The powers that be at the Hawthorns finally made a long overdue decision on Monday by confirming that caretaker head coach, Jimmy Shan, will remain in charge of first team affairs until the end of the season.
While not all supporters will agree with the decision, I’ve not yet seen the “Fans pan Shan plan” headline! However, whatever your feelings as a Baggies fan, now is the time to get behind the caretaker head coach, the team and the club to give them the best chance of returning to the Premier League.
The rumoured flirtation with Alex Neil was brought to an abrupt end on Sunday when the news was released that the Scotsman had signed a new deal with Preston North End. It is unclear whether there had been any contact between West Bromwich Albion and Preston, or between the Baggies and Neil or his representatives, or, indeed, whether Neil had just used the interest from Albion to strengthen his own position.
Whatever happened, it left the Baggies hierarchy with little choice but to confirm that Shan would remain in charge for the season. The uncertainty could not continue any further and, with the much improved display against the Lilywhites on Saturday, it was pretty much a no brainer.
Early on Thursday morning, former Albion full back, Steven Reid, was confirmed as a new member of Shan’s coaching team for the remainder of the season, with rumours that another coach will be brought in to help out in the coming days.. As I said in my report on Wednesday, I feel that Jimmy does need help of more experienced coaches although, having said that, I was very impressed in how he reacted to the defeat at Ashton Gate. He was not afraid to call his players out for not following instructions and he got the desired response on Saturday as Albion comfortably dispatched a poor, and perhaps distracted, Preston team.
One of the key reasons for that success was another tweak to the formation. Starting with a back three, following a switch mid-game at Bristol City, with the much-criticised Bartley in the central position, proved to be a success. The former Swansea man looked much more comfortable in the middle of a back three than he ever did on the left or right side, and in the middle of the park, there were more signs of the Stefan Johansen we thought we had signed as he produced a true box-to-box midfielder’s performance.
The headlines, of course, went to the excellent Dwight Gayle who looks to be rediscovering his goalscoring touch at exactly the right time. With Gayle and J-Rod on 21 goals apiece, Albion once again look like a side with the firepower to beat anyone in the Championship.
With four games of the season to go and a play-off place virtually secured, Shan’s challenge is to manage the squad to ensure everyone is fully fit and raring to go for the play-offs while maintaining momentum and securing a fourth-place finish that would ensure Albion play the second leg of the play-off semi-final at the Hawthorns.
The midfield would be the obvious area of the team to rotate with the senior legs of Brunt, Barry and Morrison most susceptible to the demands of quick turnarounds between games. Phillips and Gibbs are still on the recovery phase from injury and Shan has been rightly cautious with their game time, and I expect that to continue, particularly given that there are other options in those positions.
In fact, it is not obvious where Matt Phillips fits into the 3-5-2 formation that started against Preston. Would a midfield three of Brunt, Johansen and Phillips provide enough defensive cover against the better sides in this division? He can obviously play up front or at right wing back, but few would argue he would be a first choice in either position, so it may well be that Phillips may remain an option from the bench when it comes to the play-offs, assuming everyone remains fit.
I expect some rotation in the next two games given they are just three days apart, with Brunt likely to start just one of them. We may even see a first appearance for Gareth Barry under Jimmy Shan, although he has only made the bench once since he was substituted in the defeat at Elland Road.
When the Baggies visited the KC Stadium in early November, the Tigers had just three league wins to their name with the third of those having come the week before at Bolton. They were in 23rd place with just twelve points, three more than rock bottom Ipswich Town.
Their victory over Albion that day was the second in a run of 14 games in which Nigel Adkins’ side lost just once, including six straight wins from mid-December to mid-January, which lifted them to within reach of the play-offs.
Hull’s form has tailed off a little since then, but had the league started on 27th October, City would be in fifth place with 51 points from 28 games, two points above Albion.
