Having successfully negotiated Storm Ciara last Sunday, Albion face another match in wet and windy weather on Saturday lunchtime as Storm Dennis is forecast to hit as Slaven Bilić’s team are due to take on Nottingham Forest at the Hawthorns.
With three successive victories, the Baggies will be full of confidence ahead of this game but they will also be very wary of a Forest side that are enjoying a good run of form themselves.
Sabri Lamouchi’s side have won six of their last ten Championship games to put themselves right in the mix for automatic promotion. Their victory over Leeds United last Saturday evening saw them move to within a point of Marcelo Bielsa’s team, but Lamouchi opted to rest a number of players for the visit of Charlton Athletic to the City Ground on Tuesday evening and paid the price as they surprisingly lost 1-0. They remain in touch, however, as the chasing pack are now bunched together with just three points between Leeds United in second and Bristol City in seventh.
Forest’s leading scorer, Lewis Grabban, was one of five changes that Lamouchi made on Tuesday although his absence was down to a knee injury and he remains a doubt for the match at the Hawthorns. Sammy Ameobi and Malian midfielder, Samba Sow, were also ruled out through injury on Tuesday but both are expected to be fit for Saturday. Assuming Grabban misses out, Tyler Walker is expected to lead the line again – he scored the second goal in the Reds’ victory over Leeds last weekend, his first goal for the club this season having just been recalled from a successful loan spell at Lincoln City.
Joe Lolley remains one of Forest’s main attacking threats having scored seven goals and registered six assists so far this campaign. One of their other stand out performers this season is right back, Matty Cash. He scored in Albion’s 2-1 victory at the City Ground on the opening weekend of the season and, at just 22, he is likely be on many Premier League shopping lists in the summer should Forest fail to win promotion.
Slaven Bilić will have been delighted with his team’s performances this week and his biggest decision is whether to keep the same starting line up for a third game inside six days. It will tempting to do just that, but he will have all the statistics as to the fitness of each player and I’m sure that will be factored into the decision.
If everyone is fit and raring to go, I’m sure the Croat will want to capitalise on the current momentum and will keep things consistent – there is a full week’s break after Saturday’s match giving time for recovery ahead of another tough match at Bristol City, although that is the start of another three game week.
Ultimately, whatever decisions Bilić makes will be judged by the result – another three points and he will have got it right; anything else and there will be criticism from some quarters.
One of the keys to the recovery in the Baggies’ form has undoubtedly been Filip Krovinović. The Croatian midfielder was lauded in the opening few games of the season, but as Matheu Pereira hit form in the number ten position, he was forced onto the substitutes bench. There has obviously been no ill feeling as the two seem to be the best of friends and are definitely playing well together. Earlier in the season, I felt that Krov was too slow in making the forward pass, and opportunities to keep a move flowing were lost. In recent games, however, he has been excellent and it is a shame that there is apparently no option to buy the Croat at the end of the season, although perhaps negotiations will be in the pipeline.
Another key player in the last three games has been Callum Robinson. He was such an astute signing by Dowling and team – he knows the division well and has been able to hit the ground running. Having watched the Reading game again, I thought he was excellent and caused a huge number of problems for Andy Yiadom at right back. It will be interesting to see how he fares against Matt Cash on Saturday.
The conditions will be difficult, although it should be perhaps a little easier at the Hawthorns with its closed corners than it was at the more open Den on Sunday. I’m sure the atmosphere will be rocking despite the early kick off and, while Forest are in theory a tougher test than any of the sides Albion have beaten in 2020, I see no reason why they cannot record another victory.
It’s been 19 years since the Baggies last recorded a home victory over Nottingham Forest, although there have only been three meetings between the sides at the Hawthorns since. It was in 2001 that Uwe Rösler scored the only goal of the game, but the season before saw a much more comfortable victory for Albion.
At the halfway point of the 2000/01 campaign, Gary Megson’s first full season in charge at the Hawthorns, the Baggies were handily place in 4th place in the table just four points off Bolton Wanderers who occupied the second automatic promotion place. Fulham were ten points further ahead.
Game 24 of the season was on the Saturday before Christmas and the visitors were Forest, then managed by David Platt. The Tricky Trees were just two points behind Albion in 7th spot, so it was an important game for both sides.
A crowd of just over 20,000 saw the hosts open the scoring in the 8th minute. Neil Clement, who had made his loan move from Chelsea permanent in the previous summer, advanced down the left wing and played the ball back inside to Richard Sneekes. The Dutchman played the ball into Jason Roberts who had his back to goal on the edge of the box – he turned sharply and fired an unstoppable right footed shot into the top corner giving Forest ‘keeper, Dave Beasant, no chance.
The second goal was a real howler by the visitors. The build up involved some neat interplay between Ruel Fox, Des Lyttle and Neil Clement before the ball found its way to Lee Hughes on the right wing. He lifted the ball into a dangerous area and, under little pressure, Forest’s American midfielder, Ben Olsen, fired the ball into his own net to give Albion a 2-0 lead just before half time.
The hosts made the points truly safe just 11 minutes after the break after some great work by Lee Hughes. The young striker attacked down the right and cut inside to try and beat Forest defender, Christian Edwards – he almost lost the ball but his tenacity saw him come away from the challenge in possession and he crossed the ball for Jason Roberts to make it 3-0 with the simplest of headers from just a yard out.
Albion, of course, went on to lose to Bolton Wanderers in the play-offs that season, while Forest faded and ended up finishing in 11th place – they’ve not made it back to the top flight since.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Aug 2019 – League Championship
Nottingham Forest 1 (Cash)
West Brom 2 (Edwards, Phillips)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
12 Feb 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Murphy, Rodriguez (pen))
Nottingham Forest 2 (Johansen (o.g.), Yates)
Last win at the Hawthorns
4 Nov 2001 – League Division 1
West Brom 1 (Rösler)
Nottingham Forest 0
Albion’s Record against Nottingham Forest