Category Archives: West Bromwich Albion

Night of drama in Championship as Bees loose out to Baggies to go up

The best league in the world served up more drama on the final round of matches in the Championship on Wednesday evening.

Before kick off there was plenty of issues still to be decided.  Who would be joining Leeds United in the Premiership?  Who could possibly squeeze into the play-offs? Finally which three sides would be playing in League One next season?

West Brom Manager Slaven Bilic had to suffer 96 minutes of unbearable tension before the Baggies were guaranteed Premiership football next season.

After a two-year absence, they are back in the big time but they were pushed all the way by a resilient QPR side. It was the Londoners who took the lead through Ryan Manning, but West Brom hit back to lead 2-1 before Eberechi Eze levelled for Rangers just over the hour mark to leave the Baggies facing an anxious end to their league campaign.

When the final whistle went, West Brom players waited on the pitch to hear what was happening at Griffin Park. When news came through that Brentford had lost, wild scenes erupted around the Hawthorns as West Brom were confirmed as runners up.

You have to feel sorry for Brentford, who up until the last two results had looked the side likely to join Leeds in the top flight of English Football next season.

However, their surprising defeat to Stoke City at the weekend and last night’s shock 2-1 loss to Barnsley has cost them dearly. It will be play-offs for Thomas Frank’s vibrant side. For Barnsley, thanks to Clarke Oduor’s stoppage time winner, it meant that they had left the bottom three, thanks to Wigan Athletic’s 12-point deduction.

Fulham will have to go through the tough grind of the play-offs after a 1-1 draw against Wigan at the DW Stadium.

The draw meant that the Cottagers finished in fourth place in the table, two points outside second place West Brom.

Before last night’s action there would have been very few people who would have bet on both Welsh sides getting to the play-offs. Following an incredible night of action, however, saw both Cardiff and Swansea book their play-off dates with Nottingham Forest agonisingly missing out.

Cardiff relegated Hull City at the Cardiff City Stadium by securing a 3-0 win, while down the M4 Swansea were doing their best to gate crash the play-off mix by heavily beating Reading 4-1.

At the start of the evening, The Swans had to overcome a five-goal swing with Forest. The Welsh side did their bit, so it was down to what Forest could do against Stoke City at the City Ground.

Forest, in the top six for most of the season, capitulated 4-1 against Stoke and missed out on the play-offs. Swansea pipping the East Midland side on goal difference by a mere one goal.

Leeds celebrated being crowned champions  by hammering Charlton Athletic 4-0 at Elland Road. A result that sent Lee Bowyer’s side down to League One.

Luton Town survived a nervy night and escaped relegation after beating Blackburn Rovers 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

In other matches, Middlesbrough’s impressive form under Neil Warnock continued with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, while Millwall ended their campaign on a high with a 4-1 victory against Huddersfield, with Derby County winning at Birmingham 3-1.

Championship play-offs

Swansea City vs Brentford first leg Sunday 26th July second leg Wednesday 29th July.

Cardiff City vs Fulham first leg Monday 27th July second leg Thursday 30th July

Final Tuesday 4th August

Plenty to play for in the Championship on midweek Wednesday

For the first time ever the final round of fixtures in the Championship will be completed midweek on a Wednesday evening.

Although Leeds United have been confirmed as champions, there is still a scrap for the one other automatic promotion spot.

West Brom, Brentford and their London rivals Fulham are the three sides in contention for the one place available.

The Baggies go into the final game only a point clear of Brentford and Fulham a further point behind.

On paper it looks likely that all three sides could win their final match, but as we know on the final day of the regular season there is always many surprises.

Brentford and Fulham will be praying that fellow London side QPR will be able to do them a favour by winning at The Hawthornes. West Brom’s form has slipped of late after not winning for three games. Despite a 4-3 victory against Millwall, Rangers form after lockdown has been poor with the club winning just twice in their last eight games.

