Southampton v West Bromwich Albion; St Mary’s Stadium, Saturday 11th November 2023, 3pm
With ten points from their last four games, Southampton and Albion sit atop the four-game form table, along with Stoke City, ahead of a massive game with fourth-placed Saints host fifth-placed Baggies on Saturday. While second-placed, Ipswich Town, are nine and ten points ahead of Southampton and Albion respectively, both clubs will feel that with two thirds of the season still to play, automatic promotion remains an achievable target.
Russell Martin’s side, who were, of course, relegated from the Premier League last season, are unbeaten in seven games, winning five, having not lost since a resurgent Middlesbrough beat them at the Riverside in late September. That was a fourth successive defeat for Southampton, starting with a 5-0 defeat at Sunderland and a 4-1 home defeat by Leicester City, but a 3-1 win over Leeds United on the last day of September kicked off a remarkable turnaround in form.
Meanwhile, Corberán has led his side to a run of just one defeat in ten games with their performances in the four games since the last international break particularly impressive. Another good result at St Mary’s would leave the Baggies very well placed as they hope to welcome back more injured players after the next international break.
After the disastrous appointment of Nathan Jones last season, Southampton left caretaker Rubén Sellés in charge until the end of the season after Jones was sacked in mid-February, but they slumped to relegation, failing to win any of their last thirteen games of the campaign. In the summer, they brought in Swansea City boss, Russell Martin, to oversee their attempt to get back to the top flight.
The summer saw a massive squad overhaul with no less than 13 players leaving the club, many for huge fees including Roméo Lavia (£53m), Tino Livramento (£40m), James Ward-Prowse (£30) and Nathan Tella (£20m), with just six permanent signings coming in with the biggest being the £10.5m paid for Manchester City midfielder, Shea Charles. Four players also came in on loan from Premier League clubs – centre-back Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who impressed on loan at Burnley last season, joined from Manchester City, veteran winger Ryan Fraser joined from Newcastle United having been reduced to playing with the U21s at St James’s Park, midfielder Flynn Downes came in from West Ham United while a face familiar to Baggies fans, Mason Holgate, also joined on loan from Everton.
The squad still has plenty of Premier League experience with the likes of Kyle Walker-Peters, Jan Bednarek, Adam Armstrong, Stuart Armstrong and Ché Adams, many of whom also have plenty of Championship experience, so Martin should have the tools to make a strong challenge for promotion.
A relatively kind early fixture list saw Southampton play two of the promoted sides and relegation favourites QPR in their opening four games, all of which they won, with their other match being a remarkable 4-4 draw at home to Norwich City. They were beaten by League Two Gilllingham in the Carabao Cup, but ten points from their opening four league games saw the Saints in fourth place at the end of August before that run of four defeats saw them drop to the bottom half of the table in late September.
The run since then has been impressive, but their defensive record remains shaky. They have only kept two clean sheets this season, and none at St Mary’s. They have scored the same number of goals as Albion (25), but they have conceded ten more than Corberán’s team albeit that is largely down to the two heavy defeats in early September.
Russell Martin is very much a possession-based coach as we know, having witnessed his Swansea sides trying to pass teams to death over the last few years. That could suit Albion given the way they played in the second half against Hull City, albeit Southampton may have more dangerous attacking players than the Tigers. I would expect Corberán to set up the team to press high but then seek to contain when the Saints are in possession in Albion’s half, just as they did against Hull.
Martin has been consistent in his 4-3-3 formation this season with either Ché Adams or Adam Armstrong leading the line with support from Carlos Alcaraz, Kamaldeen Sulemana or Samuel Edozie. Flynn Downes tends to be at the base of midfield with two from Will Smallbone, Stuart Armstrong and Shea Charles completing the midfield three. Bednarek and Harwood-Bellis are the regular centre backs with Holgate finding his chances limited so far, but with Bednarek set to miss the game through suspension, we may see the Everton loanee at the Hawthorns. Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Manning, who followed Martin from Swansea, have been the regular full backs for most of the campaign albeit James Bree has started at left back in the last three games.
