How Pearson will approach the game remains to be seen – a manager under pressure would normally be cautious but, with City seemingly incapable of winning at home, he may look to be more adventurous. That could play into Albion’s hands, but then we thought that at Swansea.
With Fulham not playing until Sunday, a win would put the Baggies back into the top two – anything else and the social media outcry will grow further. There’s a long way to go yet, though.
Bristol City have not won at the Hawthorns for almost 28 years with their last victory at the Shrine coming on 27th December 1993 when Robins’ legend, Brian Tinnion, scored the only goal of the game to leave Keith Burkinshaw’s team struggling in the bottom half of Division One. A year later, on Boxing Day 1994, City were the opponents for the opening of the new Birmingham Road End, a game that Albion won 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Stuart Munro.
Since then, the Baggies have won four and drawn two of six home games with City in all competitions and, in the last four league encounters at the Hawthorns, the hosts have scored four goals. Three of those have finished 4-1 which is Albion’s biggest win over the Robins, a result they first achieved in an FA Cup meeting in 1926.
None of the seven Albion goalscorers from the last two home games with Bristol City in 2018 and 2019 are still at the club – Jay Rodriguez, Dwight Gayle, Harvey Barnes, Kieran Gibbs, Matheus Pereira, Hal Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin have all moved on. Meanwhile, Famara Diédhiou, who scored for the visitors in both those games, is on loan at Alanyaspor in Turkey while Lloyd Kelly, the only other goalscorer in those games, is now at Bournemouth.
City’s biggest win at the Hawthorns is a 3-1 victory in a Division Two fixture in February 1906 and, apart from the 1993 fixture mention earlier, their only other win in West Bromwich came in March 1976 when Gerry Sweeney’s goal put City three points clear of the Division Two table leaving Johnny Giles’ Baggies six points back in fifth. Albion lost just one more game before the end of the season and clinched the third promotion spot on the final day of the season finishing level on points with the Robins.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
22 Feb 2020 – League Championship
Bristol City 0
West Brom 3 (Robinson, Robson-Kanu (2))
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
27 Nov 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Gibbs, Pereira, Robson-Kanu, Austin)
Bristol City 1 (Diédhiou)
Albion’s Record against Bristol City
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