Brentford, heading in to their final game looked the likely side who would go up with Leeds after a scintillating run of form which has seen the Bees win eight games in a row before suffering a setback with a 1-0 defeat against Stoke at the weekend.

The visitors to Griffin park are Barnsley who start the day one of the bottom of the table and two points from safety. The Tykes travel to London on the back of a fine victory at the weekend over Nottingham Forest. They know on Saturday they must win and hope other results go their way for them to be playing Championship football again next season.

Fulham make the long trip to Wigan on Wednesday and will be facing a resurgent Wigan side who are unbeaten in their last four matches. The Latics received  news this week that the EFL have confirmed that Wigan will have their twelve point deduction handed out after Wednesday nights final round of matches- provided the Latics appeal against the decision, due to be heard before 27th July, isn’t upheld.

In terms of the play-off picture it is much clearer with Forest  already guaranteed a play-off spot ,baring a 5 goal swing with Swansea,  either Cardiff or Swansea will join them .

Cardiff entertain Hull City at the Cardiff City Stadium with Swansea facing the trip to the Madjeski Stadium to face Reading.

As it stands The Swans will have to beat Reading and hope struggling Hull can beat Cardiff. A tough ask for the Tigers who are bottom of the table. However, if they could pull of a shock it would put pressure of the other sides facing the drop along with Barnsley.  Both Luton and Charlton are the two sides in most trouble, with Middlesbrough and Birmingham virtually safe.

The Hatters are at home to Blackburn Rovers, whilst Charlton travel to Leeds. Luton have hit good form of late with the Hatters unbeaten in their last four including a massive victory over Hull City on Saturday.

Charlton travel up to Yorkshire without a win in their last six games and won’t enjoy playing the newly crowned champions.

So, plenty for most teams to play for in the most competitive league in the world. Come around 9.30 on Wednesday evening we will have a clearer picture, with plenty of nails being chewed by nervous fans around the country.

West Brom vs Fulham- Preview

High flying West Brom host fellow promotion chasers Fulham tonight, looking to solidify their place in the automatic promotion spots with Brentford closing in.

The Baggies are now just three points ahead of Brentford, after they only drew against Blackburn at the weekend and Brentford defeated Derby.

Their next opponents Fulham are also hot on their heels, as they look to secure a quick fire return to the Premier League after they suffered relegation last season.

Fulham’s 2-0 win against Cardiff, coupled with West Brom dropping points, means that Scott Parker’s men are fourth, five points behind the Baggies, but with a chance to close the gap to just two points and put real pressure on West Brom with victory tomorrow night at the Hawthorns.

The sides last met in September at Craven Cottage, when Anthony Knockaert’s stunning looping effort was cancelled out by a late header from Ajayi.

West Brom have certainly kicked on since then, joining leaders Leeds as the only other side to occupy an automatic promotion place this season, although that is under threat with three games left to play.

Slaven Bilic’s men have had mixed results since the restart, winning three, drawing two and losing one, (a significant 1-0 defeat to Brentford) allowing other teams to make up ground on them.

Fulham’s comeback from the enforced break was initially disastrous as they suffered two damaging losses against Leeds and Brentford.

Scott Parker’s men have improved since then however, winning their last four games on the bounce, keeping three clean sheets in the process.

West Brom will have to contend with the absence of first choice left back Kieran Gibbs, who is still out after suffering a hamstring injury against Hull last weekend. Bilic hopes he will return for the final two games of the season.

He joins Nathan Ferguson on the treatment table as West Brom’s two injury concerns. Hal Robson-Kanu, Grady Diangana and Rekeem Harper all in contention to start, whilst Ahmed Hegazi is back from suspension for the Baggies.

Fulham captain Tom Cairney is still a doubt for the visitors, having missed the last two games with a knock. Stefan Johansen, Ivan Cavaleiro and Neeskens Kebano are pushing for starts after impressing off the bench in the win against Cardiff.

It is set to be a mouthwatering game between two evenly matched teams, and you can watch it live on Sky Sports, with kick off at 5pm.

