After a rare week off during a Championship season, Darren Moore takes his side to Humberside looking to get Albion back onto the winning trail against struggling Hull City. After three games without a win, some are questioning whether he is the right man to be leading the club, although I hasten to add that I am not one of them.
Three games without a win is hardly a crisis and, while there are obvious issues with the way the team are playing, I continue to maintain that it will take time to get it right and there will be many more twists and turns in the Championship this season.
Against Blackburn, Albion were much better than they had been against both Derby and Wigan, but they are not back at the level they were before the international break. I still feel that the balance between playing out from the back and finding a good long pass is not right, and that is something that Sam Johnstone, whose decision it normally is, needs to learn quickly. It could, of course, be that he is being told to try it every time, and while I applaud the intention, Albion do need to mix it up a bit more.
It is the defence that is coming under most criticism for the mistakes that are happening but, while Dawson and Bartley, in particular, have given the ball away poorly, I believe that the midfield need to take a share of the blame. When pressed, the defence are put under undue pressure because of the lack of options in front of them. I thought Morrison improved this to a degree on Saturday, but I would also like to see Harvey Barnes dropping a little deeper more frequently to offer another option in the way that we see Jay Rodriguez do. Hopefully, we don’t see a repeat of the J-Rod howler that led to the Derby opener last weekend, but I feel there is not enough movement from the “front five” as a whole, or at least not in the right places.
On Saturday, on too many occasions I saw players standing still when Bartley, Dawson or Tosin were on the ball; there needs to be constant movement and, while I did see some good runs over the top, the defenders were either not spotting them (it’s easy up in the stands), or not confident enough to play the ball required. Confidence is an issue, and it is not helped by the anxiety feeding from the stands as Mowbray pointed out after the game.
I did think that Moore didn’t get his substitutions right on Saturday. For the first, I don’t question the need to bring Sako off, it was his first game for some time and I doubt he would have lasted ninety minutes, but replacing him with Hoolahan was a little strange. Albion were leading at the time but under some pressure from Blackburn, and I would’ve liked to have seen Burke come on to try and stretch the game out a little. Barnes for Brunt was another strange one; the skipper did ok but we missed Barnes’s trickery particularly in that period after the Rovers’ ‘keeper had gone off. Obviously, Moore could not have seen that coming and, with Blackburn sitting so deep at the end, HRK was probably the right option offering a little more presence in the box, but unless Harvey had a niggle, I find it a strange decision.
That last fifteen minutes or so when Blackburn were down to ten men was incredibly frustrating and I was disappointed that no one saw fit to test the midfielder in goal from long range. Maybe it was down to good defending but Rovers found it fairly easy to protect him on crosses, and bar one goalmouth scramble, Smallwood was rarely under pressure. It was very disappointing that Albion couldn’t take advantage of the situation although, to be fair to Rovers, before the injury to Raya, they looked the more likely to win the game.
Looking ahead to the the weekend, Hull City have had a difficult start to the season, their second back in the Championship after relegation last year. Nigel Adkins took over from Leonid Slutsky about twelve months ago and, while he kept the Tigers in the division last season he’s not really been able to get a sustained run of form.
One thing that will be of particular concern this season is the lack of goals; last campaign, City scored and conceded 70 goals and had 4-0 and 5-0 wins over QPR and Burton Albion late last season along with a remarkable 5-5 draw with Bristol City, but this season they have scored more than once on just two occasions and have managed just twelve goals in their fifteen games to date.
They did manage to pick up their third win of the campaign at Bolton last weekend that will give them some confidence ahead of Albion’s visit, but that was their first win since a 2-0 defeat of the only club below them in the table, Ipswich Town, in mid September ending a run of just two points from seven games.
Injuries to Hegazi, Gibbs, Gayle and Barry led to an unfamiliar line up for the Baggies against Blackburn but it was encouraging to see the players who came in perform well.
