With Albion already relegated, it is difficult to find too much to new to discuss in a match preview, but for Wednesday’s match with West Ham, there is something genuinely new to look forward to – fans will be back at the Hawthorns!
I am lucky enough to be one of the 6,000 who will be in attendance and, despite Albion’s lowly position and there being nothing but pride to play for, I am really looking forward to being back in a professional football stadium once again. My last match was at Swansea on 7th March 2020 which means it will be 438 days between matches, certainly the longest time for me since the early 80s.
While the continuation of football has kept many of us fans sane over the past eighteen months, it has been a somewhat detached experience and is no substitute for being there. For the players, as well, it must have been an alien experience. The likes of Okay, Diagne and Maitland-Niles have not had the benefit of playing in front of fans as Albion players, and I wonder if their presence could influence Okay and Diagne to join the club for next season’s promotion challenge. The same, of course, goes for Sam Allardyce – maybe he is waiting to hear the fans’ reaction to him before committing his future to the club….
It was fantastic to see fans at Wembley for the FA Cup final and at the play-off semi finals on Monday evening, and it is amazing what a difference even a limited number of fans can make. In comparison to the last 12 months, the Hawthorns will be rocking on Wednesday night!
As for the match itself, David Moyes’ team have plenty to play for as they look to secure European football for next season. It looks like a seventh place finish, which is where West Ham currently sit, will be enough for a Europa League place, but I’m sure they will be hoping to finish above Spurs who are only in 6th spot by virtue of goal difference.
It has certainly been a good season for the Hammers, and I do wonder if they have benefitted from the absence of supporters – the London Stadium hasn’t been a happy home since they moved there in 2016 and they are one of only two clubs in the top ten to have performed better at home than on the road in this campaign (Spurs being the other).
One player who will be eager to perform for Albion will be Grady Diangana. Having started his first game since 2nd January against Liverpool on Sunday, he will be anxious to be in the starting eleven once again to play against his former club for the first time. Allardyce has hinted that he was happy with the youngster’s performance on Sunday, despite him having little opportunity to impress in attacking areas. It would be ironic if Diangana was instrumental in his former club dropping out of the European places given the anger from West Ham fans and players alike last summer when he was allowed to leave. Overall, it would seem good business for the Irons given Grady’s struggles this season, but could there be a sting in the tail?