Back in June, there was one fixture that all Baggies fans will have searched for first, and the date they all ringed in the calendar was Saturday 8th December.
I guess that, for most people, the “ringing” would have been virtual in the days of electronic calendars, but that is probably just as well given that Sky TV intervened once again and the Baggies now face their nearest rivals on a Friday evening.
Mid-June seems a very long time ago in footballing terms. Back then, Albion had appointed Moore as permanent manager, having apparently chosen him over Dean Smith, but were reeling from the effects of relegation and fighting off interest in many of their players and were a week or so away from sacking Giuliano Terraneo (remember him?). Villa meanwhile, were recovering from their own disappointment at losing to Fulham in the play-off final, but they’d left Steve Bruce in charge to prepare for the new season.
Bruce, of course, was sacked in early October and replaced by West Bromwich-born, Dean Smith. After losing two of his opening three games, Smith has guided Villa on an excellent run of five wins in six games, with the other match being that remarkable 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest last week. Their 3-0 win at Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough last weekend was particularly impressive and left me with mixed feelings, pleased to see the Welshman suffering but somewhat dismayed that Villa will be full of confidence for their visit to the Hawthorns.
Darren Moore’s team, on the other hand, could only draw at home with struggling Brentford on Monday evening, although their performance in the first half, at least, should give them some confidence. Albion had 23 shots on goal against the Bees, but some excellent saves from ‘keeper, Daniel Bentley, and some wasteful finishing meant that they had to wait until the 77th minute to take the lead through Harvey Barnes. As an aside, it was a goal that was somewhat reminiscent of Astle’s famous strike at Wembley in ’68, if a little closer to the goal!
For me, it was just one of those games when Albion’s finishing deserted them for once. It has been excellent for the most part this season, but you are always going to get those sorts of games as I mentioned in my previous article on Tuesday evening.
I’ve read some renewed calls for Moore’s head on social media since which I find ridiculous given that we have moved up to third in the table. While I said in my match preview that I would start Dwight Gayle, I also said that would be neither surprised nor disappointed to see the same starting line up. Rodriguez should have scored the chance early on, and Hal should have scored the header, but Albion were unlucky not to have scored one of those first half chances.
Another positive for me was the performance of Jake Livermore. I thought he was the one player looking to drive the team on in the second half, and he was always available looking for the ball and linking up well. He looks like establishing himself as the Baggies captain for the season, at least.
Sky Sports pundit, Keith Andrews, suggested that the balance of the front three wasn’t quite right with Gayle in for Robson-Kanu, whose substitution was due to injury rather than tactics. It is something that Moore and Jones will need to address this week with the Welsh international likely to miss Friday’s game.
Having watched the game back, it was clear that there was a foul throw in the lead up to the Bees’ equaliser but then there was also a foul by Gayle before Barnes scored. Tosin was definitely at fault for the equaliser as he switched off for a second, which is again a lesson he needs to learn but, once again, he was otherwise very impressive. It was also his slide-rule pass to Barnes that started off the move that led to the Baggies goal.
If Big Dave deserves any criticism, it was the lack of changes in the second half. Albion were off the pace after the break, but I’m not sure that anyone on the bench would have made that much difference. Barry for Morrison would have made sense after the goal, but without Sako, Burke or Edwards in the squad, Hoolahan was the only other option that I think would have made sense.
Sako has been unavailable through injury but is fit again for the Villa game, but the absence of the young players is something that has been a constant source of criticism for Moore. Harper seems to have moved above Field in the middle of the park, and Edwards has not been involved with the first team since the defeat to Derby. Oli Burke, meanwhile, could well go out on loan in January.
It will be a very different game on Friday as Aston Villa are likely to look to attack Albion. That may well suit the home side if the game against Leeds is anything to go by. Obviously that was an exceptional performance and they’ve not quite hit those heights since, although I thought some of the football they played in the first half on Monday came close. The stand out from the Leeds game was that Albion kept up the performance level for ninety minutes, something that has been very rare this season. The goals may have all come after the break, but there was a consistent application that the team have struggled to repeat.
It’s another massive test for Moore, against the manager who could easily have got his job in the summer, but this time there is some positive momentum at with Albion having picked up ten points from the last twelve. The Hawthorns will be rocking for its first proper local derby for nearly two years, and if the team can feed off that and get in front early, it could be a great night.
As two founder members of the Football League, these famous neighbouring clubs have a very long history that pre-dates the league itself. The first ever meeting was in January 1885 at Wellington Road, Villa’s first stadium, in the third round of the FA Cup. That game finished 0-0 but the Baggies won the replay at Stoney Lane 3-0 (Loach 2, Bayliss) to take the lead in the Albion-Villa record. The Villains levelled it up in the next meeting, also in the FA Cup, but this time it was the final at the Kennington Oval in 1887 as they won 2-0 beating Albion to their first cup win by just one season.
The first meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns was the second ever fixture at the Shrine, on 8th September 1900. Having drawn the opening game at the stadium 1-1 with Derby, the visit of Aston Villa still left Albion looking for their first win at their new home as the visitors’ George Johnson scoring the only goal of the game.
It was the first of 22 victories that Villa have recorded at the Hawthorns, with the most recent coming more than ten years ago in September 2008 when John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor scored within a few minutes just before the half hour. Morrison pulled one back before the break but that’s where the scoring finished.
Since then, the Baggies have won two and drawn three on the clubs’ games in West Bromwich, with a goal by Craig Gardner enough to win the points in December 2014, their most recent home victory.
Albion’s biggest home victory over Villa was in the League Cup in September 1966. Two from Doug Fraser, three from Bobby Hope and another from Clive Clark helped the holders to a 6-1 victory on the way to that fateful final at Wembley against QPR. In the league, you have to go back a little further for the biggest win, to March 1927. On that occasion, Stan Davies and Tommy Glidden both scored two while Sammy Short and Joe Carter also found the net as Albion ran out 6-2 winners.
Villa’s record win at the Hawthorns is 3-0 which has happened on three occasions, the most recent being in Albion’s relegation season of 1985/6, the fifth of a run of nine straight league defeats that followed a draw with Oxford on the opening day. While that may not have been a surprise, the previous 3-0 certainly was as it was suffered by that side in 1978. It was in April of that year and John Deehan, Gordan Cowans and Dennis Mortimer scored for the visitors. Going back to the 19th century, Villa’s biggest win on Albion soil came back in October 1893 when the men from Witton ran out 6-3 winners at Stoney Lane.
Obviously, losing at home to Villa is dreadful, but perhaps the most embarrassing result in this fixture in recent years was the last one. Albion’s failure to beat the worst Villa side in decades in January 2016 was an indictment of Tony Pulis’s football that eventually led to the Baggies own relegation, and let’s not forget that the visitors were the better side that day!
I think there will be goals in this game but I think the two rivals will end up all square.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
23 Jan 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Aston Villa 0
19 Sep 2015 – Premier League
Aston Villa 0
West Brom 1 (Berahino)
Last win at the Hawthorns
13 Dec 2014 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Gardner)
Aston Villa 0
Albion’s Record against Aston Villa