West Bromwich Albion’s nearest Premier League neighbours visit the Hawthorns this weekend and, while not a traditional local derby, recent contests have always been fiercely contested and Saturday’s encounter could have special added spice.
The road trip from West Bromwich to Stoke is just under forty miles and, while Leicester may be slightly closer as the crow files, the journey to the Bet365 Stadium is the shortest one that Albion will make this season. That particular visit back in September finished all square which was the first time that Tony Pulis had failed to beat the Potters since he took the helm at the Hawthorns. After a run of one win in sixteen meetings with Stoke (or 3 wins in 36 in all competitions), the Welshman’s arrival at the Hawthorns resulted in a turnaround of fortunes in this fixture with Albion having picked up ten points from the last four meetings. Pulis, himself, is yet to taste defeat in a match between the clubs.
While the City fans’ “We always beat West Brom!” chant may now need to be confined to history, there is a new edge to the fixture following the transfer of Saido Berahino to north Staffordshire last month. It will be interesting to see what the lyricists in the Smethwick and the Brummie might come up with for Saturday afternoon, having received some additional “material” with the revelation this week that the Burundi-born striker served an eight-week ban for testing positive for recreational drugs during his time at the Hawthorns.
Berahino made his first appearance for his new club on Tuesday evening, coming off the bench in Stoke’s home draw with Everton, and he could well make his full debut on Saturday. While I wish Saido all the best on his new career, as I said in my article last week, were he to score against the Baggies this weekend, it would be hard to take.
After a dreadful start to the season which saw City take just one point from the first five games, Mark Hughes has guided them up the table and they now sit one place and four points behind the Baggies in ninth. They had a wobble in December after beating Burnley at the beginning of the month, they picked up just two points from the next five games, but they are unbeaten in the Premier League in 2017 with eight points from their four games. They did, however, lose at home to the Baggies’ Black Country rivals, Wolves, in the FA Cup Third Round.
Another new signing who could be facing his old club is, of course, Marc Wilson. Albion’s deadline day signing on loan from Bournemouth spent six years at Stoke, most of that time under Tony Pulis, but he may not be fit enough to make his Baggies debut this weekend.
While the transfer window was somewhat underwhelming from a Baggies point of view, I agree with Pulis that we should only be signing players that will improve the quality of the squad, not just the size. Livermore and Wilson both fit that bill and, while our striking options are limited, paying over the odds for a striker that is not playing for his current club, like Odion Ighalo for example, is not good business.
Jonny Evans will once again be missing this weekend and the length of time it is taking Albion’s best defender to recover is becoming a concern. With Pulis having effectively ruled Jonas Olsson out for the rest of the season when explaining the Marc Wilson signing, Albion’s back four will be unchanged from the last two games. They have performed reasonably well, although McAuley’s challenge which cost Albion a point at the Riverside is another sign that this could be the Northern Irishman’s last season and another concern is that Craig Dawson picked up his eighth booking of the season on Tuesday leaving him only two away from a two match ban – Evans cannot come back quick enough!
I’d be surprised to see any changes from the line-up on Tuesday evening as Pulis seems to now have a settled front six, and I don’t think he really believes in squad rotation.
Albion remain on decent form with just one defeat in their last five Premier League games, and they have won five of their last six Premier League games at the Hawthorns. They probably did enough to beat Middlesbrough on Tuesday and, while Stoke are a better side, I think Albion will continue their good run at home and take all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
24 Sep 2016 – Premier League
Stoke City 1 (Allen)
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
2 Jan 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Sessègnon, Evans)
Stoke City 1 (Walters)
Albion’s Record against Stoke City
|Premier League Record|