West Brom mood is so different for Seagulls’ return
When Albion travelled to face Brighton in early September, it was supposed to be the beginning of a bright new dawn, writes Matt Maher.
The first fixture after the closure of a summer transfer window hailed in almost every quarter as a success, it pitched an unbeaten Baggies unit against a Seagulls team still searching for their first Premier League goal.
Unsurprisingly, around 2,000 or so Albion supporters who made the long journey south did so riding a wave of optimism.
Surely none could have foreseen what has transpired since, even after the rather sloppy performance produced by Tony Pulis’s team in their 3-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.
Yet four months on, the dawn is yet to arrive. For now, there remains only cloud.
Brighton arrive at The Hawthorns tomorrow with Pulis long gone, Alan Pardew still hunting his first Premier League victory as Albion boss at the ninth attempt and the Baggies looking to snap a winless league run which stretches back to August.
Attempting to downplay the importance of this fixture from the home side’s perspective would be pointless. Everyone knows it, from Pardew, to his players, the club’s board and the fans.
The positive for Albion is that despite the long winless run, their position for now remains more than salvageable. A four-point gap to safety could be quickly wiped out with a little momentum, though supporters will surely now have lost count of the matches billed as a potential turning point over the past two months.
Likely line up: Foster, Brunt, Dawson, Evans. Hegazi, Barry, Krychowiak, McClean, Phillips, Rodriguez, Rondon
Subs: Nyom, McAuley, Livermore, Yacob, Burke, Robson-Kanu, Myhill
Brighton (4-4-1-1): Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray
Tomorrow is simply the biggest one yet. Sooner or later, Albion must grasp an opportunity, though taking chances on the pitch has been central to their problems.
Just 16 goals in 22 games – and only four in the eight league games of which Pardew has taken charge – leaves them well down the top-flight scoring charts. Only Swansea have scored fewer though, interestingly, Brighton have scored just one more.
“When I have gone into clubs before I have never really not had an instant impact, particularly offensively,” said Pardew. “That’s where the team has struggled a bit. Just trying to get them to be a bit more confident in themselves in and around the box.
“That comes from long run of not winning. It is still the thing that needs to be rectified if we are to stay in the Premier League. We have got to score more goals.”
Albion should have Jonny Evans back available after the skipper, whose future is the subject of intense speculation, missed last weekend’s FA Cup win at Exeter with a sore foot.
Craig Dawson, who was rested for the Devon trip, is also expected to return, while the Baggies will check on the fitness of Matt Phillips (hamstring) and Kieran Gibbs (muscle). Midfielder James Morrison, who netted Albion’s consolation at the Amex, is again expected to miss out with an Achilles injury.