West Brom hope history repeats vs. Sunderland
Alan Irvine will be hoping to replicate the success of his predecessors against Sunderland, as he looks to get his West Brom's career off to a winning start at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
History is not on Irvine's side in terms of West Brom's success on the opening day of the Premier League season -- having only won once in all their opening day fixtures -- but the Baggies do have a fantastic record against Sunderland, particularly in home fixtures.
Albion have won their last five home fixtures against Sunderland, with many of those wins being emphatic. Last season was no different, with West Brom defeating the Mackems 3-0 to record their first win of the season--with Stephane Sessegnon getting on the scoresheet in his first game for West Brom against his old club.
Sessegnon started his Albion career off very impressively and Irvine will be relying on the diminutive Benin international to fire from the off this season if West Brom are to improve on last season. With no wingers being added to the squad thus far, he is Albion's main source of dribbling, pace and creativity.
Sessegnon is an inconsistent performer but on his day, he can win games single-handedly. West Brom don't have another player like him in their squad, someone who can run at defenders and beat them with a bit of skill or just raw pace. He's not going to score a huge amount of goals -- his finishing is pretty poor for a player with his ability -- but Irvine will be hoping that the midfielder can provide the chances for the likes of new record signing Brown Ideye to convert.
Ideye has only had a week's training with the squad and played 60 minutes for the under-21s -- scoring twice against Nottingham Forest. This lack of fitness and time with his new teammates should not perturb Irvine from playing the forward from the start, or at least giving him a decent amount of game time off the bench.
Again, Albion's head coach can look toward an omen from a previous game against Sunderland. The last time West Brom signed a Nigerian forward, he had one day's training with the squad and was thrown in from the start against Sunderland in the second game of the season. His name was Peter Odemwingie -- he scored the winner in a 1-0 victory and went onto score 15 goals that season. If Ideye can repeat that feat, Irvine's job will become an awful lot easier.
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With West Brom's lack of wide players, Irvine may be forced into playing another ex-Sunderland player -- Craig Gardner -- out wide. Although he'd be playing out of position, you wouldn't bet against Gardner popping up and scoring against his old side. Gardner does give the Baggies a more goal-scoring option from midfield, he has a powerful strike from range and has always seemed like one of those players who has the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time to score.
He is also good from set-pieces, something Albion have been lacking in recent years, with the likes of Graham Dorrans, James Morrison and Chris Brunt sharing penalty duty. In Gardner, Albion may have found a new first choice spot-kick taker. With all that taken into consideration, Gardner scoring against his old side seems likely. Luckily for West Brom, Billy Jones -- who moved to Sunderland from the Hawthorns -- is out injured and won't be able to return the favour.
It seems that history is on Irvine's side, but now he needs to find a way of making sure the Baggies continue their recent successes against Sunderland rather than stopping the good run. If Irvine manages to get a win in his first game in charge, that will certainly ease the pressure on the Scot, who was certainly not the No. 1 choice for many West Brom supporters.