The Sky Bet Championship continues this weekend with a quick turnaround from the midweek fixture programme as The Lions travel to The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion this Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
Neil Harris’ Lions are looking to turn their form around following Wednesday night’s 2-0 defeat at QPR, while Darren Moore’s West Brom sit fourth in the Sky Bet Championship having beaten Bristol City 4-2 at The Hawthorns on Tuesday night.
West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion’s 140-year history has seen them spend just two seasons outside the top two divisions, along with claiming one First Division title and eight promotions from the second tier.
The Black Country outfit boast a decorated trophy cabinet from down the years, having lifted no less than five FA Cups – the most recent in 1968 – as well as reaching five more finals, winning the 1966 League Cup and two Charity Shields.
Until their relegation last season, Albion maintained an eight-year spell in the Premier League, fading their reputation from years previous for regularly swapping divisions – between 2001 and 2010, the club experienced four promotions and three relegations between the Premier League and Championship. After 2010, the club saw a spell of improvement and consistency which led to three top-half finishes, before tailing off last season despite a late revival attempt under Moore. The drastic upturn in form secured Moore the task of making a swift return to the top flight, with the club able to keep hold of several assets in their squad. The Baggies are one of the second tier’s most successful clubs, having not finished lower than the top six at this level for over 18 years.
Ones to Watch
Kieran Gibbs (3) has enjoyed a high-profile career so far, with West Brom impressively keeping him as they attempt to find their way back to the Premier League. Although seemingly around for a longer time than has been the case, Gibbs is still only 28 and made over 200 appearances during an occasionally injury-plagued decade of senior football with Arsenal, for whom he graduated through their academy. Left-back Gibbs possesses a balance to his game, equally adept in defensive and attacking areas. This season is the defender’s first experience of the Championship since a loan spell with Norwich City as a teenager in 2008, and he has shown excellent consistency so far this season – one of the division’s leading full-backs. Gibbs has 10 senior England caps, earned between 2010 and 2015, has played in three FA Cup-winning sides and has made over 40 Champions League appearances.
Harvey Barnes (15) has had an exciting start to his loan spell at The Hawthorns from Leicester City, further proving himself at Championship level with three goals, two assists and several lively performances. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder and winger spent part of last season on loan at Barnsley, scoring five goals – the majority of which fantastic strikes – with the team’s form dropping following his recall by parent club Leicester, where he played in a number of Premier League and FA Cup matches. The Foxes academy product has also gained EFL experience with MK Dons, and is now an England U20 international following his success with the U18 side at the Toulon Tournament last year.
Matt Phillips (10) has also excelled for Albion this season, contributing four goals in the side’s opening eight matches. The exciting and dependable wide man signed for the club in 2016 from Queens Park Rangers, against whom he scored two in a 7-1 demolishing last month. The 27-year-old came through the youth system of Wycombe Wanderers, making his first-team debut in 2008 aged 17 and later joining Blackpool. Phillips spent three successful years at Bloomfield Road and made the 2011/12 Championship Team of the Year – along with Jay Rodriguez – as well as gaining his first taste of the Premier League. A short but prolific loan spell at Sheffield United in 2011 further rose his stock, and his consistent reliability and knack for scoring memorable goals has seen him now rated one of the Championship’s most dangerous attacking players – one of a handful playing for West Brom.
Jay Rodriguez (19) is currently second in the division’s scoring ranks this season with six goals, topped only by Brentford’s Neal Maupay. Rodriguez’s strikes have contributed most heavily to the highest-scoring attack in the Championship to date, with the team finding the net 20 times in eight matches. The striker joins the likes of Dwight Gayle and Hal Robson-Kanu in a powerful attack, in a team with bags of highest-level experience. Scoring a goal every 116 minutes so far this campaign, the one-time England international possesses strong aerial ability, can expertly defend from the front and has a knack of scoring several goals in matches, as shown by his three braces this season. Spending five years each at Burnley and Southampton, the 29-year-old has plenty of valuable pedigree and is expected to contend for this season’s Golden Boot.
In the Dugout
Darren Moore is a new face in the world of coaching, but has immediately earned respect and shown potential despite what would look from the outside like a poor start to his managerial career with relegation last season. However, with Albion 10 points adrift and with eight straight defeats when Moore took caretaker charge from Alan Pardew, the Jamaican faced a near-impossible task. Moore went unbeaten for five matches, claiming the scalps of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur and winning April’s Manager of the Month award, before the inevitable occurred and the Baggies finally dropped into The Championship. The momentum has seen Albion play with freedom in the division and become involved in some entertaining spectacles, and the former defender at The Hawthorns has appeared to impart new hope into the club. The 44-year-old’s playing career also saw him turn out for clubs such as Torquay United, Portsmouth and Barnsley.