EFL Championship

West Brom v Southampton: Baggies to draw first blood

WBA manager Carlos Corberan
West Brom boss Carlos Corberan took Huddersfield to the Championship Play-Off Final in 2022

George Elek from Not The Top 20 previews Sunday's televised Championship play-off semi-final first leg between West Bromwich Albion and Southamptin, and thinks the home side could get their noses in-front...

WBA v Southampton
Sunday, 14:15

Live on Sky Sports Football

Play-off season is in full-flow but, due to the Championship season ending a week later than its EFL siblings, we have to wait for Sunday's double header for the main event to get underway, with Southampton's trip to The Hawthorns the second game on the bill.

Neither of the teams come into it looking in great form, with final day wins against Preston and Leeds doing both a favour in ending a run of poor results. Both had lost three on the bounce, putting an end to Southampton's automatic promotion chances, while WBA nearly slipped out of the top six altogether.

Baggies' performances maybe were'nt quite as bad as the results suggest though, with the 2-1 defeat at Leicester maybe the most pertinent given the quality and similar style of their opposition here. Carlos Corberan's side had by far the better chances in the game, and it was only their poor finishing that cost them at least a point against the team who were then crowned Champions.

If we take the recent Leicester formline to Southampton, their trip to the King Power also yielded no points but there was very little promise in the manner of that 5-0 defeat. Both teams may have come back from Leicester with nothing to show for it, but there is no question that WBA gave a better account of themselves.

In terms of the managerial match-up, Russell Martin has beaten Corberan in all four Championship meetings in which they've met, spanning across the last two seasons at Swansea and Saints.

This comes as a bit of a shock, as the Baggies manager is generally exceptional at setting his team up to nullify the specific threats of the opposition, so given that Martin is wedded to his possession-based style it's a surprise that the Spanish tactician hasn't been able to set his team up to beat them.

Watching the two games back from earlier this season, it's clear to see that WBA were unlucky to lose both games, especially at St. Mary's where Saints keeper Gavin Bazunu, who is injured for the play-offs, was clear Man of the Match. It was an aerial bombardment from West Brom in both games, and even in the home leg they hit the woodwork twice from crosses into the box.

Corberan has also tasted the drama of the play-offs before and performed well, navigating Huddersfield into the final with a two-legged win over Luton before just being touched off by Forest at Wembley. This is new territory for Martin though, with 10th being his previous highest finish in any league. That extra bit of experience can often prove decisive in games when the heat is on.

First-legs are often cagey and there seems little reason for this to be any different. Southampton would be delighted to return to the South Coast on level terms, but I think they could be up against a wily opponent here who will know exactly how they can hurt Saints, with the away side having to guess somewhat at how Albion will approach this.

The draw a big runner if there are few goals as expected, and away wins aren't common in play-off first legs. The Hawthornes has already been a graveyard this season for nine of the top-half, so I think Baggies are the likelier winners of this first tie. The 10/11 WBA draw no bet is the way I'll be playing this.

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