After a disappointing opening day defeat at home to Bolton Wanderers, Darren Moore’s men face a tough test in their first televised fixture of the season as they take on Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, but have a new face in the shape of Dwight Gayle to offer hope of a change in fortune.
Aitor Karanka’s squad has been boosted by the addition of eleven players spending something in the region of £25m, raising expectations in Nottingham that the club could finally end their near twenty year exile from the Premier League. The fans will certainly be hoping for a first win of the season on Tuesday evening having drawn their opening day fixture at Bristol City.
Four Portuguese have joined Forest’s ranks with João Carvalho (£13.2m) and Diogo Gonçalves (loan) joining from Benfica, Tobias Figueiredo (undisclosed fee) from Sporting while Gil Dias joined on loan from Monaco. More familiar names that have joined this summer include Lewis Grabban (undisclosed) from Bournemouth, Michael Dawson (free) from Hull City, Costel Pantilimon (undisclosed) from Watford, Jack Colback (loan) from Newcastle and former Baggies Ben Watson (free) from Watford and Luke Steele (free) from Bristol City.
While the summer spending has brought some optimism, Karanka’s time at Forest has not exactly set the world alight. He took over in January following the sacking of Mark Warburton. The club were 14th in the table but Karanka failed to turn much around and they eventually finished 17th having won just five times under the Spaniard’s stewardship.
For Darren Moore, any new season optimism took a blow as they succumbed to defeat by Bolton despite dominating the game. The hosts had 72% possession, a figure they surely haven’t registered in any match since, perhaps, the Tony Mowbray era, but were found wanting in both boxes.
At the back, Sam Johnstone looked nervous, Bartley and Hegazi didn’t look to have developed much of an understanding as yet while Gibbs looked disinterested at times and you do wonder whether he is expecting to move. Ironically, Allan Nyom was the most impressive of the back five including a number of surging runs.
Further forward, it is clear that Albion were short of a striker and a front two of HRK and Rodriguez left much to be desired. The Welshman has had a decent pre-season, scoring five goals, but he never looked like troubling the scoresheet on Saturday. Rodriguez worked hard but lacked any real imagination and there was a distinct lack of movement across all forward areas. Harvey Barnes looked good and scored a wonder goal but Brunt, Livermore and Phillips couldn’t find the spark to open up a resolute defence.
To be fair to Bolton, they defended exceptionally well and capitalised on some very lax defending at the other end, but they should be considered fortunate to take all three points.
The defensive frailties were perhaps the most worrying, but hopefully that was down to first-day nerves with wholesale changes and two debutants in front of a bumper crowd, rather than anything more fundamental. Certainly the reports on Johnstone and Bartley from Villa and Leeds respectively were very positive.
Monday’s loan signing of Dwight Gayle has gone some way to address the issues up front – he is unlikely to start against Forest as he has only just arrived, but he may well see some action from the bench. Furthermore, I still feel we need more up front, possibly both another striker and an attacking midfielder. What’s certain is that Gayle is not a Rondón replacement, they are very different players. Neither Rodriguez, should he stay, or HRK can play as a target man, and while that might not be the way Moore wants to play, it’s always good to have that option.
But what about Tuesday’s game? While Forest have spent big this summer, it is still early days and, while they may hope to do what Wolves did last season with an influx of Portuguese players, Saturday’s draw at Bristol City suggests that, like Albion, they aren’t yet flying on all cylinders. But the home crowd will be just as expectant as the Hawthorns faithful were which, as we saw, can create its own pressures – perhaps being the away side will suit Albion a little more; it’s certainly something that the players here last year will be more used to.
If the Baggies can bounce back and get all three points, Saturday’s defeat will be largely forgotten but, while it is a long season, another defeat will pile on the pressure for next weekend’s trip to Norwich.
Tuesday evening will be the 115th league meeting between West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest, but the first for more than eight years since Billy Davies’ Forest team beat Roberto di Matteo’s Baggies at the Hawthorns in January 2010.
Albion hold sway in the stats having won 51 of the league encounters to Forest’s 40, and the Baggies have a particularly good record in Nottingham having just one fewer of the league meetings in the east midlands than their hosts. Indeed, Albion have won on their last three league visits to the City Ground including a 3-0 win in 2003 in which Jason Koumas scored a wonder goal, and a vital 1-0 win in 2002 when Bob Taylor scored the only goal of the game as the Baggies chased down Wolves on the road to their first promotion to the Premier League.
Albion’s record win at the City Ground was back in November 1930 when Stan Wood and Ginger Richardson both scored twice in a 6-1 victory. The Reds biggest win over the Baggies is also 6-1, a feat that they have achieved twice. Once in the league back in 1899 when Fred Forman and Grenville Morris both grabbed a brace, and more recently in the League Cup in 1982 – Brian Clough’s side hammered the Baggies in the first leg of the second round tie with Ian Wallace (2), John Robertson (2 pens), Steve Hodge and Gary Birtles on the scoresheet fro the home side after Cyrille Regis had given the visitors a 4th minute lead.
The early years of this fixture saw lots of goals with Albion’s first three visits to Forest, to their previous home, the Town Ground, produced no less than 20 goals with the visitors winning the first two 4-3 and 3-2 but Forest winning the third 5-3 – that was Forest’s first ever win over Albion in December 1894.
Other notable results include a 5-1 FA Cup victory for Albion in 1958 in a fourth round replay after a 3-3 draw at the Hawthorns. Tommy Wilson opened the scoring for the hosts, but goals from Bobby Robson and Frank Griffin put the Baggies 2-1 up by the break, and further goals from Brian Whitehouse and Derek Kevan, and a penalty from Don Howe secured the fifth round spot for Albion. A few years later, Howe and Kevan were once again on the scoresheet at the City Ground as the two clubs shared eight goals in Division One fixture in October 1961. Clive Clark and Keith Smith were Albion’s other scorers while the hosts’ goals came courtesy of Colin Addison (2), a Stan Jones own goal and a late penalty from Calvin Palmer.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
8 Jan 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Bednar)
Nottingham Forest 3 (Blackstock, Majewski, Cohen)
Last meeting at Nottingham Forest
15 Aug 2009 – League Championship
Nottingham Forest 0
West Brom 1 (Cohen (o.g.))
Albion’s Record against Nottingham Forest