While the plan against Southampton may be similar to that for the Hull game, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same starting eleven, or indeed the same formation – Corberán’s approach is very much tailored to the opposition. I wouldn’t be surprised with either a back four or a back three, albeit I do feel that including Townsend does allow the team to easily switch between the two, as well as benefitting from Townsend’s better passing ability. Friday morning’s press conference revealed that Bartley had trained all week despite having to be withdrawn with a shoulder injury last weekend, so CC does have a full house to choose from at the back.
The midfield and attack are more difficult to predict as Corberán has tended to switch things around somewhat, but Diangana, Wallace and Phillips have been consistently selected of late while Okay seems to get the nod most of the time in midfield. However, everyone has given their best when selected in recent weeks, and I’d be comfortable with whatever selection Corberán feels will do the job, knowing that it is a 16-man game and the options on the bench are every bit as important.
This match will arguably be Albion’s toughest test of the season – they have played Leeds United, of course, who sit above Southampton in the table, but Farke’s team were still recovering from some early season disruption and probably weren’t firing on all cylinders. The Saints are bang in form and I’m sure most Baggies fans would take a point – all three would be a statement result.
The last time that Albion and Southampton met in the second tier, Adam Lallana scored for the Saints at the Hawthorns only for Chris Brunt to equalise and secure the point that guaranteed the Baggies’ return to the Premier League. That was in April 2008 in what proved to be a special week for Brunty as he became a father and scored a wonderful free kick at Loftus Road the following Sunday as Tony Mowbray’s side won the Championship title.
This season is only the fifth that the clubs have been in the second tier together since the 1940s, the previous four being two seasons in the noughties and two in the mid-seventies and the Baggies were victorious in none of those meetings! For the Baggies’ last second tier win over Saints, we have to go back to a 2-0 win in November 1948 at the Hawthorns when Len Millard and Billy Elliott scored the goals. In Southampton, their last second tier win was the previous season when Elliott was on the scoresheet again in a 1-0 victory at the Dell. Future England manager, Alf Ramsey, lined up as right back for the Saints in those games before he moved to Spurs in 1949.
In the top flight, however, there have been plenty of more recent successes albeit the Baggies recent record against Southampton has left much to be desired. The Baggies have won just two of the last nine meetings, the 3-0 home win in the clubs’ last meeting, and the 2-1 win at St Mary’s on New Year’s Eve 2016 when a wonder goal from Hal Robson-Kanu proved to be the difference.
Albion’s only other win at Saints’ new home was in April 2013 when Romelu Lukaku inspired the visitors to a 3-0 victory, scoring one himself with Marc-Antione Fortuné and Shane Long scoring the others. The game was marred by three red cards issued by Bobby Madley in what was his first Premier League game – Gastón Ramírez and Fortuné were both sent off after the Uruguayan appeared to elbow Shane Long and Fortuné reacted by pushing him in the face, while Danny Fox was dismissed for a reckless challenge on Steven Reid.
Given Albion have won only five times away to Southampton, it is not surprising that the victory in 2013 is their best. They won only three times in thirty visits to the Dell – after their first win in the 1947 match above, they won there twice in the late sixties. A Colin Suggett double earned Alan Ashman’s team a 2-0 win in the first match of the 1969/70 season, but the more memorable victory was in February 1968. After a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns in the fourth round of the FA Cup, Albion travelled to the south coast for the replay with some trepidation given their record at that venue. Frank Saul gave the hosts a tenth minute lead but goals from Jeff Astle and Bomber Brown put Albion ahead inside half an hour. The Saints equalised early in the second half but Astle popped up with his second and the winner two minutes from time to send the Baggies into round five, and onwards to ultimately winning the trophy.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Apr 2021 – Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Pereira (pen), Phillips, Robinson)
Last meeting at Southampton
4 Oct 2020 – Premier League
Southampton 2 (Djnepo, Romeu)
West Bromwich Albion 0
Last win at Southampton
31 Dec 2016 – Premier League
Southampton 1 (Long)
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Phillips, Robson-Kanu)
Albion’s Record against Southampton