This weekend, much like old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, the Premier League larder looks bare. That is, until you search a little harder. For if you look behind the FA Cup Fifth Round and the excitement of glamour ties such as Crawley’s giant killing mission against Manchester United, you will discover a solitary top flight encounter hidden away on Sunday morning.
The game in question is the long-awaited Black Country derby between West Brom and Wolves. Fans of both sides have been waiting for this day for many-a-year because, remarkably, it is the first ever Premier League meeting between the two sides and the first in the top flight for almost 20 years.
Encounters between the two rivals were regular during the 90s when both were habitual residents of Division 1, but since they began exchanging places in the Premiership the matches have been less sporadic and, as a result, even more spicy.
To up the ante further, the Wanderers travel the nine miles to the Hawthorns on Sunday with both teams in desperate need of the three points. If Wolves lose they will be in danger of becoming adrift at the bottom of the league, if West Brom lose they will be well and truly involved in the relegation scrap, and a draw? Well, that won’t be much good to either side.
The prelude to the game is of course made more interesting by the fact that Sunday will see Roy Hodgson take the reins at West Brom for the first time. There couldn’t be a better chance for him to win over and doubting-Thomas fans than with a morale boosting, bragging rights securing win over their next-door neighbours.
But Wolves too will be under the spotlight on Sunday. Numerous voices from Molineux in the last few weeks have been telling the world how they need to pick up point against teams around them instead of relying on beating members of the top six. This weekend will show just how serious they are about their declaration on intent.
I went to a Black Country derby at Molineux in 1999 and my memory of the game recalls that the event took precedence over the game itself – the football wasn’t great and the game finished 1-1 (facts true of most derby games). I hope that, despite both side’s perilous positions, this year’s clash is remembered for the football. Wolves’ away form is simply atrocious and West Brom possess the worst ‘goals against’ record in the league, so one would think that the chances of this game being goalless are slim.
The all-time league record between the teams sees West Brom edging just ahead with 54 wins to Wolves’ 51, and recent history gives the Baggies the edge also. In the last ten meetings in all competitions Wolves have won just twice while West Brom have five victories to their name, including both games of the 2006/07 Championship play-offs.
This game will of course go some way to indicating where each team will finish, but the game that could condemn either side to certain relegation could be reserved for the return fixture on 7th May – a mouth-watering prospect indeed.
What are your thoughts on the game? Leave your thoughts and predictions below.