Having suffered defeat in his last two games against his former clubs, Bournemouth and Palace, Stoke City visit the Hawthorns for the first game of 2016 with the Welshman looking to make it three from three in against the Potters since he’s been at the Hawthorns.
As we all know, that contrasts wildly from the Baggies’ record against Stoke over the past 30 years and the victory that Pulis guided Albion to back in March was the first home win for the Baggies in this fixture in the Premier League. That was followed by a 1-0 win at the Britannia in August and, should Albion win on Saturday, it will be their first league double over the Potters since 1977 and the first time they have recorded three successive wins in this fixture since 1933.
Regular readers will know that Tony Pulis has been the subject of a fair degree of criticism on this website in recent weeks, but I also believe that I do hand out the praise when it is due and, while Monday’s victory over Newcastle United was far from perfect, there were signs of a change in approach.
The starting line-up raised a few eyebrows, mainly due to Victor Anichebe’s first start of the season, but I was pleased to see Sessègnon back in from the start and Chris Brunt playing left wing. The biggest change from recent weeks was that Albion attacked from the first whistle and dominated the first half while failing to break through. As for Big Vic, he was excellent and offered much more over the 85 minutes than any of our other forwards have done this season, other than that all important goal, of course. I was thinking that Anichebe might actually play 90 minutes but, of course, he broke down and won’t get the chance to repeat his performance any time soon.
Obviously, Pulis couldn’t go through an entire match without a little criticism being due and, on this occasion, it was the first substitution that left me frustrated once again. While I’m not convinced that Jonny Evans is a left back, Brunt’s position on the left wing gave the starting eleven a balance that was missing from the side that started at the Liberty stadium. But when Olsson got injured, the decision to replace him with Gardner meant that the former Sunderland man was pushed out wide left once more, a position I think he is patently unsuited to. This was never more evident than on Saturday when he spent most of his time roving over the pitch leaving Albion with no outlet on the left hand side – on more than one occasion, an Albion defender was in possession looking for an out ball on the left, only to have to launch it centrally. Given that Albion were struggling to get the goal their dominance deserved, the introduction of Callum McManaman for Olsson seemed to be an obvious solution to provide that extra something to unlock the Newcastle defence.
After beating a side low in confidence in the bottom three, Saturday presents a much tougher challenge in the shape of Stoke City. The Potters are on a run of eight wins from the last thirteen games and they are a very different proposition to the winless team that Albion beat in north Staffordshire back in August.
While Mark Hughes has got City playing some attractive football, most of those eight wins have been low scoring before their impressive 4-3 win at Goodison Park on Monday. In fact, that result is so far from the norm for Stoke that it could be dismissed as a freak. It is the first time that they had either scored or conceded more than two goals in a game this season.
Nonetheless, Stoke will be full of confidence after that win and with Shaqiri and Arnautovic, in particular, playing well, they will present a potent attacking threat. I suspect that may lead to Pulis setting up defensive once again, but I’d love to see Albion take the game to Stoke from minute one, just as they did against Newcastle.
James McClean and Salomón Rondón will see out the last of their three match suspensions and, with Victor Anichebe out with the hamstring injury he picked up on Monday, that leaves Pulis with a straight choice between Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino up front. The injury to Jonas Olsson means that we are likely return to the top four we saw regularly early in the season with Brunt at left back, Evans and McAuley in the middle and Dawson on the right.
Stoke will be without Marc Muniesa, Peter Crouch and Stephen Ireland who all have hamstring injuries, while veteran goalkeeper, Shay Given, is a long term absentee with a knee problem.
I am tempted to dismiss Stoke’s last game as a freak result and I am expecting a tight encounter with few goals. It really could go either way, but I think the points will be shared in what would be the first Premier League draw between the sides at the Hawthorns.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
29 Aug 2015 – Premier League
Stoke City 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
14 Mar 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Ideye)
Stoke City 0
Albion’s Record against Stoke City
|Premier League Record|