Match Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Preston North End

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Tuesday night sees Alex Neil and his men head down to West Bromwich to face Slaven Bilic’s Baggies. Despite at times not playing at our electric best recently, we’re still doing well in terms of results. In fact, the two sides head into the game on Tuesday night atop the Championship form table over the last 6 games with West Brom at the summit due to a better goal difference than North End.

Our last 6 games have seen us pick up 4 wins, one draw and one defeat. The defeat, if you take it in isolation, I don’t think you’ll have many North End fans having too many issues with it. We were beaten by the better side, it’s as simple as that for me.

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There’s no doubt that this is going to be a very tough game for us, in fact, it’s the start of a very tough week for us with Fulham away on Saturday but it’s not the time to focus on that game just yet. Instead, we must focus entirely on the game ahead of us and I’ve no doubt that’s exactly what the manager will be doing.

Our record against the current top 6 (excluding ourselves) this season isn’t too bad. The only defeat we’ve had has come against West Brom thanks to a quite simply shocking refereeing decision in the dying moments of a game that looked destined to finish 0-0.

The games against the rest of the teams we’re unbeaten. We’ve played Leeds home and away and drawn both, we’ve played Brentford at home and won 2-0, Forest away and drawn and we also beat Fulham at home so overall, not too bad. Let’s hope we can keep it up on Tuesday night.

Potential Dangers

Let’s just make something clear here, West Brom have a tonne of different players that could cause us all sorts of problems. However, I will start with one player who will be all too familiar to North End fans in Callum Robinson.

I won’t go into too much detail as North End fans should be all too well aware of the potential danger he brings but I would like to hope that we will have enough to be able to nullify his threat on Tuesday. He’s a player in form at the moment, too.

He floats around off the left and plays well in the half-spaces as we know all too well. Also, he’s scored twice in his last two games for the Baggies and has gone down well with their fans.

His runs off the ball could cause us all sorts of problems but fingers crossed, Darnell Fisher will be able to deal with him on the night but make no mistake, he’s going to have his hands full because you would imagine Robbo will want to have a good game against us.

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Hal Robson-Kanu is in a bit of decent form at the moment after two goals in his last game against Bristol City. Then there’s also the threat that, depending on who plays, both Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira bring, too.

Basically, you could take your pick from a host of West Brom players as a potential danger. The quality they have in their squad is frightening.

Opposition View

We’re delighted to welcome back Dan from the Baggies Blog for this week’s opposition view. You can give them a follow on twitter here – @TheBaggiesBlog_.

I’m not sure you want us to mention the last time we met…

However, during that period we never really looked in control of games and that game showed it. We beat Birmingham City after that and then couldn’t buy a win.

Over the last four games though, we’ve looked superb! Jake Livermore and Matheus Pereira have really controlled games. Our winter additions have been absolutely vital – especially former Preston player Callum Robinson. He’s added drive, work ethic and organisation – everything you’d expect from a player coached by Chris Wilder.

Livermore has been revitalised under Bilic recently and has been tasked to set the tempo from the off. He’s looked more mobile than before and has added a tenacious quality that we lacked throughout December.

Frankly, after a few years of disconnect between players and fans, we now (finally) feel like one unit. The attacking football has certainly helped but all good feeling has stemmed from Bilic. It’s brilliant to see us getting so much praise and, whilst others have struggled for form, we continue to pick points up and still sit at the top of the Championship.

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As an Albion fan, you always panic about the wheels falling off but I don’t feel like I’ve ever been so positive than at this moment.

As for the rest of the season, I can’t, and I hope I’m not jinxing this, see anyone knocking us off our perch. We’re playing with such ‘joie de vivre’ that has lifted confidence around the club, both on and off the pitch, completely.

Bilic hasn’t changed a winning side over the last few weeks but will be forced into one change here with Sawyers sending off at the weekend. Romaine has looked tired for a few weeks, so the rest and chance to refocus will do him a favour in the run-in in my opinion.

It might be the case that Bilic will change the side with games coming thick and fast – but I wouldn’t expect so. As for the XI for this game, I’ll go with: Johnstone; O’Shea, Ajayi, Hegazi, Townsend; Livermore, Harper/Barry (I’m not sure who’ll start here but Bilic has started to bring Harper, who signed a four-year deal in the summer, off the bench recently); Pereira, Krovinovic, Callum Robinson and Hal Robson-Kanu up top.

Now the score. I hate doing these! I always go big and they fall flat – but I’m going all out for this one with a 3-1 home win. However, feel free to remind me of this after the game…

Predictions

As I mentioned at the top of the piece, it’s a big week ahead for the Lilywhites so the squad and fans alike will be hoping for it to get off to the best possible start. However, our record isn’t great at the Hawthorns.

We’ve lost our last 9 visits to the Hawthorns with our last win coming way back in 1973. Since that win, we’ve been there 11 times with 10 defeats and 1 draw so let’s hope Tuesday night is the time things change for us. We certainly have the quality in the squad to get something from the game.

I think the manager will make changes again with this being another week with 3 games to be played and I think there will also be a change in formation. As I said in my piece for the Baggies Blog, I think we’ll go to a 4-3-3 as follows: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Browne, Pearson, Potts; Barkhuizen, Harrop, Stockley.

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I think we’ll look to bring some legs into the midfield with Alan Browne and Brad Potts buzzing about and putting the Albion players under pressure, players such as Jake Livermore. If we allow him a lot of time on the ball, he’ll no doubt try to dictate play where he can.

When I think about this game, both of the games against Leeds United come to mind. I think we’ll be resilient and hard to break down and I can see us nicking something from a low scoring game. A 1-1 draw is what I’ll go for.

Finally, before you go there are two things. Episode #33 of the From the Finney podcast is out now. Myself and Jimmy discuss the weekend’s win over Hull City and we also look ahead to the Tuesday night game against West Brom.

Then, there’s Episode #7 of From the Finney Meets… which is now available to stream. I met with former North End and current Liverpool shot-stopper Andrew Lonergan to discuss his time playing for his hometown club, Preston North End.