Albion welcome Wigan Athletic to the Hawthorns on Saturday for the second time in ten days for an FA Cup tie that some would consider throwing to allow the squad to focus on the push for promotion.
Wholesale changes to the starting eleven for cup ties is something that both the League Cup and, to a lesser extent, the FA Cup have suffered from for many years, particularly from Premier League clubs.
The financial benefits of staying in the top flight, or even finishing a couple of places higher, far outweigh those of progressing deep into the FA Cup, but while the cups may have lost their lustre for money men, many fans, myself included, still enjoy a good cup run.
For fans of clubs such as West Bromwich Albion, the cups have long represented the only real chance of silverware, although from the second tier it seems less likely. However, the Baggies have proved in recent years that a good cup run need not have a negative impact on a promotion push and may, in fact, enhance it.
Back in 2002, Albion reached the sixth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 20 years and it could be argued that the cup run, which started with a 2-1 win at Premier League Sunderland, kick-started the run of form that saw the Baggies overhaul an 11 point deficit to Wolves and secure automatic promotion.
Six years later, Tony Mowbray’s side made it all the way to the semi-final despite not being drawn at home once, and was close to doing that unique double winning promotion and the FA Cup for a second time.
In fact, only once since 1911 have Albion won promotion from the second tier without at least reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup. That was in 2004 when Megson’s team lost away to Nottingham Forest in Round Three. On the other six occasions since 1911 that Albion have been promoted back to the top flight their FA Cup record is one win, one semi-final defeat, two quarter-final defeats and two fifth round exits.
While it can be argued that the FA Cup was held in much higher esteem in the twentieth century, there is no doubt in my mind that the cup runs in 2002 and 2008 were a great benefit to the side as a whole in generating and maintaining momentum, and a winning habit, in the promotion run-in.
Darren Moore has indicated that the FA Cup tie is “important” although we won’t really get a view as to how important until we see his team selection for Saturday.
Hegazi and Gayle will apparently not be available, and neither will Jake Livermore as he begins his four match suspension for his second red card of the season at Ewood Park, but new signing, Mason Holgate, is likely to make his Albion debut.
As for the rest of the team, I guess we might see Boaz Myhill get a run out and maybe one or two more on the fringes of the squad, but I’d be surprised to see wholesale changes.
Based on last season, it would seem unlikely that Paul Cook will venture too far from his first team, either. The Latics beat three Premier League teams, including Manchester City, on their run to the quarter finals last year, although with his team having picked up just one point from the last six games, he may feel that giving his second string a run out might be worthwhile.
This will be the third time in four seasons that the Baggies will have faced the same side in the league and FA Cup in close proximity. On the previous two occasions, it did not work out too well as they lost both games away to Aston Villa in 2015 and at home to Southampton last year, but given that Albion won the league game last week, maybe we can hope for another repeating result!
The game kicks off at 12.30pm so that it can be shown on television overseas. In fact, just ten of the thirty-two third round ties will kick off at 3pm on Saturday which to me is scandalous on what is always one of the iconic days of the football season.
While I’m sure that the FA will welcome the reported £820m that the overseas TV rights deal signed in 2016 will bring in, and will claim that the money will be well invested in grassroots football, it is yet another example of how the paying spectator is being inconvenienced for the sake of television.
Moreover, given that the TV coverage is not in the UK, I don’t see why the kick off times had to be moved at all!
Having covered the Hawthorns league history between the sides in the preview to the Boxing Day fixture, I thought I’d take a look at the cup ties between the Latics and the Baggies.
The first ever meeting between the sides was at Wigan’s old ground, Springfield Park, back in 1984. It was a League Cup Second Round First Leg during Johnny Giles’ second spell as Albion manager. The game finished goalless and the return leg at the Hawthorns is, to date, the only cup tie between the sides to have been played at the Shrine.
England midfielder, Steve Hunt, opened the scoring for the Baggies before Wigan grabbed an equaliser just after the half hour through Colin Methven. Albion responded immediately through Garry Thompson and there was still time before the break for Nicky Cross to make it 3-1. There were no further goals in the second half and Albion progressed through to Round Three.
The only other cup tie between the sides was at the JJB Stadium, again in the Second Round of the League Cup, in 2002. Nathan Ellington banged in a hat trick for the Latics before Lee Hughes grabbed a late consolation goal for the Baggies. The “Duke” would move to the Hawthorns less than three years later after scoring 24 Championship goals in Wigan’s promotion season of 2004/05 but he would never recover that form again.
Darren Moore to play a strong side and the Baggies to progress to round four.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
26 Dec 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Rodriguez (2))
Wigan Athletic 0
Albion’s Record against Wigan Athletic