Albion’s relegation could be confirmed this weekend irrespective of their result, but the faithful will travel to St James’s Park in the knowledge that, at least, a sense of pride has been restored this season, even if it is too late to affect the outcome.
It should be noted that a win for the Baggies and defeat for Swansea at home to Chelsea on Saturday evening will keep the faint hopes alive for another week, but the odds are stacked heavily against Albion avoiding the drop. On Survival Sunday back in 2005, they needed to win and for three other clubs not to – at this stage, the Baggies’ hopes are contingent on 14 results going a specific way, not least three wins of their own!
That starts at St James’s Park, and if Albion fail to win, they’re down even before Swansea kick off against Chelsea in the teatime fixture. Perhaps a more achievable aim is to not finish bottom, which is a tall order on its own. Stoke City and Southampton are both four points ahead of the Baggies, and Southampton have a game in hand, which is against Swansea on 8th May. Six or seven points from their last three games could be enough to overhaul the Potters, particularly given that City’s goal difference is eight worse than Albion’s. Two points would see Albion beat their worst ever Premier League season, their first.
The appointment of Rafa Benítez was a real coup when he joined Newcastle United just over two years ago, and while he failed to keep the Toon in the Premier League, he surprised most observers by opting to stay for the promotion challenge last season. They won the Championship by a point from Brighton, and with the “will he, won’t he” saga on whether Mike Ashley would accept an offer for the club, Benítez has had to manage with largely the same squad this season and the Spaniard should be in the conversation for Manager of the Season with Dyche and Guardiola given the performances he has eked from what most would accept is a limited squad.
Most would agree that the squad the Pulis and Pardew have had at their disposal this season is far better on paper than Newcastle’s, but the Geordies have sixteen more points having played one game fewer than Albion, and it does make you wonder what the former Liverpool manager could have done at the Hawthorns.
Newcastle have only really cemented their survival in recent weeks with a run of four successive victories culminating in a 2-1 win over Arsenal a fortnight ago. However, the real run of form started a little earlier, back in February. On 10th February, Benítez’s team sat in 17th place with 25 points, with only goal difference separating them from the bottom three. The following day, they beat Manchester United 1-0 and have lost just twice since, both times on Merseyside, picking up 16 points from a possible 24. Their record for 2018 as a whole is impressive having lost just three times in thirteen Premier League games.
The reverse fixture back in November is indicative of the troubles that Albion have faced this season. Pulis had already gone and Pardew was waiting in the wings as Megson looked to build on the creditable point that the Baggies had earned at Wembley the week before. Sam Field scored one of the most popular Albion goals of the season to put them 2-0 up not long after half time, but the frailties in defence saw Newcastle come back to earn a point.
While the goal conceded against Swansea a fortnight ago was disappointing, since then Darren Moore seems to have brought some order to the Albion defence, and last week’s comeback certainly displayed some fight that has been sorely lacking in the last few months.
Having said that, calls for him to be appointed permanently are a little premature, in my opinion. Let’s not forget that Big Dave has only been a first team coach since November, and has managed just three senior games. His decision to replace McClean with Evans left many perplexed, and was perhaps indicative of his lack of experience. Liverpool scored their second goal while Albion were still trying to work out their formation, and then he had to change it again, bringing on Burke for Gibbs, to get the team back on the front foot.
It’s harsh to criticise him as he and his team have done a remarkable job in getting the results they have, and while I feel strongly that Moore should be part of the first team setup next season, I’m not sure he’s ready for the top job just yet. Having said that, nine points between now and mid-May might convince me!!
The Newcastle players have little to play for, although Jonjo Shelvey will be aiming to impress Gareth Southgate having been given renewed hope of a World Cup place following this week’s injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and perhaps a Geordie team with nothing to play for is not necessarily a good thing when you consider the 5-1 thumping they gave Spurs on the final day of the season they were last relegated.
It would be a fantastic result for the Baggies should they get the win, even though it is likely to be too little too late.
Albion will be seeking a rare win at St James’s Park, a stadium at which they have won just one league game in the last forty years. That was on the Saturday before Christmas 2011 when Roy Hodgson’s Baggies were victorious over Alan Pardew’s Newcastle thanks to Paul Scharner’s winner with five minutes to go. Peter Odemwingie and Gareth McAuley were also on the scoresheet in a topsy-turvy game when the hosts twice levelled through Demba Ba before Albion eventually won 3-2.
Before that, you have to go back to 1977 for a league victory in Newcastle, when Cunningham, Regis and Robson found the net in a 3-0 win during Ronnie Allen’s spell first spell as manager. There have been a couple of League Cup wins in the intervening period with Chris Whyte scoring the only goal of a third round tie in 1989, while Lee Hughes scored an extra-time winner in 2003 after an own goal from Shola Ameobi was cancelled out by Laurent Robert in normal time.
The Geordie’s biggest home win over Albion is 5-1 which they have achieved on three occasions with the latest being back in 1949 when the legendary Jackie Milburn scored two of their goals.
As for the Baggies best win at Newcastle, that 3-0 win in 1977 is only eclipsed by a 4-1 win in 1952 when Johnny Nicholls, Reg Ryan, George Lee and Ronnie Allen all found the net for the visitors with Len Prior scoring a consolation for the Toon.
I predict a tight game which could go either way, but a score draw is the most likely result.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
28 Nov 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Robson-Kanu, Field)
Newcastle United 2 (Clark, Evans (o.g.))
Last meeting at Newcastle United
6 Feb 2016 – Premier League
Newcastle United 1 (Mitrovic)
West Brom 0
28 Dec 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Fletcher)
Newcastle United 0
Last win at Newcastle United
21 Dec 2011 – Premier League
Newcastle United 2 (Ba (2))
West Brom 3 (Odemwingie, McAuley, Scharner)
Albion’s Record against Newcastle United
|Premier League Record|