Albion’s promotion campaign resumes with a trip to Huddersfield Town on Saturday with head coach, Valérien Ismaël, happy that there are no more international breaks until March. Furthermore, there is only one midweek fixture before Christmas which will allow him to work with the squad in more detail ahead of each game.
It’s a tough run of fixtures for the Baggies in that only two of their next seven games are at the Hawthorns, with Saturday’s trip to Yorkshire followed quickly by a trip to the east Lancashire coast to play Blackpool on Tuesday.
The Terriers have had a reasonable start to their second season under Carlos Corberán. The Spaniard, who was appointed in the summer of 2020 after Danny Cowley was sacked for failing to get the club away from the nether reaches of the Championship, worked as a coach under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United but his only previous experience as a manager was in Cyprus. Corberán’s first season saw them finish even lower in the table than under Cowley, but the club kept faith in him and they currently sit just outside the play-off places – however, they were as high as fourth earlier in the season and have dropped away having won just one of their last five games. The defeat at Cardiff in their last match will have been particularly disappointing given it ended a run of ten games without a win for the Bluebirds.
As for the Baggies, they need to put together a run of victories in order to keep the top two in sight having dropped six points behind Fulham thanks to the Cottagers’ run of six successive victories combined with Albion’s indifferent form of late. It won’t be easy with trips to two clubs in the top ten followed by a home game against 13th-placed Nottingham Forest and then a trip to Coventry City, currently sitting just two points behind the Baggies in 4th.
Given the two week break since the last match, it is hoped that Ismaël will have a full squad to choose from, with the exception of long term absentees Kean Bryan and Dara O’Shea, the latter reporting this week the excellent news that he is back running after his knee operation. Alex Mowatt and Matt Clarke were the main doubts before the international break and, if they are both fit, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod.
It is often the case that observers feel that players not in the side get better when things aren’t going perfectly, and there will be a clamour for Mowatt’s return to the side if he is fully fit and I would think that the most likely central midfield pairing will be Mowatt and Livermore, but Ismaël has sprung surprises before, not least leaving Kyle Bartley out of the starting line up for the visit of Middlesbrough albeit he came on to replace the injured Kean Bryan. There was a time earlier in the season that the make up of the front three was the only speculation as regards the line up, when all were fit, but the back three are no longer guaranteed their spots and even Darnell Furlong is under pressure after an excellent performance from Taylor Gardner-Hickman against Hull City.
Bar a brief substitute appearance from Rayhaan Tulloch at Blackburn, Big Val has not yet been tempted to try any of the younger players in his front three for a league game despite some indifferent performances from all of the senior players at one time or another. 16-year-old Reyes Cleary has been in the headlines recently with his remarkable scoring record of 14 goals in 12 games at U18 and U23 level apparently attracting the interest of Bayern Munich along with a number of Premier League clubs. Given the recent experiences with Nathan Ferguson and Louie Barry, Albion will presumably doing all they can to get him signed up, and perhaps some involvement with the first team might help.
Karlan Grant will undoubtedly be keen to play and score against the club where he had the most successful spell of his career so far – he scored 22 goals in 51 starts for the Terriers between January 2019 and October 2020 including one in their 4-2 defeat at the Hawthorns in September 2019. If you’re looking for omens, he did score twice against his former club, Charlton Athletic, in a 4-0 win for Huddersfield in February 2020 so maybe he can repeat that feat.
It won’t be an easy win for the Baggies, and a point wouldn’t necessarily be a bad result, but having dropped eleven points in the last seven games, three points would be very welcome. Given the forthcoming fixture list, Albion definitely need to end the run of three successive defeats on the road but only a win will be good enough for some.
Albion’s last visit to the John Smith’s Stadium saw them beaten 2-1 in July 2020, a result that looked to have handed automatic promotion to Brentford but, as the Bees were beaten at Stoke City the following day, the Baggies just about hung on to the initiative and claimed a place in the Premier League a few days later.
This Saturday will be the Baggies ninth’ visit to what was originally named the Kirklees Stadium, opened in 1994, and they will be in search of their fourth victory at the venue having drawn one and lost four of their previous eight. The last two have ended in defeat, with Tony Pulis’ team beaten in the only top flight meeting between the sides at the Terriers’ new stadium in November 2017.
That game was Albion’s first visit since a 2-0 win in a third round FA Cup tie in January 2010 which itself was almost a decade after the previous visit, another 2-0 win for the Baggies in November 2000 when Jordão and Lee Hughes were both on target. Hughes was also on target at Albion’s biggest win away to Huddersfield two years previously when he added to a James Quinn brace to make it 3-0 in December 1998.
The Terriers’ biggest win in this fixture came in only Albion’s second visit to Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground in October 1920. Town were newly promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history but had started the season well winning five of their opening six fixtures. They had lost a few by the time reigning league champions, Albion, came to town but the Baggies were suffering in their title defence and were in the bottom half of the table. The Terriers ran out 5-1 winners although, by the end of the season, they only just survived thanks to a late rally under a certain Herbert Chapman. Within five seasons they would have three league championships to their name, but it was a brief time in the spotlight for Huddersfield – they have spent just four seasons in the top flight since 1956.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Jul 2020 – League Championship
Huddersfield Town 2 (Willock, Smith-Rowe)
West Brom 1 (O’Shea)
22 Sep 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Phillips (2), Furlong, Ajayi)
Huddersfield Town 2 (O’Brien, Grant)
Last win at Huddersfield Town
2 Jan 2010 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Huddersfield Town 0
West Brom 2 (Dorrans, Wood)
Albion’s Record against Huddersfield Town
If you cannot see the tables, click here.