Sports Mole previews the Championship clash between promotion chasers Derby and West Brom, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
There is plenty to play for at Pride Park on the final day of the Championship season as promotion chasers Derby County and West Bromwich Albion face off.
West Brom are already assured of a playoff spot and are now jostling for position with Leeds United in third, while Derby occupy sixth place and are being chased down by two other sides.
Derby had the chance to effectively kill off the playoff battle when playing their game in hand against Swansea City in midweek, only to play out a 1-1 draw in South Wales.
Richard Keogh opened the scoring for the Rams a quarter of the way into the match, before Wayne Routledge popped up 66 minutes in to add some tension to the final day.
County still have their playoff hopes in their own hands, sitting a point better off than Middlesbrough with a better goal difference, while Bristol City are two points worse off in eighth.
The task is simple for Derby, then – beat Midlands rivals West Brom on home soil and they will be in the playoffs. That was Frank Lampard‘s aim for the season and, despite a wobble in February and March, he is on course to achieve that mission.
Derby have lost just one of their last 11 matches, but they have drawn five of those games – a result that is unlikely to be enough for them on Sunday if they are to hold off Middlesbrough, who faced relegated Rotherham United.
Lampard’s men are looking to win their final league match of the season in consecutive years for the first time since winning their games in 1991-92 and 1992-93, having beat Barnsley 4-1 12 months ago.
Opponents West Brom, incidentally, have not won their final league match of the season in any of their last 10 campaign since winning 2-0 at QPR in 2007-08, drawing five and losing five.
With three home wins in a row, scoring 12 and conceding one across that run, Derby could very well be the side with momentum on their side in the playoffs IF they can get themselves over the line.
Recent form in Championship: LWDWWD
West Brom’s decision to part company with Darren Moore in early March raised a few eyebrows, with the Baggies sitting fourth in the Championship at the time, albeit nine points off the top two.
The club’s target for the campaign is simple – earning promotion back to the Premier League following their relegation from the top tier last May after putting up a brave effort under Moore.
First-team coach James Shan has taken charge over the past couple of months, making the decision to axe Moore even stranger, but the rookie boss has done a good job in his nine games at the helm.
Albion have won six, drawn one and lost two of those matches, leaving them fourth in the table. There has been no change in that regard, then, but the Baggies can climb into third on the final day if they beat Derby and Leeds lose to Ipswich Town.
Should that happen, West Brom and Derby will get to know each other well over the coming weeks as they will also lock horns in the playoff semi-finals. The alternative is that Albion finish fourth, setting up a semi with Aston Villa, who can finish no higher or lower than fifth.
West Brom have only won 12 or more away league matches in a single season in one of their previous 119 Football League campaigns, winning 12 in 2001-02. They are currently on 11 for the season, having collected just one point from the last nine on offer on their travels.
After seeing his side register 10 points from a possible 15 in April, scoring 11 goals in the process, Shan has called on his players to see off Derby at Pride Park on Sunday to keep their momentum going.
That is so often the key in the playoffs, especially with the quick turnaround in matches. Potentially three matches away from a Premier League return, West Brom cannot afford to drop off with the finish line in sight.
Recent form in Championship: LLWWDW
Keogh picked up a groin injury against Swansea and is a fitness doubt for this match, but Derby have George Evans on standby.
Duane Holmes is back in contention after recovering from a thigh injury that has ruled him out for the past month, while Leicester City loanee Andy King may also play a part following his lengthy layoff.
Lampard seems certain to stick with energetic attacking midfield trio Tom Lawrence, Mason Mount and Harry Wilson, despite his side being at a disadvantage after playing away in midweek.
As for Albion, Shan may opt to hand Matthew Phillips a start as the influential winger has slowly returned to fitness following four appearances from the bench.
Veteran midfielder Gareth Barry remains sidelined, however, while fellow midfielders James Morrison and Jake Livermore are also absent.
Up top, Dwight Gayle and Rodriguez have 23 and 22 Championship goals respectively this season in the race for the Golden Boot, currently led by Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki on 28 goals for the season.
Derby possible starting lineup:
Roos; Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Malone; Evans, Johnson; Wilson, Mount, Lawrence; Waghorn
West Brom possible starting lineup:
Johnstone; Dawson, Adarabioyo, Bartley; Phillips, Field, Harper, Brunt, Townsend; Gayle, Rodriguez
Head To Head
Derby and West Brom last faced in a league match at Pride Park in December 2009, drawing 2-2 in a Championship encounter.
Albion have won just one of their last 28 away league matches against County – a 1-0 win in August 2003.
The reverse fixture earlier this season finished 4-1 to the Rams, racing four goals in front at The Hawthorns before Jay Rodriguez pulled one back late on.
We say: Derby 2-1 West Brom
Simply put, Derby need the win far more than their opponents. The Rams have fallen short far too often in recent years but missing out on the playoffs this time around really would be tough to take. With the pressure on, we are backing Lampard’s side to pick up the win they are after.