After a roller-coaster week which started with the highs of a memorable victory at Anfield and the loan signing of Daniel Sturridge but ends with the stark reality that the Baggies are three points adrift at the bottom of the table, Albion face Southampton at the Hawthorns in another massively important fixture.
Cyrille Regis – picture courtesy of Laurie RamplingSaturday is important not just for this season’s battle against relegation, but also for the planned pre-match tributes to the late, great Cyrille Regis. A priveleged few were present at the stadium on Tuesday at the celebration of Cyrille’s life that followed his funeral, but the bulk of the Baggies fans will get their chance to say goodbye before the Southampton match in what should be a special occasion.
Hopefully, the Big Man’s influence will spur Albion on to victory as I’m sure it did against Liverpool last weekend, and thereby bring the Baggies back into the pack. It will take a three-goal win to move above the Saints in the table, but any sort of victory will be massive and will restore the momentum that had developed ahead of the defeat at the Etihad in mid-week.
Baggies fans will be eager to see Daniel Sturridge in the famous Blue and White for the first time and it will be interesting to see whether Pardew starts the club’s latest signing. The England man came off the bench in Manchester but with a few days’ training with the squad may have put him in contention for a starting spot this weekend, but at whose expense?
As an aside, it says a lot about how far the club has come in the last 13 years that the striker signed to keep Albion up in the Great Escape season was a 34-year-old Kevin Campbell; Sturridge is in a completely different class.
The make-up of the starting eleven will be very much dependent on a string of late fitness tests on Krychowiak, Gibbs, Evans, Livermore and Robson-Kanu, although the Welshman’s involvement in the first team is likely to be limited for the remainder of the season providing Sturridge stays fit. Krychowiak has developed into a key player in recent weeks, finally showing us the player we thought we’d signed in the summer, and his partnership with Barry in the middle of the park dominated the Liverpool midfield at Anfield. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to say this at any point this season given the way he started his time at the Albion, but I think Grzeg would be a bigger miss than Evans or Gibbs this weekend.
The Saints’ biggest signing of the window was £19m Argentine striker, Guido Carrillo, from Monaco. He has come off the bench in both matches since he joined and may get his first start this weekend. Southampton have struggled for goals this season although they have managed a goal a game in the league, seven more than Albion, but with Charlie Austin out for a few more weeks, it was certainly an area they needed to strengthen. Gabbiadini and Long have scored just four goals between them this season.
While Southampton have progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup, and will be returning to the Hawthorns in a fortnight’s time in that competition, their league form remains poor and they haven’t recorded a Premier League victory since they beat Everton late November picking up just seven points from their last twelve games. Their only league victory away from St Mary’s was at Crystal Palace in mid-September, but they have drawn three of their last four on the road including earning a creditable point at Old Trafford.
Like the Brighton game last month, this is a massive game for Albion and three points is the only outcome that will be acceptable. The players need to put the defeat at City behind them and remember the way they played at Anfield, and a win is there for the taking.
Albion have won just one of their last five meetings with Southampton, the 2-1 win at St Mary’s on New Year’s Eve 2016 thanks to the stunner from Hal Robson-Kanu, with the Saints victorious in the reverse fixture at the Hawthorns in April. The Baggies have won three of the seven Premier League meetings at the Hawthorns, while April’s win was Southampton’s second in Sandwell in the Premier League.
The Baggies’ biggest win over Saints came in 1930 when Jimmy Cookson scored four goals in a 5-1 victory while, in 1979, the south coast club were beaten 4-0 thanks to goals from John Deehan, Gary Owen, Bryan Robson and Ally Brown. Cyrille Regis was absent from that particular game with Deehan wearing the number nine shirt, but I’m sure his presence will be felt this weekend.
Albion may not get the 3-0 win that will take them above Southampton in the table but I think they will win and I fancy Sturridge to score on his home debut, just as Kevin Campbell did 13 years ago.