After finally securing his first victory as Baggies boss, Sam Allardyce takes his new team to one of his old clubs for the first time on Tuesday evening as Albion visit West Ham United. The visitors will be looking to avoid defeat in successive games for just the second time this campaign.
The level and quality of performance at Molineux must be the new minimum if Albion are to have any chance of staying in the Premier League this season. It was a huge improvement on previous games but it was by no means a perfect performance. We should all remember that Wolves are a team low on confidence and they still scored twice and had a number of other chances that more on form strikers would have taken – had Raúl Jiménez been playing, I’m not sure Albion would have won that game.
Nonetheless, those three points were massive and the players need to take that confidence boost into the game at the London Stadium. It will not be an easy task with the Hammers in good form – they are unbeaten in five games and on a run of three successive victories in all competitions. Having said that, David Moyes’ side is hardly free-scoring – those three most recent victories were all 1-0, including their FA Cup tie at non-league Stockport County, and they have only scored more than once on three occasions in their last 13 Premier League games scoring just 14 goals in that period. Furthermore, top scorer, Sébastien Haller, signed for Ajax earlier this month leaving midfielder, Tomáš Souček, as their most potent force with five goals.
Obviously, West Ham’s goal record compares favourably to Albion’s but it does suggest that keeping the Hammers out should not be as difficult a challenge as the Baggies will face against other opponents. Eight of the Hammers’ 25 goals this season have come from set pieces and, with both of the goals conceded on Saturday coming from that source, it is an area that Allardyce and his coaching team need to continue to work on. Having said that, the defensive organisation at Molineux was otherwise very good, it’s just that winning games when conceding twice is not something Albion look capable of doing too often this season.
It’s a very quick turnaround for the Tuesday evening kick-off and it will be interesting to see what changes Big Sam will make to the starting line-up.
I’d expect Conor Gallagher to come back in following his suspension and, for me, it would be at the expense of Romaine Sawyers. I thought Sawyers was one of Albion’s weaker players at Wolves – his passing accuracy of 73.8% was still one of the better values for Albion players, but there were too many simple passes that went astray for me and he is still too passive when not in possession. In fact, I thought that the Baggies won the game despite being outplayed in the middle of the park and the return of Gallagher will be extremely welcome.
At the back, Bartley and Ajayi were immense on Saturday with Bartley, in particular, playing out of his skin with eight clearances and four blocked shots. Ajayi led the stats in winning eight aerial duels. Only injury would surely split that partnership while I would expect the full backs to remain unchanged. David Button may have to continue in goal depending on the COVID situation with Sam Johnstone.
I’d also be surprised to see much change in the front four unless Grady Diangana has covered from his hamstring tweak, and even then I would be surprised to see him risked. One or two may be feeling the effects of the weekend’s exertions, I guess, but I would expect that to be handled with earlier-than-usual substitutions rather than a change to the starting line-up.
As for David Moyes’ selection headaches, Balbuena missed the weekend’s game self-isolating having come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 so he must be doubtful for Tuesday while Arthur Masuaku is a long-term absentee. He otherwise has a full squad available.
Only once before during this campaign, with the draws against Burnley and Brighton, have Albion managed to avoid defeat in successive games, and it is sustained performances and results that will be vitally important if the Baggies are to drag themselves closer to the safety line.
Surprisingly, the Baggies are on a three match unbeaten run in away league matches having secured draws at Manchester City and Liverpool before the win at Wolves. That is just one short of their Premier League record of four, something they have achieved twice, most recently at the start of the Tony Pulis era in early 2015 with draws at West Ham under caretaker boss, Rob Kelly, and Everton, Burnley and Sunderland under the Welshman.
A victory would not only match this record, but it would also be the Baggies’ first in the Premier League on a Tuesday.
Well, records are there to be broken and if there is one thing that Saturday’s victory brought, it is hope.