Saturday’s victory at Hull City was certainly welcome, and it has perhaps blown a little oxygen into the embers of Albion’s promotion hopes. Victory against Huddersfield on Friday evening would add a little more fuel to that particular fire, but a top six spot remains very much a long shot.
Based on the 57 points that sixth-placed Luton Town currently have, a decent estimate for the final number of points needed for a play off spot is somewhere in the region of 75 meaning that Albion could only afford to drop seven points between now and the end of the season. That would be a tough ask for a team on form but only Peterborough United (3) have earned fewer points than the Baggies (8) in the Championship in this calendar year while Friday’s opponents sit fourth in that particular form table with 23 points from just 11 games.
After a difficult first season at the John Smith’s Stadium which saw the Terriers narrowly escape relegation finishing in 20th place, Carlos Corberán has overseen a remarkable turnaround this season. Huddersfield currently sit in third place, level on points with second placed Bournemouth (although the Cherries have played three games fewer), and they have not lost a league game since a 2-1 home defeat by Middlesbrough in November, an unbeaten run of 16 games that is by far the best in the division. However, their 18-match unbeaten run in all competitions did come to an end on Monday when they were beaten 2-1 at Nottingham Forest in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Steve Bruce will undoubtedly be relieved at securing his first victory as Baggies boss last weekend, but he knows that he will need to finish the season strongly, irrespective of whether the play-offs prove to be out of reach or not. While Ron Gourlay is close to Bruce, I’m sure he will want to see a continued improvement in the team’s performances and results if he is to give the former Newcastle boss another season. The headline contract may be 18 months, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of conditional break clause at the end of the season.
Personally, I think Bruce has taken too long to get a first victory and, while the players haven’t exactly helped, he has made some key errors in his short tenure.
Firstly, the fans may have been calling for a move away from a back three, but it should have been clear to him and his coaching staff that it was going to be a tough ask for a defence that had been drilled in a back three all season. Their defensive vulnerability has been evident in every game under Bruce where he has employed a back four, and it has taken him too long to come to that conclusion.
Secondly, his persistence with a midfield three of Reach, Molumby and Mowatt for every game since Livermore was sent off was bewildering. It was clear that it wasn’t working as either an attacking or defensive force. While the absence of Jake Livermore was obviously a key factor, Alex Mowatt is not a defensive midfielder and Adam Reach looked completely lost in the middle of the park. Bruce shied away from trying Taylor Gardner-Hickman in midfield despite evidence that he can be effective there, and his comments about the U23 coaching staff considering him only as a wing back made him look either naïve or under-prepared. Perhaps he felt that he needed the experience of Livermore alongside him, something he also had when he impressed against Coventry, but it clearly wasn’t working with the existing three and he should have tried something else. I suppose he did give Castro a run, but to do that before using TGH was a bizarre decision.
I’m not writing Bruce off – he has too much experience and a proven track record to do that – but I have been disappointed so far and he still has some impressing to do.
Against Hull, the midfield looked balanced and TGH was excellent once again, although it was the return of Livermore that I feel was the major factor. That is why it was so infuriating that he got the red card in the first place – I was very critical of that incident and questioned whether he should retain the captaincy or indeed his place in the side. On reflection, the team need him in both roles. There is no other player who commands the respect of the dressing room or leads as naturally, and there is no other player who can play as the deep midfielder in a three. Next season, if Gourlay manages to refresh the squad as he is hoping to, it may be a different story, but for now, Livermore has to play.
On Friday, I don’t expect to see any changes to the eleven that started against Hull. The only possible switch might be in the front two with Diangana coming in for Robinson (Carroll is proving to be too immobile), but even that would be a surprise.
Whether Albion can come up with the same result is another question entirely. Hull City are a poor side and even they had opportunities which could have changed the game. I don’t think that Huddersfield are a particularly good side, but they will be full of confidence and they have the best record in the division when conceding the first goal.
Hopefully, the Baggies players will have some confidence of their own after that long-awaited victory – I’m sure there will have been a few more smiles in training this week but let’s hope they’re still there come 10pm on Friday.
Huddersfield Town’s glory years were in the Roaring Twenties when, after being promoted from Division Two in the same season that Albion won their only league championship, 1920, they won the FA Cup in 1922 and then finished in the top three of Division One for six successive seasons winning three league titles between 1924 and 1926 despite the departure of their legendary manager, Herbert Chapman, in the summer of 1925.
Between the beginning of 1922 and the end of 1931, Albion and the Terriers met on fourteen occasions with the Baggies registering just one victory to Huddersfield’s six, a run that included Town’s 4-2 win at the Hawthorns in October 1923 which remains their biggest win in West Bromwich.
The record between the sides during the 30s was more even and it was at the Hawthorns on St George’s Day 1938 that the Throstles recorded their record win over Huddersfield when a brace apiece from Harry Jones and Sammy Heaselgrave was added to with a goal from W G Richardson to make the final score 5-1.
The Terriers have had the better of things in recent years winning four of the last five meetings between the sides with the 4-2 win for the Baggies in the last Hawthorns meeting between the sides being their only home victory in this fixture since a 3-1 win in November 1998. On that day, David Beresford had opened the scoring for the visitors before Lee Hughes scored a hat trick, two of which were penalties, the second of which saw Town ‘keeper Nico Vaesen sent off. It put Hughsie on 21 goals for the season from just 20 games although Denis Smith’s side were still languishing in mid-table.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
20 Nov 2021 – League Championship
Huddersfield Town 1 (Sinani)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
22 Sep 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Phillips (2), Furlong, Ajayi)
Huddersfield Town 2 (O’Brien, Grant)
Albion’s Record against Huddersfield Town
If you cannot see the tables, click here.