It was at Swansea that Albion’s Premier League success story started to unravel.
Now Pepe Mel heads for the Liberty Stadium desperate not to become the biggest victim of the Baggies’ South Wales curse.
Trips over the border have brought out the worst in Albion recently. Swansea was the stage for Roy Hodgson’s lowest moment as Baggies coach, while Cardiff was the scene of Steve Clarke’s last stand in December.
Yet arguably the most significant bleak day in Wales for the Baggies came in November 2012 with their most recent visit to tomorrow’s venue, as their top-flight bubble burst and the slide towards their crisis began.
They arrived in south Wales on the evening of November 28 third in the Premier League and ultra-confident after four successive victories.
Their 4-2 victory at Sunderland just four days earlier had underlined their red-hot form, while Shane Long’s goal in the rout of the Black Cats was his eighth of the season.
Yet the contrast at the Liberty Stadium could hardly have been greater as Clarke left out Long to hand loanee Romelu Lukaku a start. The Baggies were taken to the cleaners by a first-half Swans super-show and the momentum that had fans dreaming of Europe was destroyed in one dismal evening.
An early goal from Michu and two Wayne Routledge strikes put the hosts 3-0 up inside 39 minutes and although Lukaku reduced the arrears, Albion never seemed likely to fight back.
A side that had travelled south on the crest of a wave headed home with a major dent in their self-belief.
While they held on for their best ever Premier League finish of eighth, the remainder of their season was to prove an anti-climax.
Long’s confidence was punctured by his omission and, while his workrate remained unquestioned, he never rediscovered the goalscoring form of those early weeks. The gradual breakdown of his relationship with his employers led to his controversial sale in January.
The ease with which the Swans dismantled Albion sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of the club’s defenders and Clarke was never able to fully re-establish the solid base left him by Hodgson.
The summer brought turmoil as a recruitment department robbed of Dan Ashworth and unimpressed by the influence of Dave McDonough was unable to find players of the quality to fit the requirements for loans and free transfers set down by chairman Jeremy Peace.
Clarke was unhappy, too, at the failure to land the players he wanted and his public expressions of frustration prompted a ‘trolley dash’ on the final day of the summer transfer window for Victor Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon.
Neither has yet come off while Diego Lugano and Scott Sinclair have been even bigger flops. The summer tension left Clarke on borrowed time and a string of poor results gave Peace and chief executive Mark Jenkins the reason they needed to dispense with the Scot.
Then came a protracted search for his successor. And the players were hardly blown away either by Mel’s preferred style of play or the increasing influence of McDonough.
Seven games later and the Spaniard is without a win and already fighting to save his job. Should he lose it, he will become the victim of a slump that started 16 months ago – at the place he heads for tomorrow with his neck on the block.Subscribe to our Newsletter