It is, perhaps, somewhat fitting that Tony Pulis’s 1,000th game as a manager is against the club he led for almost half of those games (464), Stoke City. It is also fitting, and certainly encouraging for Baggies fans, that it is a fixture that he has never lost.
As has often been the case in the Welshman’s tenure at the Hawthorns, when he desperately needs a result, he seems to get one. Last weekend’s victory over West Ham was as unexpected as it was impressive. Pulis’s tactical nous came to the fore as he set up his team to pick the visitors off on the break, particularly evident for Albion’s fourth goal when every West Ham outfield player was within 40 yards of the Albion goalline when Rondón broke away.
The hosts were certainly helped by some woeful defending from the visitors from east London, with the double-handball from Masuaku that led to Chadli’s opener from the penalty spot an example of exceptional ineptitude. One difference from the previous outing at Dean Court, however, was that Albion took their chances. Chadli’s pass and Rondón’s finish for the second goal were both exquisite, and with the favour returned for the fourth goal, the first outing for that particular partnership, from the start at least, bodes well for the future.
After a game like that, it is tempting to be optimistic, but let’s not forget that Tony Pulis is still in charge. Although Albion scored seven against Gateshead and four against West Ham (again) in the FA Cup last season, it’s been five years since a Tony Pulis team scored four goals a Premier League game and, while I don’t have the stats to back it up, I can’t think that a win by a Pulis team has been first on Match of the Day too many times in the past!
We’ve seen such performances before, and they only serve to make the usual dross we witness all the more frustrating. Maybe this will be the start of something different, but I remain sceptical. As Pulis has said himself, his instructions have been to keep Albion in the Premier League, and nothing more. Unless the new owners change those targets, don’t expect too much change to the defence-first philosophy.
Not so long ago, a trip to the Potteries was a certain defeat for Albion, but Pulis’s departure from the then Britannia Stadium brought about a change of fortune and only once in the last five visits have the Baggies tasted defeat, and they have won all three of the meetings between the sides since the Welshman moved to the Hawthorns.
The optimism is further strengthened by Stoke’s start to the season. In the Premier League, they are yet to win picking up just one point from the first five games. Of the four defeats, they have conceded four goals on three occasions including the 4-1 defeat at Selhurst Park last weekend.
Mark Hughes is arguably under as much pressure as Pulis was ahead of last weekend’s game but, while a flaky West Ham defence was a perfect opposition for Albion, I’m not sure that a Pulis team would’ve been top of Sparky’s list of preferred opponents.
The occasion of Pulis’s 1,000th game will no doubt be celebrated by the home fans, perhaps even more than by the visitors’ section, so it will not be a normal pre-game atmosphere. Whether that will impact the outcome of the game remains to be seen, but Stoke’s famous hostile crowd may not be as vociferous as normal.
Albion’s next two games, including the trip to the Stadium of Light next weekend, are important given that they face Tottenham, Liverpool, Man City and champions Leicester in the following four games. It will be impressive if Albion remain in the top half of the table after that half-dozen fixtures.
With Stoke low on confidence, I think Albion can keep up their impressive run against the Potters and grab a narrow victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
2 Jan 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Sessègnon, Evans)
Stoke City 1 (Walters)
Last meeting at Stoke City
29 Aug 2015 – Premier League
Stoke City 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Albion’s Record against Stoke City
|Premier League Record|