Charlton v West Brom preview
For Albion, visits to The Valley are like London buses – you wait years for one, then two come along at once.
After last week’s trip to south-east London in the FA Cup – the first visit to Charlton since a 1-1 draw back in 2008 – Albion make the same journey in the league, looking to get their Championship charge back on track.
The 1-0 Cup victory courtesy of a rare goal on a rare appearance from Kenneth Zohore broke a winless run for Slaven Bilic’s side that has seen them slip from the top of the Championship.
Since the dramatic victory over Birmingham at St Andrew’s on December 14, Albion’s league form has been a little patchy – a defeat to Middlesbrough at The Hawthorns on December 29 punctuating a run of three draws with Brentford, Barnsley and title rivals Leeds.
Handily, Leeds’ own form has also been less than stellar – both they and Albion have registered six points from a possible 15 in their last five games.
Behind them though, there have been signs of more of a challenge from the chasing group, with both third-placed Brentford and Nottingham Forest, one spot further back, closing the gap to nine points.
While still a healthy buffer, Bilic will be eager to keep those in the play-off positions at arm’s length.
With that in mind, the head coach will be looking to get his side back on the front foot and scoring goals again.
Since the 3-2 win at Blues, Albion have not registered more than a single goal in any game.
On that front, Albion’s FA Cup win at Charlton threw up a few selection headaches.
The biggest poser for the head coach may be among his attacking options, with recent regular Hal Robson-Kanu put under pressure by the performances of Charlie Austin and Zohore.
Austin left The Valley last Sunday scratching his head as to how he didn’t score, with a combination of the woodwork and Charlton keeper Dillon Phillips keeping him at bay.
Zohore, crucially, did find his way past the Addicks’ No.1 to score his first Baggies goal from open play, but Bilic may still be tempted to stick with Robson-Kanu, who has led the line with authority since breaking into the team in November.
Further back, Rekeem Harper impressed in midfield, but may miss out this week all together, with Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers set to be restored to the starting XI and Gareth Barry providing plenty of experience off the bench.
The most likely man to get a second consecutive run-out in south east London is left-back Conor Townsend, who is set to deputise for the injured Kieran Gibbs and Nathan Ferguson.
Dara O’Shea could challenge for a place among the substitutes after he performed well at right-back.
Whichever formation and personnel Bilic goes with after their Cup diversion, he – together with Albion’s supporters and power-brokers – will be keenly aware the main business of their promotion chase is now back under way in earnest.