Said Benrahma- The Algerian whose taken the Championship by Storm

Said Benrahma is the name on every Championship fan’s lips this season as a series of sparkling displays have highlighted just how talented the 24 year old is.

A quick search of his name on YouTube and you’ll find some of the finest highlight reels in football, including an ingenious double nutmeg on Middlesbrough’s Lewis Wimg this term.

He is so good at sliding the ball through a player’s legs that Brentford B coach Sam Saunders recently told the Guardian:

“He could nutmeg a mermaid.”

Yet, Benrahma is so much more than just a tricky winger.

He has been the Bees creative force this season, forming an impressive attacking trio alongside Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins (who have been christened Brentford’s BMW) netting fifteen goals and providing six assists in the league.

Routinely deployed on the left wing, Benrahma loves to cut inside on his right foot and deliver a cross or have a shot on goal. He is one of the most technically gifted players in the division, with his dribbling often leaving defenders in knots.

His contribution to Brentford’s promotion push since the restart has underlined his importance to the Bees, scoring five and assisting one as Thomas Frank’s side have won all of their games since the break to sit just two points behind second place West Brom.

Three of those strikes came in the weekend’s game against Wigan, with the winger clinically dispatching the relegation threatened side with relative ease. His first was a well timed volley, the second an inch perfect cross come shot after he had tormented Byrne and the third a well placed shot into the far corner giving Marshall in goal, no chance.

Manager Thomas Frank was full of praise for the winger’s display, stating in his post match press conference:

“I think in general he has had a good season so far, but he has absolutely hit the ground running after this coronavirus break.

“He has added extra to his game, such as arriving in the box, and these last four games he has been getting better and better,  with his passing and his finishing.

“I have to praise him for his work ethic. He worked extremely hard. He has been good, he needs to keep it up.”

A Benrahma inspired Brentford then came from behind against Charlton at Griffin Park to continue their march towards promotion with a 2-1 win. Benrahma won and coolly converted a penalty to equalise before the Bees scored a second to pick up all three points.

He caused problems for Charlton all evening as he occupied a more central role, picking the ball up in between the lines and playing neat interchanges with Watkins.

His form this season will come as no great surprise to those who watched him at Griffin Park in his maiden campaign in England last season. He managed ten goals and fifteen assists last year as Brentford finished 11th but Benrahma has taken his game to new levels this year.

He represents another shrewd bit of business from the London club, as he was picked up in the summer of 2018 from Nice for a fee of £2.8 million, after catching the eye on loan in Ligue 2.

Having come through the youth ranks at Algerian side NRB Bethioua, Benrahma moved to France, linking up with Balma SC Colomiers and then moving on to Nice. He made his debut for the first team in 2013, aged just 18 but spent the majority of his time at the club in the reserve side before going out on loan. He left Nice having made 17 appearances, scoring three goals.

His first loan spell came in Ligue 1 with Angers, then he dropped down to Ligue 2 and had stints with Gazélec Ajaccio and Chateauroux. It was at the latter, which he first started to show his undoubted potential and came to Brentford’s attention. He scored nine goals in 31 appearances, aged just 22 and Brentford decided to take a risk and snap him up that summer.

He hasn’t looked back since and the Algerian is now surely worth at least ten times the fee Brentford paid for him. With a host of Premier League clubs sniffing around him, Benrahma is likely to leave if the Bees don’t make it out of the Championship this time around, having already talked of his desire to play in the top flight.

A full Algerian international, Benrahma has won three caps for his country and comparisons are often drawn between him and compatriot Riyad Mahrez. Both started their journey in Ligue 2 before lighting up the Championship and both are silky wingers who enjoy nutmegging opponents and creating chances.

If Benrahma, who was nominated for the Championship Player of the Year, manages to emulate Mahrez’s career trajectory he may well go down as one of the best bargain signings the Championship has ever seen.

For now, his focus will be on finishing the campaign strongly and propelling Brentford to the big time.

