MANAGER Tony Mowbray has some tough calls to make ahead of this afternoon’s Championship clash at Stoke City.
Choosing the right 11 players for what will be a stern test of his side’s promotion credentials, though a difficult enough task in itself, is not the biggest of his worries.
His main concern will be getting the players in the right frame of mind to beat a team that has become bogey opposition for the Baggies in recent years.
Albion have won only once in 22 league encounters with the Potters since 1989. The all-time head-to-head statistics show 51 Stoke victories to Albion’s 38, with 30 draws, but recent meetings between the two clubs have clearly favoured City, with 14 wins, seven draws and just one solitary Baggies success, a 1-0 victory at The Hawthorns in September 2003.
You have to go back to 1982 to find Albion’s last win on Stoke soil. In 15 visits since the best the Baggies have managed is four draws.
And the Potteries club famously humiliated Albion 10-3 way back in 1937, when a certain Stanley Matthews was in his pomp.
This is the backdrop against which Mowbray sends his troops into action, knowing that their motivation and mental attitude will need to be exactly right.
That the top-of-the-table Baggies are good enough to beat Stoke this term is without doubt, but form and logic seem to go out of the window when these two teams meet.
The injuries that ravaged the Albion squad in recent weeks have all but been resolved, but Mowbray is unlikely to want to risk tinkering too much with the line-up that has given him seven wins and three draws in 11 games and four wins and a draw in the last five away games.
The big questions seems to be whether he decides to gamble on an early return for goalkeeper Dean Kiely, who has missed the last two games with a broken toe.
Carl Hoefkens is likely to return at right back to face his old club and Pedro Pele, after impressive performances again
Albion defender Carl Hoefkens hopes to line-up against his former club this afternoon. He told The Birmingham Post: ‘Stoke play a totally different style of football to us and we have to be mentally prepared for the trip to the Britannia – it is the coldest stadium in the world!’
Stoke City Team News:
Stoke City are likely to field an unchanged team from the one that won 3-2 at Blackpool last weekend.
Manager Tony Pulis has one big selection poser, whether to recall regular right back Stephen Wright, now fit after an injury, or stick with Andy Wilkinson, who deputised in impressive fashion against the Seasiders.
Player to watch: Ryan Shawcross
The young centre half, whose loan deal from Manchester United has now been extended until the end of the season, has been a revelation for Stoke this season and leads the official Football League statistics for defenders. He’s even weighed in with five League goals, including the one he scored the last time the two teams met, at The Hawthorns in a 1-1 draw back in October.
West Bromwich Albion Team News:
Albion are keeping their cards close to their chest, not even naming a squad for today’s game.
Knee injury victims Martin Albrechtsen, James Morrison, Ishmael Miller and Neil Clement are all back in training and keeper Dean Kiely has all but recovered from a broken toe.
It seems unlikely manager Tony Mowbray will want to take too many risks with them, given the likelihood of a bone hard pitch and the busy Christmas programme ahead.
Player to watch: Jonathan Greening
Greening has been an inspirational leader so far this season and he will need to be at the top of his game today if Albion are to keep the momentum going.
Match Facts & Stats
Stoke City are the form team of the Championship at the moment, with four wins and two draws from their last six games, while Albion have won four of their last five away games.
Mark Halsey is more used to refereeing in the Premiership than the Championship this season. He did a good job in the Liverpool-Manchester United last weekend and today’s game could well be as big a test.
West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City
Boxing Day, December 26th
Kick off: 3pm