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Comment: Are West Brom flat-track bullies? And does it even matter?

By Matt Wilson | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

The two teams at the top of the Championship at this stage of the season last year were Wolves and Cardiff, and both ended up winning automatic promotion.

Two of the teams in the bottom three after a dozen games – Burton Albion and Sunderland – were eventually relegated.

The season before, all three teams who eventually went up were in the top four at this stage. The bottom three after 12 games were all relegated.

Although it’s still early days, these are welcome omens for Albion, who find themselves in the top two after a dozen games.

A heavily congested Championship table is slowly starting to take some form of shape, even if that shape is somewhat embryonic.

The caveat to this is that none of the four teams who eventually made the play-offs were in the top six at this stage of the season and Fulham, who finished third and nearly went up automatically, were as low as 17th as late as mid-November.

But if we accept the table is starting to take shape, then a pattern emerges from Albion’s results.

From eight games against teams in the current bottom half, the Baggies have won six, drawn one, and lost one.

They’re operating at three goals a game in those fixtures and that single defeat came on the opening day to Bolton Wanderers before the side had got up to speed and Darren Moore had found his winning formula.

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However, from their four games against teams in the current top half, Moore’s men have won just once, battled back to draw twice late on, and lost another.

In their three fixtures against top eight sides, Albion are yet to taste victory, scoring just three times.

Perhaps the Baggies are this year’s flat-track bullies, capable of blowing away the poorer teams, while struggling against the better ones, although it should be noted all three of those games against the top eight were away from home.

But even if this is the case, is it really that bad a thing?

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None of Dwight Gayle's eight goals have come against teams in the current top half. (AMA)

In a league as competitive as this, with as many games as this, racking up victories against the middling and struggling teams will get you far.

Last season, Cardiff went up despite winning just four of their 14 games against rivals in the top eight.

The concern, at this stage, is that two-thirds of Albion’s games so far have been against sides currently in the bottom half.

But after this international break, Moore’s men have three fixtures in the space of eight days against top-half opposition.

Following a tough trip to Wigan, who are unbeaten at home, they host Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.

That week may give a better indication of where Albion are, but while all of those teams should be respected, none of them should be feared.

Even if the table is beginning to sort itself out at either end, there is still limited room to breathe in the muddled middle.

Just three points separate 10 teams from fifth down. Five points separate 14 teams. It is tighter than a Harvey Barnes goal of the season competition.

Derby, Blackburn and Wigan are only one or two points above Stoke and Bristol City, who have both been beaten in relative comfort.

We probably won’t know until much later in the season whether Albion are flat-track bullies or not.

Not until the table takes a more complete form, and not until they bring some of those stronger teams back to The Hawthorns.

But in the next three games, we will get a gauge of whether this team can blow away mid-table sides with the same ferocity they have dealt with those lower down the league.

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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