With just four games left of the regular season and potential play off dates to come if Brentford can’t pop West Brom to second place, now is the time for Benrahma to show his quality and provide for Brentford when they really need him.

Analysis of the Championship Run-in

Championship fans up and down the country were today (June 8) given a huge boost of excitement with the EFL announcing the restart schedule released – along with confirmed TV selections.

The journey will continue for Sky Bet Championship clubs with the action kicking off again on Saturday 20 June. They couldn’t have gone for a juicier opening fixture with promotion contenders Fulham & Brentford clashing in front of the Sky cameras for a West London derby.

So with just nine games remaining, who is in the running for promotion and relegation? Let’s break it down and give a final prediction of what could go down starting with the relegation candidates.

We all know what gruelling and outright horrible season the Championship can be for clubs. It is 46 games of tough, physical games of football and we would usually be talking of these remaining nine games as the last hurdle, but truthfully, with the break, everyone has now had, anything could happen. Even more, than it usually does. Seriously, the Championship has become even more unpredictable – let the party begin.

Last term, 44 points renewed Millwall’s Championship status and the year before that, 43 points kept Bolton up. Yet with 27 points still up for grabs, Hull City sit one place out the drop zone on 41 points which makes you realise we could be in for a much higher points total to guarantee safety.

So who are all the teams in the relegation run-in? I suppose this is almost impossible to pinpoint with the dramatic changes this league can produce but all the way up to seventeenth spot we have Stoke City who are just three points adrift. Below them are Huddersfield, Middlesbrough Wigan and Hull. The drop zone meanwhile contains Charlton, Luton, and Barnsley.

Given the number of ridiculous results that the Championship can produce I almost feel it a pointless exercise to start analysing the run-ins that the teams have but some crucial relegation clashes are coming up – one of them being Hull vs Middlesbrough.

The Yorkshire derby (I’m sorry) has been selected for Sky coverage on Thursday 2 July and could play a pivotal part. The Tigers made a terrible gamble in January by selling their dynamic duo of Jared Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to West Ham and West Brom respectively and it’s fair to say it couldn’t have gone worse for them.

At one stage it looked like Hull might be in for a fairly stable season but since Christmas, they have picked up just eleven points from a possible forty-two, including heavy defeats in the last two outings to Leeds and Stoke.

Elsewhere, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for Wigan Athletic who were in the form of their lives and picked up huge wins over the current top two, Leeds and West Brom. It’s a huge fight meanwhile for Barnsley, who, despite some half-decent form themselves, are still bottom of the pile and seven points adrift. Gerhard Struber has not done a bad job with the Yorkshire club but the sheer awfulness of their start to the season before he took charge in November means that it still hasn’t been enough.

Charlton Athletic have been hit with a huge blow, which has been a big talking point ahead of the restart with several players including top scorer Lyle Taylor, refusing to continue. Taylor (30) is out of contract and states his physical health as reasons for not agreeing to a temporary extension as he doesn’t want an injury to prevent him from a move next season.

Even with Taylor’s goals, Charlton are two points deep in the relegation zone and without them, you do wonder where the results are going to come from. Below the Addicks, we have Luton Town who for most of the season have just looked a little bit out of their depth. It would be a shame for Luton to go down as their epic rise, fall and rise again has been a great story. Do they, however, have enough to stay up?

Huddersfield and Stoke may be living life dangerously sitting just three points clear, but the misfortunes of Charlton and Hull I think will keep them safe enough and out of the equation. Huddersfield will, however, have crucial games against Wigan and Luton, meanwhile Stoke will have to fight off tough opposition with three of the top six still to play.

Final Prediction
21: Charlton Athletic (Survived)
22: Hull City (Relegated)
23: Barnsley (Relegated)
24: Luton Town (Relegated)

So on we go to the epic prize that is the Premier League. Once again this is going to be a tough one to predict and it really wouldn’t shock me if a team I mention in this somehow ends up in a relegation scrap. This division is mental, it really is.

With just six points separating sixth and thirteenth – don’t shoot me if I end up getting this horrifically wrong.