The play-offs remain a possibility for the Tigers, but they sit in ninth place five points behind sixth placed Bristol City with just four games left, so it is almost as unlikely as Albion getting into the top two.
The recovery in Hull’s form is due in no small part to the goals of Jarrod Bowen. The Herefordshire-born winger has 21 Championship goals this season, level with the Baggies’ own deadly duo, with 16 of those coming in 19 games from the beginning of December although he is now on a four-game barren streak, his longest run without a goal since November.
Fraser Campbell has chipped in with a dozen goals, including the winner against Albion on Humberside, while Polish winger, Kamil Grosicki, is their provider in chief with twelve assists this campaign.
The midfield pair of Markus Henriksen and Jackson Irvine have been pivotal for Adkins’ team in providing a base for what is generally an attacking line up while the consistent back four of Burke, Kane, Lichaj and de Wijs have kept 10 clean sheets in the last 28 league games.
Albion lost to Hull City in November, when they were a struggling team low on confidence – they are completely different proposition now and, if the Baggies are to defeat them on Friday, it will require a top drawer performance.
While the history of this fixture stretches back to 1905, this Good Friday meeting will be just the 57th between the clubs, and the 28th at the Hawthorns. Overall, the Baggies have the edge with 21 wins to 19, although they have won more than half of the meetings at the Hawthorns with the Tigers victorious on Albion soil on just five occasions.
Albion have won the last three meetings at the Shrine, with the most recent being the first match of 2017 when goals from Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley and James Morrison saw the hosts take all three points having gone behind to a Robert Snodgrass goal.
Two years earlier, Tony Pulis recorded a victory in his first league game in charge at the Hawthorns with Saido Berahino scoring the only goal of the game with 12 minutes left. Berahino had also scored the winner when the Tigers were the opponents for a third round League Cup tie a few months earlier in September 2014. Alan Irvine’s side found themselves 2-1 down just after the break despite opening the scoring through Brown Ideye, but McAuley equalised with three minutes to go before Saido grabbed the winner a minute later to see the hosts through to the next round.
The first meeting between the clubs at the Hawthorns was a Division Two fixture in December 1905. It finished 1-1 with Albion’s goal scored from the spot by Ted Pheasant while Davy Gordon found the net for the visitors.
City registered their first win at the Hawthorns four years later in December 1909 when Arthur Temple and George Wright were on target in a 2-0 win, also in Division Two. Their biggest win, however, was a little more recent. The Tigers had been promoted through the play-offs in the season when Albion won the Championship title in 2008, but Phil Brown’s team made a much better fist of their first season in the Premier League illustrated by a 3-0 win at the Hawthorns in October thanks to goals from Marlon King, Kamil Zayatte and Geovanni.
Albion’s biggest win over Hull City was in a Division Two fixture in April 1930, the season before the Baggies achieved that unique double of promotion and the FA Cup. The great Jimmy Cookson scored four times that day while Tommy Glidden grabbed a brace with Harry Boston also finding the net in a 7-1 victory. It’s strange not to see Ginger Richardson on the scoresheet in a big win during that era, but he wasn’t in the team. Still a raw 20 year-old in April 1930 in his first season at the Hawthorns, he wouldn’t make his mark until the following campaign.
The clubs never met in the old Division One, with Hull not having played in the top flight until the Premier League era, and they spent just two seasons in the third tier together. Hull City were the other club relegated in 1991 when a reorganisation of the league meant that just two clubs dropped from Division Two to Division Three. The Baggies won both fixtures at the Hawthorns in those two seasons with the meeting in May 1993 being their last fixture of the regular season. Bob Taylor scored his 37th and final goal of the season, leaving him two short of Ginger Richardson’s club record for a season, with Andy Hunt notching a double in a 3-1 victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Nov 2018 – League Championship
Hull City 1 (Campbell)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
2 Jan 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Brunt, McAuley, Morrison)
Hull City 1 (Snodgrass)
Albion’s Record against Hull City