After Palace ended a run of six consecutive home victories in the League Cup on Tuesday evening, Darren Moore takes his Baggies team to Lancashire this weekend to face the Champsionship’s bottom side, Preston North End, to look to continue their good league form.
Whether you agree with it or not, Big Dave’s team selection for the League Cup tie was a clear statement that the Championship is massively more important as he made ten changes to the team that started against Millwall last weekend. Personally, I would have preferred him to field a side a little stronger and try to keep the winning feeling, although with three big games in the coming week ahead of the international break, I can understand his desire to keep the first team fresh.
What is perhaps more telling is that he chose to field the likes of Hoolahan, Mears, Robson-Kanu and Morrison ahead of youngsters such as Burke and Leko. That suggests that those two, in particular, are some way down the pecking order and unlikely to get close to the first team anytime soon. Furthermore, Sam Field played in the back three once again indicating that Moore sees him as a back up in defence rather than another option in his preferred position in central midfield.
Given Big Dave’s history with the youth team at the Hawthorns, it is surprising that he has given so little game time to any of the players he coached in the under-23s, with Field, in particular, conspicuous by his lack of league minutes given that Gary Megson described him as the best passer of the ball at the club. Whether that is because he genuinely doesn’t rate any of the youngsters highly enough, or that he has caught the manager’s fear of being let down by inexperience very early in his career, only he will know. Either way, I’m somewhat disappointed that relegation has not opened up the pathway for our youth players as we hoped it might.
Looking forward to the weekend, Albion face a Preston side that have had a surprisingly disappointing start to the season, finding themselves bottom of the table after three straight league defeats including a home reverse by Reading in their last home fixture. They did manage a home draw the Championship high-flyers, Middlesbrough, in the League Cup, ultimately losing on penalties, but given the number of changes made by each manager (Alex Neil made 7 while Pulis changed all 11), it is not really an indication of their current form.
Alex Neil, the former Norwich boss, guided the Lilywhites to a seventh place finish last season missing out on the play-offs by two points despite picking up 13 points from their last five games, although the home defeat to Derby in April was probably the key result as it was the Rams who grabbed the last play off place.
Neil took over from Simon Grayson in summer 2017 after Grayson accepted the dubious honour of trying to get Sunderland back to the Premier League. The former Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield manager had brought North End back into the second tier in 2015 and led them to two solid mid-table finishes. Neil, who had been sacked by Norwich after failing to challenge for promotion in 2017, now has his work cut out to get Preston away from the relegation zone.
Moore’s big decision will, once again, be who to play in the middle alongside Jake Livermore. Barry started the game against Palace but was replaced by Brunt just after the hour mark – I suspect that means that it will be Brunt who gets the nod this weekend. Assuming there are no new injuries, the rest of the side pretty much picks itself.
The other news of the week was the appointment of a new Technical Director with Luke Dowling moving to the Hawthorns from Nottingham Forest. He certainly has relevant experience, unlike Terreneo, and was responsible for some decent business at the City Ground, albeit with a good budget. It will be interesting to see whether he has funds to work with in January.
That appointment came in the week that the last successful man in that role moved from the FA to the equivalent role at Brighton and Hove Albion. It seems a strange move for Ashworth – moving on from the FA is one thing, but Brighton seems like a backward step to me.
Preston North End are, of course, one of the other eleven Founding Members of the Football League, and were, indeed, the first ever League Champions as they were the original “Invincibles” remaining unbeaten for the whole of the 1888/89 season.
That first league season started a few months after Albion had won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Preston in 2-1 the final despite being massive underdogs – the North End players had even had their photograph taken with the trophy before the game. The Baggies had also knocked the Lilywhites out of the FA Cup the previous season at the semi-final stage in the first ever meeting between the sides.
The first two league meetings between the sides perhaps demonstrated the source of Preston’s confidence as they won the two games by an aggregate score of 8-0 including a 5-0 thumping at Albion’s Stoney Lane in Boxing Day 1888. In fact, it wasn’t until the sixth season of league football that the Baggies registered their first league win over Preston, 2-0 in December 1893 at Stoney Lane, while their first win at Deepdale wasn’t until the next century. Tom Perry, Billy Walker and Thomas Pickering found the net for Albion in a 3-2 at Preston in April 1901.
Since then, Albion have had the better of things bar a period either side of World War II when Preston remained unbeaten in the fixture for eleven games over sixteen years. That run was ended by a sequence of five straight victories for the Baggies, the fourth of which was the second meeting in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1954 when two goals from Ronnie Allen and a late winner from Frank Griffin saw the Baggies lift the famous trophy for the fourth time.
Generally, Deepdale has proved to bea tricky venue for the Baggies. The last win at the venue was in the FA Cup in 2005 when a Rob Earnshaw brace was enough to put Albion into the fourth round, but the Baggies’ last league victory was way back in January 1959 when Derek Kevan (2), Frank Griffin and a Frank O’Farrell own goal ssaw the visitors run out 4-2 winners.
That near sixty year wait for a league win at Preston is tempered by the fact that for thirty years between 1961 and 1991, the two clubs were only in the same division for one season, but it is still a run of eleven games in which Albion have garnered just three draws.
Preston’s biggest win over Albion at Deepdale is 5-0, a feat they managed twice although both were in the nineteenth century. The Baggies’ biggest win at the venue was back in February 1922 when Satn Davies, Fred Morris and Alfred Smith were on the mark in a 3-0 win.
Albion should prove too strong for North End and I see them recording their second away win of the season.
|Preston North End||W||D||L||L||L||D|
All competitions; most recent game on the right
20 Mar 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Watson, Brunt, Dorrans)
Preston North End 2 (St Ledger, Mellor)
Last meeting at Preston North End
3 Oct 2009 – League Championship
Preston North End 0
West Brom 0
Last win at Preston North End
8 Jan 2005 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Preston North End 0
West Brom 2 (Earnshaw (2))
Albion’s Record against Preston North End
Pictures courtesy of Laurie Rampling.