Darren Moore’s Baggies face Sheffield Wednesday in the final game of 2018 looking to complete a feat that the club haven’t managed since 1955.
It seems unlikely given how last season went, but should Albion find the net on Saturday, they will have scored in every single home league game of the calendar year. The last Albion team to do that was Vic Buckingham’s great side of 1955 who scored 40 goals in their 22 home league matches in that year. The 2018 version has already scored 42 goals in their 21 league games at the Hawthorns so far this year although 31 of those have come in the 7 matches in the second tier.
Standing between the Baggies and that unexpected record are Sheffield Wednesday, still without a permanent manager at the time of writing after sacking Jos Luhukay last week, although there are strong rumours that Steve Bruce will take over from the current caretaker boss, Lee Bullen, in the near future.
So far, however, Bullen is doing very nicely with the Owls having won both matches since the Dutchman was dismissed by a single goal. They defeated Preston 1-0 at Hillsborough on Saturday and also managed to beat Tony Pulis’s ‘Boro side at the Riverside on Boxing Day.
Those results have certainly arrested an alarming slide that had seen Wednesday drop from play-off contenders in 6th place in early October to the verge of the relegation zone in 18th in mid-December. Though they remain in the bottom half of the table, the two victories either side of Christmas mean that they are now just nine points off the play-offs which, in this division, means they’re still in the mix.
Albion were fortunate to come away with a point from their trip to Hillsborough earlier in the campaign, needing a wonder goal from Harvey Barnes to square the match with a few minutes left. They will need a strong performance to overcome the Owls now that Bullen seems to have shored up a defence that had previously kept only two clean sheets in the league all season. More shutouts than the Baggies had, perhaps, but Wednesday don’t have the same firepower with Lucas João (8) and Adam Reach (6) the only players to have scored more than four goals this season.
Reach has a reputation for scoring screamers, like the one he scored against Albion in October, but he managed one from close range on Wednesday against ‘Boro. He will be looking forward to a trip to the Hawthorns as he seems to like the games against the big boys – all but one of his goals this season have come against teams in the top six.
Barry Bannan is often the man to watch for Wednesday and he was instrumental in their victory at the Riverside on Boxing Day. He is prone to a yellow card, however, and was suspended for the match against the Baggies in South Yorkshire having already picked up five bookings by the end of September, and the ‘Boro game was his first game back from a two game ban after doubling his card tally in the intervening period. He and Reach are the beating heart of the Owls midfield averaging 2.1 and 1.7 key passes per match respectively according to WhoScored.com, each more than double any other player in the squad. Stopping those two will be the key to stopping Wednesday.
For Darren Moore, he may have some difficult decisions to make in terms of selection. The biggest worry is, of course, Dwight Gayle – the extent of his hamstring injury is unknown at the time of writing, but he will almost certainly not be risked on Saturday and could be out for some time.
My gut feel is that J-Rod has been a little off the pace of late. WhoScored.com recorded that he had four mis-controls against Wigan compared to an average of 1.9, although his overall rating of 8.67, obviously helped by his two goals, was his highest of the season.
Statistics never tell the full story, however, and he should be full of confidence having scored a brace on Wednesday. Moreover, Moore is now short of options up front which means that Rodriguez is almost certain to start against Wednesday, with Hal Robson-Kanu likely to come in for Gayle.
Bakary Sako is likely to get some time in the next few games and, while he has not really impressed in his two appearances to date (his pass success rate is the lowest in the squad at under 60%, albeit from just 85 minutes of football), Big Dave may be forced into giving him another chance.
There are also some youth players who in a front three such as Burke, Edwards and Leko, but while Burke has made a couple of matchday squads recently, and got a few minutes on the pitch against Villa, neither of the others have featured in the eighteen since Edwards made the bench against Derby County.
Rekeem Harper seems the most likely of the young players to get some time having been on the bench for each of the last eight matches, but with Barry, Brunt, Livermore, Phillips and Morrison ahead of him for a place in that middle three, he seems unlikely to feature barring a spate of injuries.
In defence, I’d be surprised to see any changes immediately barring any injuries. Gibbs got a little bit of a rest on Wednesday and Tosin, who tends to get forward less anyway, shows no signs of fatigue. Dawson and Hegazi are also still going strong and with two clean sheets, so I can’t see any changes being made there for the time being.
Sheffield Wednesday will undoubtedly present a much tougher challenge than Wigan did, and the Baggies will need to show more than they did on Boxing Day to claim all three points. Gayle is undoubtedly a miss, although Albion have only lost one of the seven games that he hasn’t started this season, which include the first four of this current unbeaten run.
If fatigue is to be an issue over this holiday period, this game will probably show some signs, so it’s important that Big Dave has some options with energy on the bench.
The Baggies’ Harvey Barnes-inspired comeback at Hillsborough in October means that they are now on a five match unbeaten run against Wednesday with the Owls’ last victory over Albion coming at the Hawthorns in April 2007.
It’s that long ago that Baggies’ club captain, who is just seven short of making 400 appearances for Albion, was playing for Sheffield Wednesday that day. Deon Burton scored the only goal of the game, which may not have been given had goal line technology been around, but the game was perhaps more notable for the fact that the hosts finished it with nine players despite going into stoppage time with a full complement. Substitute, Neil Clement, was dismissed for headbutting Leon Clarke in the 92nd minute while Darren Carter received a second yellow card two minutes later. That result effectively ended the Baggies’ hopes of making the top two that season and they ended up losing to Derby County in the play-off final.
On the next meeting between the sides at the Hawthorns in November 2007, Brunt came on as a substitute to make his first appearance against Wednesday, but it was another player facing his old side who made the headlines. Albion dominated the game and took a deserved lead through Kevin Phillips with 13 minutes left, only for former Baggie, Steve Watson, to grab a controversial injury time equaliser.
Going back in time, Albion’s biggest win over Wednesday was in the days when they were just that, “The Wednesday”. In April 1895, Albion had to put the pain of an FA Cup final defeat to Aston Villa two days earlier behind them as they needed a win in their final league game of the campaign to escape the prospect of relegation to Division Two. They needn’t have worried as goals from Jasper Geddes (2), Tom Hutchinson, Roddie McLeod, Tom Higgins and Tom Perry saw them win the game at Stoney Lane 6-0 sending Stoke into a relegation “test match” on goal average. Stoke, incidentally, beat Newton Heath (who became Manchester United) in the test match to retain their First Division status.
The Baggies’ biggest win over the Owls at the Hawthorns was in November 1938 in a second division fixture. A brace from Meynell Burgin was added to by goals from Jeff Spence, Doug Witcomb and Ike Clarke as the hosts ran out 5-1 winners.
Our visitors’ biggest win at the Hawthorns was also 5-1. In April 1912, a fortnight after the Titantic went down, The Wednesday’s victory was ensured by a hat trick from David McLean and a brace from Sam Kirkman. “Sheffield” was officially added to club name in 1929.
Albion to complete the feat of scoring in every home league game of 2018 and to go on and take all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Oct 2018 – League Championship
Sheffield Wednesday 2 (Reach, Forrestieri)
West Brom 2 (Pelupessy (o.g.), Barnes)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
9 Mar 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Koren)
Sheffield Wednesday 0
Albion’s Record against Sheffield Wednesday