The two Albions meet on Saturday for the first time in almost a quarter of a century since both clubs were in the third tier of English football.
OK, I know there is now a third Albion in the Football League, but the Baggies have yet to meet the Brewers and Brighton only played them in the league for the first time last season.
The fact that it is more than 24 years since the clubs last met makes me feel very old, as I clearly remember that match at the Hawthorns when a certain Andy Hunt made his full debut and scored a hat trick, having scored in his first substitute appearance the previous weekend at Bradford. He scored six goals in his first four games for the club and eleven in total in the run-in including goals in both the play off semi-final and the final at Wembley.
Saturday will see just the 21st meeting between the clubs with West Brom ahead with nine wins to four, although Brighton have won the last two meetings on the south coast. The first meeting was in the League Cup at the Hawthorns in 1976, a match that was won 2-0 by the visitors, while the clubs first met in the league three years later with both matches in the 1979-80 season finishing all square. The Baggies’ first win over Brighton came in August 1980 when they came from a goal down at the Goldstone Ground to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Cyrille Regis and Gary Owen.
The Seagulls have had some tough times since the most recent meeting in the early nineties as they almost dropped out of the Football League in successive seasons in 1997 and 1998, lost their home, the Goldstone Ground, and had to play 70 miles away at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium for two seasons before moving back to Sussex to play at the Withdean Stadium.
Their fortunes improved and they only avoided playing the Baggies in the league in the early years of this century as the two clubs were promoted and relegated in sync. Brighton played in Division One in 2002/03, the Baggies first Premier League season, and then in the re-branded Championship in 2004/5 and 2005/6. Their return to the Championship in 2011 coincided with them moving into their new stadium and Albion fans will get the chance to visit it for the first time this weekend.
Of the promoted clubs, Brighton are the only to be yet to register a win in the Premier League, although the fixture computer hasn’t made it easy for them with their only home game to date being against Manchester City. Defeat at Leicester City was followed up by their first point of the season at Vicarage Road, undoubtedly helped by the sending off of Watford’s Miguel Britos.
Club record signing, José Izquierdo, a Colombian winger signed from Club Brugge for in the region of £13.5 million, made his debut from the bench in that match and he could make his full debut against the Baggies. Most of the Seagulls’ new signings will be strangers to most Premier League fans, but one name that the Hawthorns faithful will know is the loan signing from Chelsea, Izzy Brown. Brown spent the second half last season on loan at fellow Premier League newcomers, Huddersfield Town, but opted to move to the Amex Stadium this season – he has been suffering with a hamstring injury, however, so may not face his former club this weekend.
The Baggies side could be very different from the one that drew with Stoke City a fortnight ago with Pulis faced with a number of selection dilemmas. Despite expectations to the contrary, Jonny Evans is still at the club and now fit again, having started both of the Green and White’s games over the international break, scoring the opener in the win over the Czech Republic that guaranteed Northern Ireland a top two finish in their qualifying group. New signings Kieran Gibbs and Grzegorz Krychowiak will be hoping to make their debuts, and Pulis will have to work out where Chris Brunt, who also scored for his country in the game against the Czechs, will fit into the team if Gibbs starts at left back. Nice problems to have for Pulis, perhaps, and with the existing team having started the season so well, it is by no means an easy decision to make big changes.
Albion’s strong start to the season, which sees them lying in fifth place after three games, has been boosted by what must be the Baggies’ best transfer window for years. Rodriguez, Hegazi and Barry had already proved themselves to be useful signings in those first few games, although the Egyptian blotted his copybook a little with the error that lead to Stoke’s equaliser last time out, and those have been added to by Oliver Burke, who made a brief appearance from the bench against Stoke, and perhaps the most impressive two signings of Kieran Gibbs and Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Arsenal had turned an offer from Albion of £10 million earlier in the summer, so to then pick him up for £5 million rising to £7 million represents fantastic business, particularly with some of the massively inflated prices we have seen this summer. Gibbs, 27, has 10 England caps but he’s not had that many chances at Arsenal in the last couple of years due to injury and Wenger prefering Nacho Monréal. He has made just 11 Premier League starts in the last two seasons and will see this move as a chance to play regular football and, perhaps, force his way back into the England squad.
Krychowiak had his pick of the top European clubs twelve months ago on the back of starring in successive Europa League wins with Sevilla. He chose PSG but has found it difficult to get regular football in the French capital making just 19 appearances last season. It has been suggested that his style of football doesn’t suit the Parisien giants, but their loss is the Baggies’ gain as the Pole is a player of undoubted quality and is surely one of the best defensive midfielders in the world today. Furthermore, he is a winner having won five trophies in the last three seasons. His signing, albeit on loan, is a real coup for Albion as well as being a real statement of intent as they have agreed to pay all of Krychowiak’s wages rumoured to be in the region of £110,000 per week.
Tony Pulis now has probably the best squad he has managed, although I’m sure he may have liked to have seen one or two more come in. A top ten finish is now expected and, the best way to start on that road would be to take all three points home from the Amex Stadium.
The Baggies should be full of confidence while the Seagulls have not found life in the Premier League easy so far – everything points to an away win and, while I don’t think it will be a walkover for Albion, I expect them to come away with all three points.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Apr 1993 – League Division 2
West Brom 3 (Hunt (3))
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 (Codner)
Last meeting at Brighton & Hove Albion
10 Mar 1993 – League Division 2
Brighton & Hove Albion 3 (Nogan, Kennedy (2))
West Brom 1 (Taylor (pen))
Last win at Brighton & Hove Albion
14 Apr 1990 – League Division 2
Brighton & Hove Albion 0
West Brom 3 (Goodman, Ford, Bannister)
Albion’s Record against Brighton & Hove Albion