Stoke City: Baggies' Swans dive will make life all the harder for Potters, says derby veteran Cranson
IAN Cranson knows a thing or two about beating the Baggies.
Okay, so he's not exactly alone there where Stoke City players are concerned over the last 25 years or so.
But few can match his eight victories (and no defeats) in various tussles home and away against West Brom down the years.
And if there is one victory that stands out for the 48-year-old former defender – and for Stokies of a certain generation too – then it must be that 4-3 success at the Victoria Ground 20 years ago.
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It was also a victory made all the sweeter for a rare Cranson goal when heading home a late corner to complete the scoring in a ding-dong of a local derby in the third tier of English football.
"Yes, it was a good game," he says by way of understatement. "It was important because it really kick-started our season as well.
"We hadn't really performed in the first few games of that season, but that win helped take us on a 26-match unbeaten run and through to being champions.
"That victory really carved out our season that year.
"It was great to win a local derby against a team really fancied that season. And they played a certain way under Ossie Ardiles, while we were labelled another way under Lou Macari.
"There was a great atmosphere that day and the way the drama unfolded, well you couldn't have written it.
"I didn't score many goals, just one or two a season, so to score the winner in a game that had see-sawed the way it had was something special.
"To score in front of the Boothen End was a bonus."
Stoke travel to The Hawthorns tomorrow (3pm) having been beaten just twice in their last 29 league meetings against the Baggies.
Cranson, who played more than 200 times for Stoke between 1989 and 1996, is more qualified than most to explain that statistic, but he isn't sure it's wise to be asking him the question.
"I did this kind of interview last season," he chuckled nervously, "and then West Brom went and beat Stoke."
Indeed, a 2-1 win at the Britannia last January was a jolt to the system after so many routine victories, come rain or shine, against the Albion.
"I didn't realise our run against them had been going on for so many years," Cranson confessed.
"Sometimes, you do have a team that you always seem to do well against. But in our day we always fancied our chances against them because we were always a team that was up and at 'em and in your face, while they liked to be perceived as playing football.
"We were always successful at doing that and maybe we didn't get the credit we deserved for the football we could play as well.
"Once we got on top, we were able to express ourselves and they couldn't cope with it.
"We had Mark Stein and Wayne Biggins, then Mike Sheron later on, so we always had goals in us.
"West Brom were always the same, even from when I was a kid and Ron Atkinson was manager.
"They'd try and play a certain type of attractive football. Perhaps they came unstuck because they wanted to play it from the start, while we would try to harry them and then impose ourselves after first winning the battle.
"I think it's very similar today with the way the two teams play."
Albion go into tomorrow's game licking their wounds after a 3-1 defeat at Swansea on Wednesday, but they are still protecting a run of six wins and one defeat (to champions Manchester City) in front of their own fans this season.
"I think it will be a hard one for Stoke," Cranson warned. "West Brom losing at Swansea won't do Stoke any favours.
"West Brom do seem a bit more organised under Steve Clarke and he's obviously got them playing well.
"They're certainly not conceding many, apart from Wednesday night, while over the years you always fancied scoring against them."
Cranson, who divides his time these days between the under-14s at Wolves with other coaching assignments for both Stafford Borough Council and Stoke Sixth Form College, has seen the best and worst of City's defences this season after watching the 4-2 defeat at Manchester United and this week's back-to-back victories over Fulham and Newcastle.
And there is no bigger fan of the Ryan Shawcross/Robert Huth partnership in central defence ... despite events at Old Trafford.
"They conceded very un-Stoke like goals at United," he acknowledged, "and that's the worst I've seen them defend for some years.
"Although the two centre-halves weren't at their best that day, I have to say they are as good a pairing as you're going to get as out-and-out central defenders.
"Whenever they haven't been together it's been a weaker Stoke."
Cranson, below, acknowledges the desire for more goals – and certainly more finales like Wednesday's 2-1 win over Newcastle – but says Tony Pulis is right to maintain an emphasis on a strong defence to try to ensure Premier League football continues for years to come at the Britannia Stadium.
"Of course, it would be nice to score more, but if you are not conceding you always give yourself a chance of winning.
"And with the Premier League the way it is, there tend to be teams who are a bit more open.
"They are the ones you fear for, teams like Southampton, who have to score a lot of goals to win games."