So far this season, stopping for international football has not been too helpful for the Baggies with two below par performances at Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic following the September and October breaks. Darren Moore is hoping that this time his side will be able to maintain the form that saw them see off Leeds United a fortnight ago.
Once again, Albion will be away from home this time at the Championship’s bottom side, Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys have had a dreadful season so far that saw the dismissal of manager, Paul Hurst, in late October. The new man in charge is former Norwich manager, Paul Lambert, and while the Scotsman is still to record his first victory, he has guided his new team to two draws so far, at home to Preston and away to Reading.
The fact remains that Town have recorded just one victory all season, a 3-2 win at Swansea at the beginning of last month but, while they are yet to record a win at Portman Road, only Middlesbrough and QPR have tasted victory in Suffolk with six of Ipswich’s eight home games this campaign finishing all square.
It is certainly a match that Darren Moore’s team will be looking to win after the confidence-boosting victory over Leeds United last time out. That performance was as unexpected as it was impressive, given the four games that preceded it, and it will have gone a long way to silencing the calls for Big Dave’s head, at least temporarily.
Regular readers will know that I always felt that those calls were incredibly premature, but the fickle nature of football fans means that an bad result at Ipswich will see the knives out once again and, in spite of the Tractor Boys’ form, a good result cannot be taken for granted.
The international break means that Paul Lambert will have had a full two weeks to work with his squad and Town are likely to be a much tougher prospect as a result. The Champions League winner has had a number of managerial positions in recent years and has never been able to replicate the success he achieved with Ipswich’s rivals where he achieved successive promotions from League One and then kept Norwich in the top flight before leaving for Aston Villa. His two and a half years at Villa Park and short spells at Blackburn, Wolves and Stoke cannot be considered successful, but maybe a return to East Anglia will enable him to rekindle a little magic.
The other factor to consider is Albion’s away form. The Baggies have managed just two wins on the road, a roller-coaster 4-3 at Norwich and a more comfortable 3-2 win at Preston, and it is something that Moore needs to turn around if Albion are to continue to challenge.
The first halves of matches have been an issue for Albion all season, but it is particularly acute away from home. Of the eleven goals that the Baggies have scored in their eight league games on the road, just two have come in the first half – Jay Rodriguez’s penalty at Norwich and Matt Phillips’ equaliser at St Andrew’s. Moore needs to get his side to start on the front foot because, as it has been clear this season, once Albion get up a head of steam, they are very difficult to stop and, while it is always reassuring to know that they can get goals in the second half, it would be nice, once in a while, to be sitting pretty at half time with two or three in the bag already.
Following the success of the switch to four at the back against Leeds, one would assume that Moore will continue with that formation at Portman Road particularly given the performances of the back four that evening. The more interesting selection questions will come further up the field. Hal Robson-Kanu’s performance will certainly have raised a question mark in the mind of the head coach as to whether Dwight Gayle should be recalled. It is difficult to leave the Newcastle loanee out of the side given his goal record this season, but the Welshman’s hold-up play was key to the success of the 4-3-3 formation so it is certainly no foregone conclusion.
One other question mark will be the inclusion of the other star loanee, Harvey Barnes. The youngster withdrew from the England U21 squad with a slight injury and, while he is expected to be fit for Saturday, his position in the starting line up must be in doubt. If he is left out, that could mean that both Gayle and HRK start with Rodriguez as a front three.
While the middle three of Morrison, Livermore and Phillips were excellent against Leeds, we shouldn’t rule out a change should Moore have a fully fit squad to choose from. He has rotated the central midfield positions all season, albeit with the veterans, Brunt and Barry, swapping in and out for the most part, but assuming there are no new injuries, it would be a brave decision to change that winning line up.
Graeme Jones’s comment in his radio interview with Talksport on Tuesday that the approach to the Leeds game “was a one off” will be of concern to Baggies fans fearing a return to a back three, although I think he was referring more to the fact that Albion let Leeds have the ball and hit on the counter rather that the formation per se. Sides like Ipswich are unlikely to play on the front foot as much and the Baggies will need to employ different tactics to break down a defensive side, and both Jones and Moore have said all season that tactical flexibility is a must.
Whatever the formation and team selection on Friday evening, it is important that Albion build on the win against Leeds and take all three points away from Portman Road – anything less and the doubts will return.
Albion’s last visit to Portman Road was one of extreme disappointment as Roberto di Matteo opted to rest much of his mid-table Premier League team for a League Cup quarter final against Ipswich and paid the price as the hosts won 1-0 thereby denying the Baggies fans of a meeting with Arsenal over two legs for a place in a major final.
The Baggies last victory at Ipswich was four years earlier and was an early sign of what Tony Mowbray’s side could be capable of as Kevin Phillips and Diomansy Kamara shared five goals between them as the Tractor Boys were thumped 5-1 in what is comfortably the Baggies biggest win at Portman Road.
There have been a few heavy defeats in Suffolk for the Baggies over the years with the biggest being a 7-0 hammering back in 1976 with Trevor Whymark helping himself to four goals with Kevin Beattie, Paul Mariner and John Wark also finding the net.
One of the more memorable games of recent years came in April 2004 during the run-in of Albion’s ultimately successful promotion campaign. Tommy Miller had given the hosts a first half lead in the televised fixture before goals from Jason Koumas and Lloyd Dyer looked to have secured the points for Albion in the second half. Darren Bent had other ideas, however, and grabbed an equaliser with 12 minutes to go only for Geoff Horsfield to grab a dramatic injury time winner for the Baggies.
The history of the fixture only dates back to 1961 when Alf Ramsay took the Suffolk club into the first division for the first time. They completed the league double over Albion in their first season including a 3-0 win at Portman Road and it was another two years before the Baggies tasted victory at Portman Road for the first time. By then, the man who was to become “Sir Alf” had been snapped up by the FA and Newcastle United legend, Jackie Milburn, was in charge at Ipswich. Jimmy Hagan’s Albion won 2-1 in September 1963 thanks to goals from Bomber Brown and Clive Clark.
Twenty years later, the equivalent fixture was a real topsy turvy affair as the teams exchanged the lead no less than four times. Romeo Zondervan game Albion an early lead before a John Wark penalty and a goal from Eric Gates just before half time looked to have given the hosts the lead at the break. However, Cyrille Regis grabbed an equaliser before they changed ends. Ipswich were back in front with 20 minutes to go through Paul Mariner before late goals from Mick Perry and Garry Thompson from the spot send Albion home with the points and a 4-3 victory.
Baggies to break their poor record following the international breaks and take all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
1 Dec 2010 – League Cup 5th Round
Ipswich Town 1 (Leadbitter (pen))
West Brom 0
22 Aug 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Mulumbu, Koren)
Ipswich Town 0
Last win at Ipswich Town
14 Oct 2006 – League Championship
Ipswich Town 1 (Perry (o.g.))
West Brom 5 (Kamara (2), Phillips (3))
Albion’s Record against Ipswich Town
Pictures courtesy of Laurie Rampling