Albion visit the Premier League’s newest stadium for the first time this weekend as they take on West Ham at their new home, the London Stadium, looking to extend their current run of good form. The Baggies sit fourth in the current form table with 13 points from the last 18, and will look to capitalise on the Hammers’ relatively poor start to life in Stratford.
Slaven Bilić’s team sit 15th in the home Premier League table this season, with 17 points from 12 games. They have lost five home league games already this season, compared to just three in the entirety of their last season at Upton Park. The most recent of those was a 4-0 thumping by Manchester City at the beginning of February, coming less than a month after a 5-0 hammering in the FA Cup at the hands of the same opponents.
It has been a somewhat erratic season for the Irons, and they haven’t truly settled in their new home. While they won their first two games at the former Olympic Stadium, against NK Domžale of Slovenia in the Europa League and Bournemouth in their first home league game, that was followed by a somewhat inglorious 1-0 home defeat to Romanian side, Astra Giurgiu, that kicked off a run of eight defeats in nine games in all competitions, with their one result being a 1-0 League Cup win over Accrington Stanley thanks to a 90th minute winner from Dimitri Payet.
The good omen for the Baggies is that West Ham are yet to defeat a side above them in the table in the league this season, and their nine league wins this season have come against eight of the current bottom nine sides in the table (they have done the double over Palace and lost their one game with Leicester). The Hammers’ current form, however, is much improved with a run of six wins from their last nine games in the Premier League seeing them rise the table to sit one place and five points below Albion in 9th.
The run includes three wins from their last four, including 3-1 away wins at Middlesbrough and Southampton, coinciding with their star player engineering a move back to France, a period that may have brought the remaining squad closer together.
It will be another tough test for Albion, although if they can get in front, the stats suggest that a win could well be on the cards. West Ham have lost nine of the twelve games in which they have conceded first, and heads do seem to drop once they go behind as demonstrated by the fact that they have let in three or more goals on seven occasions in the league this season.
Having said that, it is more than thirteen years since Albion last recorded a win at West Ham. That was a Division One game that will stick long in the memory as Albion recovered from being 3-0 down after 18 minutes to win the game 4-3. The Baggies only Premier League win at Upton Park came the previous season, and was their first ever away win in the Premier League as Jason Roberts scored the only goal of the game in September 2002. Five of the subsequent seven meetings in east London have ended all square, the most memorable of which was a 3-3 draw just over three years ago when Nicolas Anelka sparked controversy by celebrating his brace with a quenelle – Albion’s other goalscorer that day was a certain Saido Berahino.
Berahino made all the headlines last week, of course, but for his off-field activities rather than those on the pitch. The Hawthorns faithful were vocal in their feelings towards their ex-striker, although they were not perhaps given as many opportunities to boo Berahino as they might have expected. Having come of the bench just before the hour mark, he was on the pitch for almost twenty minutes before he touched the ball.
The equaliser that many Baggies fans feared did not materialise as Albion held out for what should have been a far more comfortable victory. Morrison’s goal was the culmination of an excellent move in which Naceur Chadli was instrumental – it was far and away Chadli’s best performance since his injury and, with Morrison, Brunt and Phillips also on good form, Albion’s attacking possibilities are looking strong.
That makes it all the more surprising that they found the net just once against Stoke, particularly after a first half that produced numerous chances. That is a surprise given that Albion have been fairly clinical this season – only Chelsea (14.6%) and Arsenal (13.2%) have converted a greater percentage of their goal attempts this season than the Baggies (12.8%) – Saturday’s opponents sit 15th in that particular table having converted 9.7% of their attempts.
Thankfully, Albion’s attacking players have remained fit for the vast majority of the season, and overall the squad has had fewer injuries that you might expect. Jonny Evans remains a doubt with his long-running calf injury and it is unclear whether Claudio Yacob will have recovered from the stomach problem that saw him withdraw shortly before the Stoke match thereby handing Jake Livermore his first start for the Baggies, an opportunity he took full advantage of. Craig Dawson has looked fully at home in the centre of defence alongside McAuley, and looks to be securing his spot as the long term partner for Jonny Evans – Gareth McAuley may be better than JT but he is also older and I would be surprised to see him a first choice beyond the end of this season.
The hosts have a much longer injury list with ten players definitely out or doubtful, including Andy Carroll, who faces a late fitness test, Aaron Cresswell, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Diafra Sakho. Sakho, of course, almost joined the Baggies last summer but failed a medical. He didn’t return to the first team until November and suffered a hamstring injury after just three appearances and has been out ever since – it certainly sounds like the medical team saved the Baggies from wasting £15m!
Either side could win this game; Albion have been more consistent this season but if West Ham play as well as they can, it will be tough to contain them. I see this ending all square.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Sep 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 4 (Chadli (2, 1 pen), Rondón, McClean)
West Ham United 2 (Antonio, Lazini (pen))
Last meeting at West Ham United
29 Nov 2015 – Premier League
West Ham United 1 (Zárate)
West Brom 1 (Reid (o.g.))
Last win at West Ham United
8 Nov 2003 – League Division 1
West Ham United 3 (Defoe, Deane (2))
West Brom 4 (Hulse (2), Deane (o.g.), Hughes)
Albion’s Record against West Ham United
|Premier League Record|