Let’s face it, international friendlies are ridiculously pointless aren’t they? All the more so when players get themselves injured at this vital stage of the season. So with great excitement let us all embrace the last eight weeks of what has been a good entertaining season if not vintage, starting with Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion hosting the ever struggling Queens Park Rangers on Saturday at The Hawthorns.
West Bromwich Albion needed a bit of a respite after a disappointing and in some ways unexpected 3-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad, after the Baggies faced an early sending off where the referee appeared to have wrongly sent off McAuley instead of Dawson, ultimately hampering all the morale while the numerical advantage did all the damage. But Tony Pulis will be quietly confident about his side’s survival chances going into this game with only seven points needed to reach the magic number (40) as they say which should be enough to stay in the Premier League.
QPR. Oh QPR. Where do we even begin with? Queens Park Rangers quite simply need a few big performances and results from now until the end of the season to have any chance of retaining their Premier League status. The Rangers will travel to the midlands on the back of a narrow yet disheartening 1-2 home loss to Everton which has left them with 22 points from 30 games, languishing near bottom, at least 4 points from safety. With the worst away record in the league (17 losses in the last 19), Chris Ramsey will have to find a way and quickly enough to get results in away fixtures against mid-table sides like these, before it gets too late. He has insisted that the poor run has not affected the confidence of his squad, although he realises that time is running out to pull off an escape and is targeting a healthy return from visits to The Hawthorns and Aston Villa, who QPR face on Tuesday. He said,
“We felt the performance was good against Everton. We need to get back on the horse and defend better this weekend. You wouldn’t believe we are where we are when you see the confidence of this group of players. But we know we need victories and we remain confident as a group. Despite the run of results, we’re still in touch. We’ve been fortunate that other results have been in our favour. As the games dwindle away, the other results around us become more important. I believe that we’ve got the capacity to survive in this league. I do and the players do as well. There’s no doom and gloom here. We’re as upbeat as we can be in this situation.”
While Craig Dawson is out through suspension, Pulis will also miss the services of in-form Brown Ideye who’s still nursing a knee injury and Callum McManaman who will be sidelined with an ankle problem. Star striker Saido Berahino should be available for Saturday’s game though after the forward is said to have recovered from a minor foot injury. Tony Pulis will also boosted by the potential return of key duo as Claudio Yacob & Chris Brunt are back from suspension.
No new injuries for Chris Ramsey’s QPR as they will be travelling without the usual suspects in Leroy Fer who is recovering from a Medial Cruciate Ligament, Richard Dunne (knee) and Alejandro Faurlin (knee).
- The Baggies have won three and lost just one of the five Premier League meetings with Rangers.
- QPR have conceded the first goal in 23 of their 30 Premier League games this season; more often than any other team.
- 15 of Saido Berahino’s 18 competitive goals for WBA this season have come at the Hawthorns (83%)
- Since Chris Ramsey took the reins at QPR, they have found the net in six of their seven Premier League games.
Darren Fletcher – West Bromwich Albion
On a free transfer, Fletcher moved to pastures new during January in search of more playing time on the field and he couldn’t have moved to a better football club than West Bromwich Albion, where he’s given the minutes on the pitch coupled with the responsibility of leading a side that wants to safeguard their Premier League position. A smart move by Tony Pulis especially when you consider the fact that he’s getting a player with such experience and character – a model professional with a bit of quality on the ball as well – for free. Very shrewd. The results have been coming and Fletcher may not be the one that’s influencing them directly by scoring goals or creating them but the Scotsman certainly has been the driving force in that engine room that continues to inspire his teammates on and off the turf, leading by example as a certain James Morrison would admit,
“He’s a great lad, he’s a leader and he barks his orders,” stated Morrison who believed he has commanded that presence for the success that he had at United. He’s got that respect and he deserves it for what he’s done in the game”
If West Bromwich are to accrue all three points, it is imperative this midfield partnership clicks on Saturday.
Charlie Austin – Queens Park Rangers
Charlie Austin has had a brilliant season so far by all accounts and at times he’s been the shining light in an otherwise dull and despondent season (so far) for the Rangers. The 25-year old has been their leading scorer with 15 goals in 27 appearances with a remarkable shot accuracy of 66% showing what kind of a campaign the English forward is having albeit on a personal level. Add to that his work ethic where Austin has managed to help his midfielders out by coming short and tracking back more often than not, making a total of 30 clearances – thirty clearances, for a forward, seems an awful lot but could only go on to prove his all round ability and commitment to the cause. If QPR are to get anything at all from this fixture, it is vital that the midfielders and especially the wide men in Vargas and Isla provide him the necessary ammo to score and if possible outscore the opposition as they could do a lot worse than go and attack West Bromwich at the Hawthorns.
A typical Tony Pulis styled win at home. Rugged. Robust. But job done.
West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Queen’s Park Rangers