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west-brom-2-1000x500Almost three weeks ago I left the wreckage of the London Stadium having seen us beat West Ham United 3-0 and tomorrow, finally, we have another game with the shorter trip to the West Midlands to take on West Bromwich Albion.

There’s been much talk recently of a potential winter break coming in for the 2019/20 season and it feels as if we’ve been trialling it with two blank weekends. The first of them was due to our scheduled opponents Chelsea being involved in the FA Cup and last week it was international time.

I’ve had my football fix. It’s ranged from watching the youth team and the under-23s to games at the Etihad to see Argentina v Italy and a Saturday afternoon at Barnoldswick, but none of that comes close for me to going to a Burnley first team game and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s trip.

When I first started watching Burnley, a trip to West Brom was always greeted with huge optimism. In our final fixture of 1958, we led 1-0 there with a goal scored by Brian Pilkington but they gave us a going over in the second half and beat us 5-1.

Things changed and on our next nine visits we won six and drew three. Alongside Leicester’s Filbert Street there was no better place for us to play an away game. But just as it had started after a big defeat, it ended with one even worse. A late Arthur Bellamy goal in November 1967 was simply no more than a consolation in what was an 8-1 loss, the only time I’ve seen Burnley concede that many goals in one game.

A 1-0 win two years later, courtesy of a Steve Kindon goal, and a 2000/01 season 1-1 draw when Graham Branch scored, have been our only league successes since alongside ten defeats although we did draw an FA Cup tie in 2009 before winning the replay.

Things need to change and there’s never a better time than the present. In a game that could see former players in each forward line, it would be good to see their former player Chris Wood remain among the goals after the three he scored in the last two wins.

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Wood has been speaking this week about the fierce competition for a forward place in the current Burnley team with Ashley Barnes, who currently holds down a place, and Sam Vokes with Jon Walters, returning from injury, and Nahki Wells also chomping at the bit to get a place in the team.

Wood admitted that, looking from the outside when at Leeds, he would not have expected Burnley to be doing so well. “Before I came into this club I’d have been surprised to see Burnley get to this points total so quickly,” he said. “But after I joined and began working under the manager and with the lads, now I’m not surprised because we’ve got great quality and a great team and that’s something we can build on.

“I’d like to think we’re taking the club to the next level. We’re looking to keep on progressing as a team. We want to make sure we are an established Premier League side year in, year out and build from there.”

Looking forward to a return to West Brom, he added: “We’ve still got to stick to what we’re good at and what we’ve done well to get to this point. We can build on that and add a few more elements to our game that we maybe wouldn’t try if the games were a bit tight.

“We expect them to put everything on the line and throw everything at it. They’re looking for the next win, for the next few points to kick start a little run, but we’re going there to continue our run and see where we can get to.”

Wood hasn’t started a game since before Christmas when he suffered an injury against Spurs. He’s been back on the bench for the last three games and has come on in the last two and scored three goals. The big question is whether he will get a start; I think he will and that would see us revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Wood alongside Barnes as has been the case at the end of each of the last two games.

In terms of injuries. Obviously Robbie Brady and Steven Defour, both with long term injuries, are out and whilst both Tom Heaton and Jon Walters have been back in action this week for the under-23s, neither of them are likely to be involved with Sean Dyche himself playing down a possible return for Heaton.

Scott Arfield remains out with the calf injury that has seen him missing since the Swansea game seven weeks ago although it does look as though Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson should be fit to play after coming off injured playing for Iceland this week.

I think the team could be: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood. Subs from: Anders Lindegaard, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney, Aiden O’Neill, Jeff Hendrick, Georges-Kévin NKoudou, Nahki Wells, Sam Vokes.

It’s difficult to believe what’s happened at West Brom in the last year. A year ago, in a Premier League in which Everton had gone clear in seventh place, they were just one place behind and looking set to beat the fifty points figure.

They reached 40 points with ten games remaining and won the next game. They then proceeded to collect just another two points in their remaining nine games with away draws against Manchester United and us. Add that to the 20 points they’ve won this season and that’s a total of 22 points from their last 40 games in the Premier League.

This season kicked off well enough. They beat Bournemouth at home in their opening game and then came to the Turf and beat us 1-0. They only lost twice in their first eight games. By the end of November they were only just outside the bottom three and that prompted them to sack Tony Pulis and replace him with Alan Pardew but it hasn’t gone well and, to date, his only victory came in January when they beat Brighton 2-0 at home. It’s left them staring down the relegation barrel and they are now eleven points from safety.

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Even so, it will not be an easy afternoon for us. In their last game they were so close to winning at Bournemouth. Their former Claret Jay Rodriguez had given them the lead early in the second half and they retained that lead until 13 minutes from the end with another former Claret Junior Stanislas condemning them to a seventh successive defeat with an 89th minute winner for the home side. If West Brom play as they did at Bournemouth they will certainly be a very difficult side to face.

They have their injury problems. Gareth Barry hasn’t played for five weeks whilst Nacer Chadli has made just one substitute appearance since October. Both remain out of the reckoning as do Daniel Sturridge, who has played just three times since joining from Liverpool on loan, and a calf injury will keep 19-year-old midfielder Sam Field out of the team.

Field was used as a substitute at Bournemouth when they lined up: Ben Foster, Allan Nyom, Kieran Gibbs, Jonny Evans, Craig Dawson, Ahmed Hegazy, Claudio Yacob, Jake Livermore, Chris Brunt, Salomon Rondon, Jay Rodriguez. Subs: Boaz Myhill, Matt Phillips, James McClean, Oliver Burke, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Sam Field, Hal Robson-Kanu.

West Brom, alongside Arsenal, Brighton and Huddersfield are the only current Premier League teams we haven’t beaten in this league. It’s time tomorrow to reduce that total by one.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

When we went to West Brom last season, we did so looking to avenge the 4-0 defeat we’d suffered there on our previous visit. When we arrive tomorrow we will still be looking to avenge the 4-0 defeat we’d suffered there on our previous visit.

To lost 4-0 in an away fixture is bad enough; to do so again on the next visit is just too much to take. We got there having drawn our previous away game at Manchester United, a first away point of the season in our fourth game. We’d played Chelsea, champions Leicester, Southampton who were right up there and then United. West Brom seemed the likely place to put things right and get that first away win.

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Dean Marney played the ball right to Matt Phillips who was given space to shoot by Ben Mee. That was 1-0 after just four minutes. We seemed to recover and played some good football for a few minutes but with just over a quarter of an hour gone we went 2-0 down through James Morrison and that was just about game over.

Darren Fletcher added a third before half time and Salomon Rondon completed the scoring just past the hour.

How much of it was West Brom playing well and us being off form? We were certainly very poor on the night and could have no complaints at the scoreline.

The only positive on an awful night weather wise was that the rain held off as we walked from car to ground and back again.

The teams were;

West Brom: Ben Foster, Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Allan Nyom, Darren Fletcher, Claudio Yacob, Matt Phillips (James McClean 75), James Morrison (Craig Gardner 83), Chris Brunt, Salomon Rondon (Hal Robson-Kanu 79). Subs not used: Alex Palmer, Jonathan Leko, Brendan Galloway, Jonas Olsson.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (George Boyd 79), Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney, Steven Defour (Ashley Barnes ht), Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes (Andre Gray 70). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly.

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