I reiterate that form could completely go out the window with the big break that we have had and the run-ins could make no difference whatsoever but nonetheless, we’ll start with the current top two.

Leeds and West Brom have looked the best bets for promotion for a lot of this season and six points currently separates West Brom from Fulham in third with Leeds one point ahead of Albion in first. Both have had their bad spells this season and at one point it seriously looked like both Fulham and Brentford could take up the top two spots.

Before the pandemic, however, Leeds were in tantalising form winning their last five games and conceding no goals in the process. For West Brom, it was a little more up and down drawing away to Swansea and losing at home to Wigan but the Baggies did register big wins over Preston and Bristol City before that.

With Brentford ten points behind West Brom, we have to suggest at this stage that Fulham are the main contenders to challenge the top two.

However, a reminder that Fulham do host Brentford in the first game back and an away win for the Bees could give them a very good argument that they are still in the mix. Thomas Frank’s side will then have to face West Brom immediately afterwards at home so those two games perhaps could give us a good idea?

In that same game week, Leeds will host Fulham in what could also prove to be huge. My word I have missed this barnstormer of a league!

We must also not forget Nottingham Forest who sit level with Brentford in fifth, however, since their big home win over Leeds back in February, the form for Sabri Lamouchi’s men has been very up and down. They were shocked at home to Charlton and since been well beaten in their last game at the hands of Millwall. Forest have been crying out for Premier League football even longer than Leeds but still strike me as a team that is developing under Lamouchi.

There is no doubt that Lamouchi has transformed Forest into a much better side than we have seen over the years and for that reason, in my opinion, it puts him in the running for manager of the year. Should they, however, fall short this season they’d have to be big favourites next year.

Four points behind Forest in sixth we have Preston where thankfully we can now just be talking about who is going to take that spot come July. Not that I should completely disregard Preston ploughing through everyone in nine games and go up as champions but let’s just pretend that isn’t possible. Alex Neil is another manager who has done a tremendous job this season, turning Preston from a mid-table team to a side that is mounting a promotion challenge.

They do, however, face stiff competition from Bristol City, who are just a point behind The Lilywhites, while Millwall and Cardiff are just two points adrift. Oh, but then we have Blackburn, Swansea and Derby who are also very much in contention…I give in, please no one shoot me for this prediction.

To make matters more difficult these are all teams who’s form has been very inconsistent, I mean that’s probably why they are where they are. I do make a strong case for Gary Rowett’s Millwall though, who, since Rowett’s appointment I’ve identified as dark horses for promotion.

Rowett has had a lot of talk about him since his shock departure from Birmingham as to how good a coach he is and it did not go well for him at Stoke. At the time it looked a risky decision to take the managerial role at The Den, given that the previous season Millwall had very narrowly escaped relegation and were sat in seventeenth spot at the time of his appointment.

The Lions though have lost just five league games in his 23 game tenure and with just two points separating them and Preston they do look a good bet. Bristol City meanwhile were in very bad form before lockdown and despite that potentially making no difference anymore, they aren’t a team that has struck me as one that would maintain a spot in the playoffs. I would also say similarly with Guy Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers, who have been in and around the mix for a while now and for a long time topped the form table, but ultimately I see them coming short.

Swansea and Derby are interesting ones because the Swans were at the top end of the table for a while before Christmas but a bad run of form led to their slip down the table. They are a young footballing side that given time under Steve Cooper, they could be well in the mix next season.

Derby, on the other hand, have had a very eventful season.  The signing of Wayne Rooney in January to the sacking of captain Richard Keogh. Focusing on the football, they’re a team that has tried to play out from the back under Phillip Cocu but just haven’t done it that well. Their fortunes have however recently changed and the results have started to come, which has led to them being back in the mix but I think it will be too little too late for them.

Final Prediction
1: Leeds (Promoted)
2: West Brom (Promoted)
3: Fulham
4: Brentford (Promoted via Playoffs)
5: Nottingham Forest
6: Millwall