West Bromwich Albion take on Huddersfield Town on Saturday in what will be the first league meeting between the sides since April 2001, with the only encounter in the sixteen years in between being a third round FA Cup tie at the then-named Galpharm Stadium in 2010.
That match saw the Baggies run out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Graham Dorrans and an 18-year-old New Zealander by the name of Chris Wood, now finally a regular Premier League starter at Burnley. It will be the Baggies eighth visit to the Terriers’ “new” stadium, one of the first to be built following the Taylor Report having been completed in 1994, and they have recorded three wins and a draw in the seven fixtures to date.
The clubs first met in Division Two on Christmas Eve 1910 at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground. Albion won 2-0 and went on to record the double over the Terriers on their way to the league title and promotion. A decade later, the Baggies were the reigning Division One League Champions when they next returned to Leeds Road but their newly-promoted hosts gave them little respect dispatching them 5-1. The Baggies retaliated a week later with a 3-0 win in the return fixture, and also won the next fixture between the sides on New Year’s Eve 1921 at the Hawthorns by three goals to two. For the rest of the roaring 20s, however, the Baggies beat the Terriers just once in 14 attempts as the West Yorkshiremen became one of the top sides in the country under the stewardship of Herbert Chapman.
Chapman, who is lauded in London as one of Arsenal’s finest managers, took over at Leeds Road in April 1921 and guided Town to successive League Championships in 1924 and 1925 before being attracted by the bright lights of London and the top job at Highbury. His replacement at Huddersfield, Cecil Potter, got the better of him in the 1925/26 season as the Terriers became the first club to win three successive league titles, a feat only matched by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United who achieved it twice between 1999 and 2001 and between 2007-2009.
Huddersfield remained a force through the 1930s, although Chapman’s Arsenal dominated with three league titles in four years, but declined over the years either side of World War II and were relegated in 1952. The bounced straight back and finished third behind Wolves and Albion in the 1953-54 league title race, but it was a brief sojourn to the top table as they were relegated once again in 1956. Bar two seasons in the top flight in the early seventies, it has been a lean sixty years for Huddersfield Town including a fall to the fourth tier in the late seventies, but they have been steadily improving in recent years although their promotion via the play-offs was something of a surprise as they hadn’t finished higher than 16th in the second tier since 2000.
Life in the Premier League started well for the only Yorkshire club in the top flight. Like Albion, the Terriers won their opening two Premier League fixtures of the season but have struggled for form since, although they have managed one more victory which came in the last match at the John Smith’s Stadium, a 2-1 win over Manchester United. Including those two goals, they have scored just three in the eight leagues matches since the 1-0 win over Newcastle on match day two – by comparison, the goal-shy Baggies have scored seven. Nonetheless, the win over United means that the Terriers have one more point than Albion so if Pulis’s team can get the win he so desperately needs, the Baggies would leapfrog Huddersfield in the table.
It could never be said that Pulis’s pragmatic style of football has been popular amongst the Baggies faithful, but most were prepared to accept it while the results were still coming. There have been times in the Welshman’s almost three year tenure where results have not been great, but either Albion have already been safe or he has produced a couple of victories to turn things around. In both his full seasons to date, Albion have concluded the campaign with nine winless games, but outside of those two periods, this is Albion’s longest run without a league victory since Pulis took over. Last season, Albion had exactly the same number of points at the same stage, but then produced a run of three wins from the next four games which extended to a haul of 30 points from 16 games that saw the club reach 40 points by the end of February.
There is no doubt that Pulis needs a result quickly. With Chelsea and Spurs to follow after the international break, Saturday’s game looks like the best opportunity in the short term, although the home games against Newcastle and Palace could well be crunch time for the White-Trainered-One. Regular readers will know that I have never been a fan of Pulis, and didn’t want him at our club in the first place as I feared we would become exactly what we have, the team no one wants to watch. Pundits simultaneously say that they wouldn’t want to watch a Pulis team every week, but that it would be a brave club to sack him. If results haven’t picked up by early December, that should be a dilemma that John Williams and his board colleagues are considering.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that certain clubs always play a particular brand of football. The West Ham Way, for example, is a myth in my opinion and to take my own beloved club, you only have to look at the contrast between Atkinson’s Albion (Mark I) and Megson’s – both successful but completely different. It’s down to the players you have available and the resources you have to change them. It is that is what is so frustrating about the Baggies at the moment. It is undoubtedly the best group of players we have had in the Premier League era, although perhaps a striker short of where we would want it to be, but the approach that Pulis is taking seems to be of a much more limited team. Almost three years in, Pulis cannot say that it is not his team – he was backed by the board during the summer such that we are paying Krychowiak almost as much as Harry Kane is earning if reports are to be believed – he has attacking players and a defence that should be solid, and yet we have scored just seven goals in ten games, and kept just three clean sheets (and none since mid September).
Albion will be backed by a sell-out away following at the John Smith’s Stadium tomorrow, and if Pulis approaches the game with the same all-out defence plan that his is trademark away from home, there will be 3,000 very angry fans, particularly if it doesn’t result in a victory. Huddersfield may have been buoyed by their win over United in their previous home game, but they are still a newly-promoted side who are struggling for goals – these are games that a club in their ninth consecutive Premier League season should be looking to win. Away draws may be acceptable when the wins are coming at home, but the Baggies haven’t won at home (or at all) since August.
Albion have won just 10 of the 66 away Premier League games under Pulis, and only one has been by more than one goal, his very first away win at Crystal Palace in April 2015, and a Pulis Baggies team has never scored more than twice away from home in the league. Pulis’s away win percentage is in fact lower (15.2%) than the combined away win percentage of all the other Premier League Albion managers (27 from 162, 16.7%) – that’s incredible given that Albion finished 17th or lower in five of the eight seasons without Pulis. By contrast, Roy Hodgson (36%) and Steve Clarke (23%) have much higher away win percentages and achieved better league finishes.
But will Pulis change his ways and go for an away win? I’m highly doubtful.
I’m taking the long trip north from Bedfordshire to West Yorkshire in hope rather than anticipation – I can’t see Pulis changing his approach and while Albion might nick a 1-0, I think this will finish all square.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
2 Jan 2010 – FA Cup 3rd Round
Huddersfield Town 0
West Brom 2 (Dorrans, Wood)
Albion’s Record against Huddersfield Town