Tony Pulis welcomes Ronald Koeman and his Southampton team to the Hawthorns on Saturday, looking to make it three home wins in a row and a fourth successive clean sheet.
Southampton are enjoying their best ever season in the Premier League and currently sit in fifth place, a far cry from the relegation battle that many pundits were predicting after many of their stars left the club last summer.
They have dropped a couple of places in the table since the turn of the year, and three defeats from their last five games does seem like a mini-slump, but what is interesting is that all three of those defeats were at St Mary’s (against Liverpool and Swansea in the league, and Crystal Palace in the FA Cup). In contrast, the Saints form away from home has been faultless since Christmas with five wins in five in all competitions, which perhaps points to a level of expectation from their home fans that may be adding additional pressure.
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I was at St Mary’s back in August when the Baggies earned a 0-0 draw. What was acceptable at the time can be now seen as a very good result given that those were the only points that Southampton dropped at home this season until the visit of Manchester City at the end of November. What’s more, Albion looked very solid defensively on that day, a rare sight under Alan Irvine, and the champions were the only other team to stop the Saints from scoring at St Mary’s before their recent slump in home form which has seen them failing to score in their last three home games.
West Bromwich Albion and Southampton first met in the quarter final of the FA Cup in 1900 at the Dell, with the then Southern League club victorious on their way to the final that year, which they lost 4-0 to Bury.
While the clubs met on a number of occasions in the second division between 1928 and 1949, they did not meet in the top flight of English football until 1967 when Astle, Brown and Clark scored for the Baggies in a 3-2 win. A year later, Albion won by the same scoreline at the Dell in a fourth round replay in the FA Cup (Brown and Astle (2) on the scoresheet once again), and all Baggies fans know how that season’s competition ended up.
That remains Albion’s only victory over the Saints in cup competitions but the overall record in the league is very close with Southampton registering 22 victories in the fixture compared to Albion’s 21 with each side having scored 75 goals.
The clubs never met during Albion’s wilderness years outside the top flight between 1986 and 2002, but the Saints were one of only three teams that Albion beat in their relegation season, a 1-0 win at the Hawthorns in March 1986 with Andy Thompson the scorer, and they repeated that scoreline in their first meeting in the Premier League in September 2002 with Sean Gregan netting. That was Albion’s third successive win in the top flight lifting them into seventh place, providing a little false hope in what turned out to be a very tough season.
Since then, draws have been the most common outcome in this fixture, and the Baggies only other wins came in one season as they did the double in 2012/13. The second of those was a memorable 3-0 win at St Mary’s, Albion’s only victory on that ground, with Romelu Lukaku terrorising the home defence and scoring once, with Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortuné scoring the other goals.
Albion’s only injury concern is over Victor Anichebe who is still struggling with a groin strain, but might be available for selection. He is unlikely to make the starting line-up with Berahino and Ideye almost certain to continue as a front two given their recent goalscoring form.
I expect the back four to remain unchanged although, while Brunt and Dawson have done OK as makeshift full backs, I’d still prefer to see Pocognoli and Gamboa in those positions, particularly at home. While Brunt does offer some attacking threat, Dawson is far from a natural wide man and, unless McManaman or Sessègnon starts on the right, there is little width on that side.
It is the midfield area where Pulis has a decision to make. Based on the past few games, he seems unwilling to play more than one “flair” player in that four, even at home. Against Swansea, it was Yacob and Fletcher centrally, with Morrison and McManaman in wide positions. Against West Ham with Fletcher unavailable, Gardner came in and Sessègnon played in place of McManaman. Morrison is much more effective in a central role, as he was against West Ham, but against a good side like Southampton, I can’t see Pulis wanting to sacrifice the “security” of Yacob and Fletcher in the middle.
Southampton’s immediate concern is over Eljero Elia. The Dutch international turned his ankle late on in the defeat to Liverpool and is a slight doubt. Defender Toby Aiderweireld has been out for a few weeks with a hamstring strain, and remains a doubt for this weekend with Maya Yoshida having stepped in since returning from the Asian Cup. Jay Rodriguez has been out since before the World Cup with a knee injury and suffered a fresh setback before Christmas, but the Saints hope to have him back soon. Sadio Mané was dropped last week after he was late for the pre-match meal, so it remains to be seen whether he will be returned to the starting line-up.
I read a statistic recently that Albion haven’t won a game at the Hawthorns when the opposition has scored for around two years, and I think that run will continue. I predict this to be a tight game which could go either way, but I thought that before the West Ham game! If Albion can score first, they should win the game, and that is what I think will happen.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
23 Aug 2014 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
17 Aug 2013 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Southampton 1 (Lambert (pen))
27 Apr 2013 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Fortuné, Lukaku, Long)
Last win at the Hawthorns
5 Nov 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Odemwingie (2))
Albion’s Record against Southampton
|Premier League Record|