As we approach a crucial sequence of matches for Albion in the Premier League with a game against West Ham United, I want to go back 17 years to an equally important fixture against the Hammers.
Due to a re-shuffle in divisional numbers, four promotion places were on offer at the end of the 1990/91 season. At the beginning of April 1991, Albion, in sixth place in Division Two, welcomed top-of-the-table West Ham to the Goldstone.
The programme for the match shows Albion defender Gary Chivers on the cover and inside, in his ‘The Way I See It’ column, manager Barry Lloyd was expecting the biggest crowd of the season for the Wednesday night game. He says; “the players are really looking forward to the game” and recognises the challenges facing the team. “West Ham have lived up to their promise of being leading contenders for promotion (and) we now have to capitalise on the efforts we have made”.
He admits to being disappointed by defeats in our previous two games, but says “we have the players with the character and ability to string together results”.
His team selection showed two changes from the previous week’s defeat at Leicester City. Perry Digweed continued in goal, behind a back-four of John Crumplin, Colin Pates, Gary Chivers and Steve Gatting. In midfield, Mark Barham came in for John Robinson, to partner Wayne Stemp, Robert Codner and Clive Walker. Up front, John Byrne partnered Mike Small, who returned to the side at the expense of Garry Nelson.
The West Ham side included Chris Hughton in defence. He had joined the Hammers the previous November after more than 400 appearances for Spurs. In midfield was George Parris, who was to move to Albion in 1995, making 88 appearances until his departure at the end of the 1996/97 season.
The game was played out in a rousing atmosphere in front of nearly 12,000 fans, including a large contingent from the East End. In keeping with their tradition of open, attacking football, the Hammers allowed us to play and we took up the challenge with a confident display. Byrne opened the scoring and we went in at half-time with the slender one-goal lead. The second half brought more of the same, but we couldn’t quite turn our good play into further goals. The defence held firm however, and we hung on for three crucial points.
These points were to prove vital as we failed to win in the next four games. Wins against Hull City and Ipswich Town right at the end of the season, saw us sneak into the play-offs by the narrowest of margins. Strangely, we ended the season with a goal difference of minus-six. We failed at the final hurdle, losing 3-1 to Notts County at Wembley. This was to be the last sniff of promotion for ten years, as we slipped down the league and almost out of it altogether.
West Ham visit the Amex in very different circumstances, but the result will be just as important as Albion look to move up the table.
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