The FourFourTwo Preview: West Brom vs Stoke
Dreaming of the Copacabana, or Camber Sands…
Has a football team ever really been “on the beach already”? Bearing down on goal, does a striker’s mind inadvertently wander to the soft, lush expanses of Mauritius, resulting in him ballooning the ball over the bar like a clot? Does the midfielder misplace his pass as he mentally enters that trance night in Ayia Napa? Might a goalkeeper concede as he relishes those months without gloves?
WEST BROM FORM
- S'land 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Man City 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Spurs (Prem)
- Stoke 4-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
Probably not. It’s a professional sport and you might as well give it a crack over the 90 minutes – but if there ever were a fixture where players and fans alike could be forgiven for not really giving a baboon’s backside, it is this.
Sure, the calculator-suckers in both boardrooms will still be pumped: win on Sunday and Stoke can leapfrog Newcastle (should the Magpies lose at Anfield), while a West Brom victory (and other results going their way) can see them jump from 17th to 14th. Those differences in places mean hundreds of thousands in prize money.
The Baggies can also – mathematically – go down – should there be a 17-goal swing with Norwich. It’s about as likely as Nicolas Anelka winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but the desire to avoid the humiliation of staying up on goal difference might also be some scant motivation.
And the last day of the season is always time for something of a party – especially if you’ve stayed up by the last filament of skin on your tiniest tooth, like West Brom.
But will Baggies fans really be in a boing boing state of mind as The Hawthorns bids adios to 2013/14? It has not been a season of progress: last year’s marvellous eighth place seems a distant memory, and from Steve Clarke’s sacking to James Morrison's lamping of Saido Berahino – via Pepe Mel’s struggles and some moronic anti-Semitic saluting – it’s been a term to forget.
Stoke, meanwhile, can look back on a season of steady progress – they’re guaranteed a top-10 finish, a solid improvement on last year’s 42 points and 13th place – and can look forward to building on those foundations next year. But it’s hardly the stuff dreams are made of.
With the Baggies having drawn the most Premier League games of any team this season, the meeting of these two back in October at the Britannia Stadium being a drudgey 0-0, and with just one goal from their last three fixtures, there’s every indication that these sides’ seasons may end with a whimper here.
But win, lose or a draw – and whether the players on display are dreaming of the World Cup beaches of Brazil or something closer to home – we’ll be seeing them both for a new Premier League adventure in August. And that, when all else is forgotten, is worthy of congratulation.
Billy Jones should be fit, but Morgan Amalfitano, Thievy Bifouma, Liam Ridgewell and Zoltan Gera can get booking their holidays. Only the towering Robert Huth is missing for Stoke.
Player to watch: Ryan Shawcross (Stoke)
The former Manchester United trainee was voted Stoke’s Player of the Year on Monday night, and little wonder. The club skipper has been at the heart of everything good the Potters have done this season, demonstrating remarkable consistency at centre-back, and until he was sent off against Spurs the weekend before last, had played every single minute of league and cup football this season.
He returns against West Brom having served a one-match ban versus Fulham, and his manager believes Shawcross is so improved that he deserves another call-up by Roy Hodgson. While he won’t be on the plane to Brazil, another impeccable season from the lofty Chester lad – still only 26 – might well see him force his way back into the Three Lions reckoning for Euro 2016.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-0 WBA (Prem, Oct 13)
- Stoke 0-0 WBA (Prem, Mar 13)
- WBA 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Dec 12)
- Stoke 1-2 WBA (Prem, Jan 12)
- WBA 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Aug 11)
Mark and Mel have not met before, although they narrowly missed playing against each other in 1980s Spain: Sparky left Barcelona for Bayern Munich in 1988, while Pepe signed with Real Betis – where he was a real goal machine – a year later.
Whether they’ll get another opportunity to reminisce about their sunny, goal-happy youths is doubtful: poor old Pep’s number does seem to be up, and it’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for a man who was presented a problem-packed plate when he arrived.
Hughes can reflect on a pleasing year in the Potteries, where he has improved Tony Pulis’s side stylistically and statistically, and shorn up his own reputation as a Premier League boss after his QPR nightmare.
Facts and figures
- The first half has been goalless in 6 of the last 7 meetings between these teams.
- Stoke have drawn 6 of their last 9 trips to bottom-half teams.
- There have been fewer than 3 goals in 13 of Stoke’s last 15 away matches against bottom-half sides.
- Half of West Brom’s last 10 home games have finished 1-1.
0-0. Pass the Ambre Solaire!