After a morale-boosting victory at Hillsborough, the Baggies welcome Hull City to the Hawthorns on Sunday who are themselves fresh from earning a much needed three points.
The Tigers’ victory over Middlesbrough on Thursday was only their second league win of 2020 with their first coming on New Year’s Day. They had picked up just three points from a possible 39 in between those wins and had fallen from a relatively comfortable mid-table position into the bottom three. That victory pushed them out of the relegation zone but, while Wigan face a possible 12-point deduction which would put them rock bottom, Grant McCann’s team are still perilously close to the drop.
The trigger for their collapse in form seems to have been the decision to cash in on what many felt to be their two best players. Jarrod Bowen was sold to West Ham United while Kamil Grosicki moved to the Hawthorns. It was a calculated gamble given their league position at the time but, while the fee for Bowen has probably been maximised given the effect that COVID-19 is expected to have on transfer values, it could prove to be a bad bet should City find themselves in League One next season.
The KCOM Stadium was already short of spectators before the lockdown. While the Allam family probably saved the club when they took control following relegation from the Premier League in 2010, relations with the fan base have been strained ever since the ill-advised attempt to change the club’s name. A subsequent decision to remove concessionary tickets at the stadium has further strained relationships and the lack of investment in recent seasons has seen crowds plummet such that the average attendance this season is just over 11,000, less than half what it was in 2014/15. With the city traditionally a rugby league stronghold, many local football fans fear that the club will never regain the supporters it has lost in the last five years.
As for this season, their win over ‘Boro was massive and, given that it was a stoppage time winner as well, the players will take a real confidence boost into the match at the Hawthorns. However, two of their three top scorers are no longer with the club and the other, Tom Eaves, has scored just one goal in 2020. Furthermore, the statistics from that win on Thursday would suggest it was something of a smash-and-grab – ‘Boro had more possession, far more goal attempts and Hull failed to win a single corner, but there is, of course, only one stat that counts.
Slaven Bilić’s team should have plenty of confidence of their own, of course, following their win over Sheffield Wednesday. The second half performance, in particular, was excellent as Charlie Austin’s first half penalty seemed to spark the team into life. If the Baggies produce something close to that on Sunday, it would surely produce another three points and another step closer to a return to the Premier League.
Albion may well, of course, be playing catch up once again with their major rivals all playing on Saturday. Leeds United travel to Blackburn Rovers while Brentford play host to Wigan Athletic with the Latics in form on the pitch but having been dealt a massive blow off it in the week.
Slav opted to shuffle the pack a little on Wednesday and, with Grosicki and Robinson making an impact off the bench, he may well make a number of changes again. The Pole will surely be eager to face his old club for the first time and his display against the Owls may well have earned him a first start in an Albion shirt. He had started all but one of Hull’s league games before his move to the midlands, but all of his eight appearances for the Baggies so far have been from the bench.
Bilić may also have half an eye on what is, on paper at least, a tougher fixture against Wayne Rooney’s Derby County on Wednesday, and he knows he has to make full use of Albion’s strong squad during this hectic period.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Matheus Pereira was to drop to the bench on Sunday. Although he scored twice on Wednesday, he didn’t play to his best and he is the only attacking player to have started every game since the restart. With Krovinović playing in the centre of midfield, there are plenty of options apart from the Brazilian and the Baggies should have too much for their opponents if, as I said earlier, they can reproduce the display from the second 45 at Hillsborough.
Irrespective of the results to come on Saturday, that 3-0 win should mean that Albion can start the game with confidence – an early goal and it could be a very good afternoon.
When I look back on the history of fixtures on these pages, I often hark back to the 1920s and 1930s as there were frequently those high scoring fixtures which make the record books.
The season that saw marked the switch between those two decades was also a season which was the start of the transition between two wonderful Albion centre forwards, Jimmy Cookson and Billy “Ginger” Richardson.
Cookson arrived at the Hawthorns in the summer of 1927 and wore the number 9 shirt for the majority of the next three and a half seasons scoring a remarkable 110 goals in 131 games. The 1929-30 season saw him score 33 league goals in 34 games, second only to his own club record of 38 goals from two seasons earlier, but when Cookson wasn’t playing, it was the young pretender, 20-year-old Richardson, who played centre forward.
Towards the end of the season was another match when Cookson showed his quality when Hull City visited the Hawthorns for a second division match. The Tigers were struggling at the wrong end of the table while Albion were in mid-table having failed to mount a promotion challenge – that would have to wait until the following season.
Cookson was on fire in spite of what was a reported quagmire of a pitch after hours of heavy rain. He scored four goals that day with another legendary forward, Tommy Glidden grabbing a brace while Harry Boston added a seventh for the hosts. Hull City managed just one in reply from Paddy Mills.
Cookson would score another seven goals in the remaining three games of the season but eventually lost his place permanently to Richardson midway through the following season. “Ginger”, of course, would go on to score both goals in Albion’s FA Cup final victory over Blues in 1931 and break Cookson’s season goal record in 1935-36 when he scored 39 league goals.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 Nov 2019 – League Championship
Hull City 0
West Brom 1 (Livermore)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
19 Apr 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Gibbs, Gayle (2))
Hull City 2 (Kane (2))
Albion’s Record against Hull City