Reading visit the Hawthorns this weekend for the first time in six years as the Baggies look to extend their six match unbeaten run in the league.
After recovering from a two-goal deficit at Hillsborough on Wednesday evening, Albion will be hoping that their league form at the Hawthorns will continue with a fifth successive victory, and that the curse of the Manager of the Month award will not strike.
Big Dave was joined by Dwight Gayle in winning an award as he was named the Championship Player of the Month after scoring five goals in five games during September.
Certain sections of the Albion fans have been highly critical of Darren Moore this season despite the team’s impressive results, and having seen him awarded Manager of the Month for September, in spite of the fact that Don Goodman is on the judging panel, I would hope they start to appreciate what a good job he is doing.
However, one justifiable criticism had been that his substitutions had not affected games when needed. Until Wednesday, that is. His decision to take off the Baggies strike pairing of Rodriguez and Gayle was viewed with incredulity by the Albion fans, but it proved to be a game changer.
Those two had very little joy from an organised Wednesday defence without the pace and natural width that Matt Phillips would normally offer. By introducing Barry, it allowed Brunt to push to a more natural wide position while Hoolahan and Barnes were allowed to float around behind Robson-Kanu and were able to find much more space. Barry provided excellent control in the middle of the park and, while Albion still conceded chances, it proved to be a masterstroke by Darren Moore.
And what a goal it was by Harvey Barnes for the equaliser – Lionel Messi would have been proud to have scored that goal. Following Gareth Southgate’s England squad announcement on Thursday which included Barnes’s Leicester team mate, James Maddison, the 18-year-old Dortmund starlet, Jaden Sancho, and Derby’s Chelsea loanee, Mason Mount, you have to wonder whether Harvey, himself, could be under consideration for a call up before the end of the season.
The point was not enough to keep the Baggies on top of the table and, with Leeds, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United all winning, they have dropped down to fourth but they are only one point off first place.
Looking forward to the weekend, hopefully Matt Phillips will be fit enough to take up his position at right wing back but, if he is a slight doubt, Moore may choose to use the international break to ensure he is 100% fit before he returns to action. I’d expect Barry to replace Brunt in the middle of the park but I wouldn’t expect much else to change from the side that started against Sheffield Wednesday.
Reading manager Paul Clement, brother of Baggies legend Neil, has enjoyed a difficult start to the season. The Royals didn’t register a league victory until game seven, winning at Deepdale by the same scoreline as Albion did last weekend. They have won once more since then beating Hull City 3-0 at the Madejski Stadium a fortnight ago and sit in 20th place in the table with just nine points. Consistency seems to be a big issue as, after following up that home win with a creditable draw at Brentford last weekend, albeit against ten men, they then lost 1-0 at home to fellow strugglers, QPR, on Tuesday evening.
A contributory factor in that defeat could be the late withdrawal of Reading top scorer, Jón Dadi Bödvarsson, through injury. He has seven goals this season including a brace at Griffin Park last weekend and another at Blackburn in August. It’s not clear whether he will be fit enough to play at the Hawthorns, but he will obviously be a big miss for Clement if he fails to make it.
Reading will be happy to be on the road again as their chief troubles have been at home. They have lost five of their six games at the Madejski, but just one away from home, at Nottingham Forest. Three of their five away games have ended all square with their one victory coming at Preston.
Saturday will be the 41st meeting between the sides, and the 20th at the Hawthorns, and Albion hold the edge with 18 wins to the Royals’ 13. Reading have just four wins at the Hawthorns, the most recent of which came in 2010 in a fifth round FA Cup replay when, leading 2-1 heading into stoppage time thanks to a brace from Robert Koren, the Baggies conceded twice to goals from Brian Howard and Gylfi Sigurðsson sending the visitors into the quarter finals.
Albion’s biggest win over Reading came in a Division Two fixture in March 1929 as goals from Jimmy Cookson (2), Tommy Glidden, Jimmy Edwards and Arthur Fitton helped them to a 5-0 win at the Hawthorns. The previous year, the clubs exchanged sixteen goals in two games as each side recorded a 5-3 victory at home with Jimmy Cookson scoring four in the match at the Hawthorns and a hat-trick at Elm Park. In fact, in the first five meetings between Albion and Reading from the first game at Elm Park in 1927 which the Baggies won 4-1, Jimmy Cookson scored no fewer than 12 goals. Mind you, he did score 110 goals in 131 games for Albion.
The Royals’ record win at the Hawthorns came in the second leg of a second round League Cup tie. After a 1-1 draw at Elm Park, it was 1-1 at half time at the Hawthorns after Stuart Lovell and Darryl Burgess exchanged goals. Jimmy Quinn then turn the game in the visitors’ favour with two goals, one of which came from the spot, to put Reading 3-1 up. Kevin Donovan pulled one back for the hosts before James Lambert added a fourth for the visitors late on for a 4-2 victory.
Albion’s 1-0 win in the last meeting at the Hawthorns, thanks to a goal by Romelu Lukaku, is their only win in the last seven meetings between the sides. However, Reading’s last league victory in West Bromwich was back in 1988 when Linden Jones scored the only goal of the game.
Albion should have too much for Reading and I predict home league victory number five.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
20 Feb 2016 – FA Cup 5th Round
Reading 3 (McShane, Hector, Piazon)
West Brom 1 (Fletcher)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
22 Sep 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Lukaku)
Albion’s Record against Reading
Picture courtesy of Laurie Rampling