WEST Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray will no doubt emphasise that every game in the Premier League is a big game, that the focus is on winning enough points to stay in the league regardless of who those points come against.
However, ask any Baggies fan and the one league fixture this season they would dearly love to win is tomorrow’s clash against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Only supporters with long memories can remember the last time Albion travelled back down the M6 from the Potteries with the three points intact.
Not since 1982, when Albion won 3-0 at the old Victoria Ground, have they put the Potters to the sword on their own turf and if any players were in doubt at how badly Baggies’ fans want that barren sequence to end then captain Jonathan Greening has had first-hand experience.
“I was walking through Sutton Coldfield with my kids and someone stopped me and reminded me of the fact it has been 26 years and pleaded with me to get the win,” he said. “I said we would try. If we can do that then that would be a bogy team off our back and hopefully on Sunday we will be three points better off, out of the bottom three and then go into the Wigan game full of confidence. We are desperate to get the three points.”
The Britannia Stadium has certainly been an inhospitable place for Albion and it will be even more so tomorrow. The chilly wind bellows through the stands on a good day and with freezing temperatures forecasted Albion can expect an even frostier welcome.
Not only have Stoke beaten Arsenal and Aston Villa on their own patch, manager Tony Pulis has had the Britannia Stadium pitch narrowed, which has helped the effectiveness of their main weapon, the exocet missile that is Rory Delap’s long throw. Seven of Stoke’s 13 league goals have come from his throw-ins.
“I don’t think there is anything you can do to stop it,” Mowbray said. “You can’t stand on the touchline and jump up and down to stop him throwing it in. It is very difficult to deal with. You have to want to make the first contact with the ball but they have half a dozen lads who are 6ft 4in-plus so it can be hard to do. There is no clever tactic against it. You bank men in front of the goalie and hope somebody heads the damn thing out. We know what is coming, it is within the laws of the game and we will look forward to going there and giving them a good game.”
Mowbray said Stoke would hold no surprises and therefore how successful Albion are will be depend solely on how his side perform. “We know all about Stoke because we played them last year and didn’t do too well against them,” he added. “We will see how we do this year. I’m sure every team who plays Stoke knows what their strengths are, what they are good at and what they are bad at. You try to prepare the team for it.
“Just because you prepare doesn’t mean you will get a victory but we know what to expect from Stoke and we will try to prepare as best we can.”
James Morrison, who has strained his medial knee ligaments, is Mowbray’s only injury concern.