Tosin looks to be benefiting from a short run in the team and is certainly looking the most comfortable of the defenders on the ball, although his lack of experience from a positioning point of view is clear on occasion. With Kyle Bartley suspended for the trip to Hull, the Man City youngster seems certain to keep his place alongside Dawson and, with Hegazi declared fit on Friday morning, Moore’s choice will be which position each player will occupy in that back three.
Conor Townsend came in at left wing back to replace Gibbs and produced probably his best performance in an Albion shirt, although his 45 minutes at Norwich in August was encouraging as well. Earlier this week, he seemed certain to start again on Saturday with Gibbs likely to miss out, but the former England man was declared fit on Friday morning and, while Townsend will be relishing a trip to his home town club where he started his career, he may not get a chance to play.
Meanwhile, Bakary Sako’s debut was encouraging although he clearly needs some more game time to get his sharpness back and looks like the player who scored 15 goals in this division for Wolves in 2014/15. At the time of writing, it’s not clear whether Dwight Gayle will be fit enough to return at the KC Stadium.
James Morrison’s display alongside Livermore in the middle of the park will certainly have given Moore food for thought when it comes to his midfield pairing. He offered more energy that either of his fellow 30+ veterans Barry or Brunt have done this season, and provides further competition in a position that is probably proving the most troublesome for the coaching staff to get right.
Having had a fairly settled line up for much of the season, Moore and Jones have some tough decisions to make this weekend.
Albion travel to the KC Stadium on Saturday protecting a five match unbeaten run against Hull City having won three and drawn two of the meetings in all competitions since the Tigers won the Premier League encounter on Humberside in March 2014. However, the two games at Hull in that period were both drawn and the Baggies last win there was back in January 2008, the clubs’ last meeting in the second tier. On that occasion, Tony Mowbray’s team ran out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from Kevin Phillips, James Morrison and Roman Bednar.
That was the Baggies second visit to City’s current stadium having also been victorious on their first visit the previous season thanks to a goal from Diomansy Kamara, although their debuts at Hull’s other two grounds were not quite as successful. Back in April 1906, the Baggies first visit to Anlaby Road resulted in a 4-0 win for the hosts, also in the second tier, while their first visit to Boothferry Park in September 1973 resulted in a goalless draw. Both clubs were managed by former Arsenal captains that day with Don Howe at the helm for the Baggies while the Tigers were managed by Terry Neill.
That 3-1 win ten years ago is Albion’s biggest ever win on Humberside and they have only won by more than one goal on one other occasion, a 2-0 win at Boothferry Park in March 1990 when Don Goodman and Gary Hackett were the Baggies goalscorers.
The Tigers’ biggest win over the Baggies was at Anlaby Road in April 1910. George Simpson scored for Albion while three players called Smith found the net for Hull City – Jackie Smith scored a hat trick while Joe ‘Stanley’ Smith and Wally Smith also scored in a 5-1 victory for the hosts.
Having only won one of their first thirteen games away to Hull City, the Baggies have turned their form around on Humberside recently and have only lost on one of their last seven visits, and two of their last eleven. That run started in May 1989 when Kevin Bartlett scored the only goal of the game to take the points a a Division Two fixture.
I’ve predicted the Baggies to win each of their last three games which, of course, they have singularly failed to do. The Tigers, despite having ended their winless run last weekend, could be the sort of opposition that Albion need at the moment to get their confidence back. So yes, I’m saying that Darren Moore’s men will get back on track and pick up all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
2 Jan 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Brunt, McAuley, Morrison)
Hull City 1 (Snodgrass)
Last meeting at Hull City
26 Nov 2016 – Premier League
Hull City 1 (M Dawson)
West Brom 1 (McAuley)
Last win at Hull City
12 Jan 2008 – League Championship
Hull City 1 (Garcia)
West Brom 3 (Phillips, Morrison, Bednar)
Albion’s Record against Hull City
|Premier League Record|
Pictures courtesy of Laurie Rampling