After a two week break, West Bromwich Albion remain without a permanent manager as the board have decided to give Jimmy Shan at least one more game with the expectation growing this week that he will remain in charge for the remainder of the season.
It would have seemed an unthinkable situation when Darren Moore and his assistants were sacked less than three weeks ago, but it has now become evident that there was no one waiting in the wings. Furthermore, two wins and two clean sheets under the stewardship of Shan have given the board pause for thought. Is there really a need to rush into a hasty appointment when their requirements will be very different depending on the outcome of this season?
Then again, does leaving an inexperienced coach in charge risk that outcome too greatly? It seems likely that an experienced hand will be brought in to assist Shan, but there does seem to be something of a lack in direction. The decision to sack Moore was arguably a little hasty, while since then there has been very little decisiveness from those in charge of the club.
Admittedly, the more pragmatic approach that Shan has employed has produced positive results, and his decisions to recall Brunt and Morrison, and give Kyle Edwards his first league start have certainly paid off. I thought the decision to sack Moore was wrong, but it has had a positive impact. The win at Brentford was particularly impressive but, while I understand the decision to keep Shan in place, it remains a huge risk. Moreover, while there is another lengthy break after this Friday’s game, I don’t quite understand the delay in appointing someone to help Shan assuming that is the preferred way forward.
So while the Hawthorns has experienced an uncertain few weeks, things have been a little worse for Friday’s visitors, Birmingham City. The EFL handed them a nine point penalty this week for breaching financial regulations leaving them just five points above the relegation zone. This follows on from a run of four straight defeats that had seen them drop away from play-off contention before that penalty switched the direction of their gaze to those below them in the table.
Blues have failed to score in those four defeats which, of course, included a home defeat in the Second City Derby, and their poor form stretches back a little further – they have picked up just 11 points from their last 12 games, a record that is bettered by every Championship club other than Ipswich, QPR and Bolton.
When the clubs met at St Andrew’s in September, the Baggies were fortunate to escape with a draw and, despite the poor recent results of Garry Monk’s team, I’m expecting a far from easy evening for the hosts. Che Adams may be on a run of five games without a goal, but he has been prolific this season. His recent barren spell was preceded by a run of 10 goals in his previous 8 league games to bring him to a total 21 Championship goals this season. That represents 40% of his club’s goals, which is a highest percentage of any player in the division.
The giant Lukas Jutkiewicz has also chipped in with 10 goals, although he hasn’t scored since November. He will always represent a threat with his height, however, and has become more of a creator of late and now has 10 assists to his name. Spanish winger, Jota, is the next best of City’s creators with 9 assists this term.
Albion will need to be every bit as organised as they were in the second half at Griffin Park in order to keep Blues at bay, with the visitors having scored more goals on the road than they have at St Andrew’s this season.
Jimmy Shan’s squad will be boosted by the returns to training of Kieran Gibbs and Tosin Adarabioyo, while Matt Phillips remains a doubt. Gibbs would seem certain to return although Townsend has deputised reasonably well, but the rest of the back four is likely to be unchanged.
Further forward, Shan has changed things around in his first two games in charge. While Gayle has led the line on both occasions only Jay Rodriguez and Chris Brunt have started both games in midfield. Against Swansea, Harper, Livermore and Murphy started while Morrison, Johansen and Edwards made the first eleven at Brentford.
At the time of writing, it seems that those involved in international duties have returned fit and well, and it was particularly pleasing to see Ahmed Hegazi released early from the Egypt squad to allow him more time to recover ahead of Friday’s match.
Without the demands of a three game week to contend with, the visit of Blues will, perhaps, show us what Shan considers to be Albion’s strongest eleven. Three points is a must if the Baggies are to retain their faint hopes of a top two finish.
West Bromwich Albion go into their 131st meeting with their neighbours from Small Heath protecting a five match unbeaten run against Blues although the last three meetings have all been at St Andrew’s.
City have not visited the Hawthorns since they were last in the Premier League in September 2010 when second half goals from Peter Odemwingie and Jonas Olsson added to a first half own goal from Scott Dann to give the hosts a 3-1 victory having gone behind to a Cameron Jerome strike.
The clubs first met in the FA Cup semi-final in 1886 at Aston Lower Grounds, the name by which Villa Park was known before the Villains took residence. Albion’s opponents were known as the Small Heath Alliance in those days and were dispatched 4-0 thanks to a brace each from George Woodhall and Arthur Loach, only for the Baggies to lose to Blackburn Rovers in the final after a replay.
In the days before they adopted the name of Birmingham City, Small Heath managed just one victory over Albion in March 1904 at the Hawthorns with Benny Green scoring the only goal for the visitors. The Black Country club have largely held the balance of results between the sides ever since, although it has become less pronounced over the years.
In fact, that win in 1904 was the Birmingham club’s only win over Albion until 1925 with the Baggies winning 14 of the first 25 meetings and 10 ending all square. Blues ended that run with a 3-0 win at St Andrew’s but, a few months later in February 1926, Albion recorded their biggest ever win over Birmingham with George James scoring twice and Charlie Wilson notching a hat trick in a 5-1 victory at the Hawthorns.
City’s best result at the Hawthorns is a little more recent. Dele Adebola scored twice and Marcelo also found the net as they won 3-0 in March 2000 in what was Brian Little’s final game as Baggies manager.
Blues have won at the Hawthorns just once in their seven visits since then, a 3-2 victory in the Premier League in August 2005 when Geoff Horsfield and Emile Heskey both scoring a brace with Jiří Jarošík also scoring for the visitors. The most recent second tier meeting at the Hawthorns was in March 2007 and finished 1-1 when a late goal from Damien Johnson cancelled out Paul McShane’s opener for the Baggies.
The highest scoring game between the sides at the Hawthorns was in April 1938 as the clubs shared seven goals. For the Baggies, Ginger Richardson scored twice to add to a strike by Harry Jones and a penalty from Cecil Shaw while the visitors’ goals were scored by Charlie Phillips (2) and Dennis Jennings.
Although it didn’t make much difference in the end, the meeting at the Hawthorns in October 1985 was important at the time. Andy Kennedy gave Blues an early lead before Imre Varadi and Carl Valentine both scored before half time to give the hosts the advantage at the break. Albion held on for the victory which was memorable only because it was their first of that miserable season at the 13th time of asking. It was one of only four games that the Baggies won in the league that season, although they did manage to complete the league double over Birmingham as they too were relegated.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
14 Sep 2018 – League Championship
Birmingham City 1 (Jota)
West Brom 1 (Phillips)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
18 Sep 2010 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Dann (o.g.), Odemwingie, Olsson)
Birmingham City 1 (Jerome)
24 Jan 2015 – FA Cup 4th Round
Birmingham City 1 (Grounds)
West Brom 2 (Anichebe (2))
Albion’s Record against Birmingham City