Although Albion still sit in third place in the Championship table, a fourth successive away defeat leaves them eight points adrift of the automatic promotion places and with little sign that they are capable of reducing that gap.
Valérien Ismaël came to the club with a philosophy, one which the players looked to have adapted to very quickly in the early stages of the season but, as the style was tweaked to be less direct and pass the ball more, the philosophy seems to have been lost. The high press has become sporadic and the high line is looking more like a liability than a tactic to support the press as it was in the first few games of the season.
I still feel that the players are massively underperforming, particularly in attacking areas, and three goals scored in the last four games supports that. That Albion have recorded 57 attempts on goal in those four games suggests that they should have a better return, but when you consider that their 20 efforts at the John Smiths Stadium resulted in an xG of just 1.3, it demonstrates that good chances were few and far between as anyone who watched the game would attest.
When questioned about whether he needs new faces to overcome Albion’s goalscoring issues, Big Val insisted that there are enough goals in the players he had – I suspect this was said more to demonstrate confidence in his existing squad rather than to rule out any moves in January, or at least I hope it was. To be fair, only four clubs have scored more Championship goals than Albion this season, but only once have they scored more than one goal in the last eight games.
Ismaël shuffled the pack a little on Saturday, with Mowatt coming back into the side after injury but the most notable change was to bring in Taylor Gardner-Hickman in place of Darnell Furlong at right wing back. He will have to shuffle again on Tuesday following Jake Livermore’s red card that will see him miss the next three games after Albion’s appeal was rejected. Jayson Molumby would seem like the most obvious option to bring in and the hope is that his energy alongside Mowatt will be able to galvanise the front three.
There were also concerns at the back on Saturday with Huddersfield having got behind Albion’s high line on numerous occasions and a better side would have punished Albion more severely. Perhaps the decision to play Kipré on the right behind Gardner-Hickman, two relatively inexperienced players, was asking a bit too much of both players, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two changes along the back line.
While there have been lots of individual mistakes, the greater concern is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand what Albion are now trying to do. The pressing that was such an important part of Ismaël’s plan seems no longer to be core to the philosophy. The goal against Hull was a result of the high press, but there have been few other examples of it in the past few weeks and, without the high press, the high line is very dangerous. It is difficult to know whether it is a result of tactics, or the inability to implement them, but something needs to change.
As for the opposition on Tuesday evening, Neil Critchley’s team struggled earlier this season on their return to the second tier, and found themselves in the bottom three in mid-September with just five points from their opening seven games albeit three of those were the result of a shock win over Fulham. Since then, however, the Seasiders have won six and drawn three of the next eleven games lifting them into the top ten, although they are without a win in their last three.
It is another tricky game for the Baggies, but they really need to turn around their away form very quickly if they are to maintain any hope of automatic promotion. There is plenty of time in the season, but signs of improvement are lacking at present. That needs to change. Soon.
Tuesday evening will see the 90th meeting between Albion and Blackpool but it is the first league meeting between the sides for more than a decade. The two clubs met in the FA Cup earlier this year, a match that the then third tier side won on penalties, but the last league meeting was in the Premier League in January 2011 at the Hawthorns.
The last league meeting at Bloomfield Road was earlier that season when the Baggies found themselves down to nine men inside half an hour when Pablo Ibáñez and Gonzalo Jara received red cards – unsurprisingly, the hosts came out on top although he margin of victory was only 2-1 and it would be the Baggies that were celebrating come the end of the season as they finished in a comfortable mid-table while Blackpool were relegated and found themselves in the fourth tier just five years later.
The Seasiders have spent most of their history outside of the top flight with their most successful period coming between 1937 and 1967 when they spent an unbroken 23 seasons in Division One finishing in third place twice, and second in 1956. famously winning the FA Cup in the “Matthews Final” in 1953. For much of that period, Blackpool had something of the Indian sign over Albion winning 13 of the 16 meetings between December 1937 and March 1956. Indeed, in the the Baggies successful 1953/54 season, Blackpool were just the second team to inflict defeat on them, doing so in style thanks to a 4-1 win at Bloomfield Road at the end of October.
The Tangerines’ biggest win over Albion was the last in that impressive 16-game run as they won 5-1 in March 1956, whereas the Baggies’ biggest win at Bloomfield Road was in Division Two in November 1905 when goals from Fred Shinton, Sam Peters and Chippy Simmonds earned the visitors a 3-0 victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 Jan 2021 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Blackpool 2 (Yates, Madine)
West Brom 2 (Ajayi, Pereira (pen))
15 Jan 2011 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Odemwingie (2), Morrison)
Blackpool 2 (Vaughan, Taylor-Fletcher)
Last win at Blackpool
3 Feb 2010 – League Championship
Blackpool 2 (Southern, Dobbie)
West Brom 3 (Bednár (2), Dorrans (pen))
Albion’s Record against Blackpool
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