At the start of the 2012/2013 season West Brom were tipped to be relegation candidates. Steve Clarke was expected to struggle in his first managerial position. We couldn’t have been more wrong. His side go in to December 4th in the table level on points with Champions League winners Chelsea. Their form at the Hawthorns has been the foundation of their success having only dropped points at home to premier league champions Manchester City.
Their opponents have also built their form on a great home record. 15 points from 21 available at home has left them in the top half. Their away form need to improve if they are to remain in the top half as they have collected four points from a possible 21.
Yet both sides good home form was irrelevant last season. Stoke won1-0 at the Hawthorns last year thanks to a last minute Ryan Shotton goal. West Brom won 2-1 at the Britannia thanks to a late Graham Dorrans free-kick. However the worrying stat for Steve Clarke will be Stoke have won on their last three trips to the Hawthorns.
Zoltan Gera should return to the starting 11 after missing the 3-1 defeat to Swansea. Boaz Myhill will continue to deputise Ben Foster in goal after Foster underwent surgery on Tuesday.
Peter Crouch looks a likely absentee as he lost three teeth in a collision with Fabrico Collocini on Wednesday night. Kenwyne Jones looks like the likely replacement while Michael Owen could be set for a place on the bench.
Ones to watch
Romelu Lukaku was the stand out signing for Steve Clarke as he raided his former employees to get the Belgian on loan. However the midfield pairing of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu have been the solid foundation to what has been a sensational West Brom season so far. They have effectively protected their back four with them collectively winning 234 50-50s. Furthermore when they win the ball, they don’t lose it. Both have over 75% passing accuracy in the final third. They have provided a stable base while at the same time giving ammunition for West Brom to attack.
Tony Pulis’s sides have always been built on solid defensive foundation and this season has been no different. However summer signing Charlie Adam has added some genuine quality to a midfield that sometimes lacked ideas. He has been pushed in to an advanced centre midfield role in order to support their normal lone striker, Peter Crouch. His 76% passing accuracy suggest that he has been effective in his role. However a return of 2 goals is disappointing considering his advanced role. However his delivery from set pieces will be vital if Stoke are to continue their brilliant run at the Hawthorns.
Stoke will inevitably cause West Brom problems as they have on their last three trips to the Hawthorns. Their physical and direct approach causes many teams problems in the league. However this Baggies side are different from other seasons. They’ve had a settled back four for the majority of the season while Mulumbu and Yacob have provided excellent protection. I also see Peter Crouch as a massive loss as his hold up play and link between Charlie Adam has been very effective this season. So expect the game to be tight but can see West Brom continuing their brilliant home form.
West Brom were bought back down to earth on Wednesday night as a shocking first half display resulted in a 3-1 defeat away at Michael Laudrup’s Swansea. Yet Steve Clarke won’t be worrying as they’ve collected 12 points from their last six games to lie at the heights of fourth in the table. They’ll be looking to carry on their excellent home form against a Stoke side that do not travel well.
Yosef Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob have been the key men for the Baggies this season and will be again on Saturday. With over 1,500 touches between them this season they have provided the most stable of bases to this seasons surprise package. However they’ll have to be very wary of Stoke’s midfielder runners as they aim to support lone figure Peter Crouch.
Stoke’s away form has been terrible this season. They are without a win away from home and have collected four points from a possible 21. Stoke need to transfer their defensive prowess at the Britannia where they haven’t conceded more than one goal a game.
Their key man will be Charlie Adam. Tony Pulis signed him from Liverpool in the summer and immediately pushed in to an advanced midfield role. His delivery has been exceptional creating a total of 17 chances this season. However his tally of two goals needs to improve.
Both teams have similar form going in to the clash at the Hawthorns. Baggies have 12 points from their last 18 while Stoke have 11. However I expect West Brom to stroll to a routine home win.
Prediction: West Brom 2-0 Stoke