Following almost a decade of waiting, the Black Country derby is back this weekend, as Wolves face off with their local rivals West Bromwich Albion at Molineux. Here are five things to know ahead of one of the most eagerly anticipated derbies of the season.
1. A WHOLE LOT OF HISTORY
One of the most historic derbies in world football, the rivalry between Wolves and West Brom has a past which goes back almost 140 years, and Saturday’s match will be the 161st time the sides have met in ‘official’ competition. Wolves had the best of the rivalry in the early stages, winning six of the first eight Black Country derbies to take a three-game lead in their head-to-head match-up.
Yet, it’s been the blue and white side of the divide who have had the upper hand since the turn of the millennium, as Wolves have only tasted victory three times in the past 20 years, compared to West Brom’s nine victories, the last of which came the previous time the sides met back in February 2012 and began the longest period without a derby (excluding wartime) since the first time the teams went to battle.
Click here or on the photo below for a more in-depth look at the history of the Black Country derby, including a selection of old gold heroes’ fond memories of facing the Baggies.
2. THE FIRST DERBY WITHOUT SUPPORTERS
Not since the early 1900s has a Black Country derby been contested in front of fewer than 10,000 spectators, yet due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that will be the case on Saturday, as just a handful of club staff and journalists will be in situ at Molineux to witness a game first-hand which has been almost a decade in the making.
When the two clubs were at their peak in the 1950s and regularly competing for top-flight titles – of which Wolves often came out on top – both Molineux and the Hawthorns saw up to 60,000 fans crammed in to the grounds, as they watched some of the most iconic derbies in history. None more so than the 1954 Charity Shield at Molineux, the only time the sides have faced in a final, as league champions Wolves and FA Cup winners Albion played out a thoroughly entertaining 4-4 draw as the trophy was shared.
Without a doubt, it would’ve been a great atmosphere. It’s been nine years since they’ve been in this position, and as soon as the fixture list was announced, we were all looking for when we were playing Albion.
3. A FIRST FOR NUNO
A Black Country derby is a brand-new rivalry to Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo as his side and West Brom have somehow missed each other in the past four years following the Portuguese’s arrival into the West Midlands. In his first season back in 2017/18, Wolves were in the Championship while Albion were in the top-flight, before the teams switched places the following campaign, as Wolves went up to the Premier League as champions while the Baggies suffered their first relegation in almost a decade.
But two-and-a-half years later, Albion are back among the big guns with a new manager at the helm, yet one who knows everything there is about the old gold half of the Black Country, in boyhood Wolves fan Sam Allardyce. The new Baggies boss, who grew up between Wolverhampton and West Bromwich in Dudley during Wolves’ glory days of the 1950s, will be looking forward to facing the team he once supported, especially with his current record of never being on the losing side in his eight previous league meetings.
Ready for work.— Wolves (@Wolves) January 15, 2021
4. KICK-STARTING THE SEASON
The last few months have not been positive ones for West Brom, who currently sit second from bottom in the Premier League table. Without a win in seven league games, the Baggies have lost five of those matches, including 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 defeats in their last three matches at the Hawthorns to concede a league-high 39 goals. Yet, their away form has been slightly the better, having earned 1-1 draws with Manchester City and Liverpool.
A win for Albion could kick-start their season, but Wolves are also searching for a much-needed upturn in fortunes, having picked up just two points from their past five Premier League matches. Although Nuno’s men earned a positive 1-0 win in the FA Cup over Crystal Palace, while West Brom fell out of the competition to League One Blackpool, that was the team’s first clean sheet in 11 matches, so the three points would be vital to revitalising both sides.
5. THE NINE-YEAR WAIT IS OVER
Among the Albion side expected to take to the field at Molineux will be Romaine Sawyers, who grew up in Albion colours and will know exactly what the derby means to supporters on both sides of the Black Country. The defender will be expected to keep his place among a West Brom team who will be without Karlan Grant and Conor Townsend through injury, while Conor Gallagher is suspended for the Baggies, which could see Jake Livermore come back into the side in midfield. Albion have also been boosted by the signing of experienced midfielder Robert Snodgrass, who could make his debut.
Of the starting 11 who faced Everton last time out, not a single one of Nuno’s men have faced West Brom in a senior league match before, with only Conor Coady and Morgan Gibbs-White having ever gone head-to-head against Albion, yet that was for Liverpool and Wolves respectively at under-23 level. In spite of that, the whole squad will know the importance of the fixture, which the captain made clear in a pre-match interview with wolves.co.uk.