Middlesbrough v West Bromwich Albion; Riverside Stadium, Saturday 23rd December 2023, 3pm
Albion start their run of four fixtures in just ten days over the festive period with a tough-looking trip to Teesside to take on Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough. The Smoggies take on the Baggies fresh from a Carabao Cup quarter-final victory at Port Vale on Tuesday evening to set up a two-legged semi-final against Chelsea next month.
When Middlesbrough visited the Hawthorns back in August, they were enduring a difficult start to the season having gone through a major rebuild of the squad that had fallen short in the play-offs last season. The Baggies added to their problems on that occasion with a 4-2 victory meaning that they have the chance to record their first league double of the season at the Riverside. It would be another month before Carrick succeeded in turning around Boro’s fortunes but, once he did, they were unstoppable for a while recording six successive league wins that put them level on points with the Baggies following a 2-1 win at Norwich City in late October.
Since then, however, their form has slipped and they have recorded just three victories in the subsequent nine league matches leaving them down in 13th place. However, they are still only six points off the play off places and they were in a similar position at the same stage last season and ended up finishing fourth.
24-year-old Ivorian, Emmanuel Latte Lath, is Boro’s top scorer this season with seven having opened his account in English football at the Hawthorns back in August, while former Baggies youth player, Morgan Rogers, is one of five players having notched five goals for the Smoggies this season. However, all but one of Rogers’ goals have come in the League Cup, although he did provide the assist for Sam Silvera’s winner at Swansea City last weekend with both players having come off the bench to make an impact. Sam Greenwood, who opened the scoring at the Swansea.com Stadium, also have five goals along with Matt Crooks, Riley McGree and Isiah Jones who scored in this fixture last season.
With a raft of injuries to attacking players, Carlos Corberán faces a challenge to juggle his squad for this run of four games ahead of the visit of Aldershot Town in the FA Cup in January. Last season, the task was a little easier with only three scheduled fixtures in the same period albeit there was a rearranged away match at Coventry City on the 21st. After defeat at the CBS Arena, the Baggies recorded wins at Bristol City on Boxing Day and at home to Preston North End and Reading before the trip to Chesterfield in the cup. I’m sure most Albion fans would take nine points from the next four games, particularly with one of the two home games being against third-placed Leeds United.
With Maja and Phillips ruled out long term, Dike still yet to regain full fitness and John Swift’s fitness being assessed day to day, the bulk of the work in attacking areas has been falling to Brandon Thomas-Asante, Jed Wallace, Jeremy Sarmiento and Grady Diangana with Tom Fellows and, more recently, Pipa providing extra impact from the bench. One would expect those six to be rotated a little through this period with Swift hopefully involved for some of the games, and we may well see the likes of Akeel Higgins and Harry Whitwell on the bench. It is a shame for Reyes Cleary that he has once again succumbed to injury when he may have been involved in the first team. The potential for Brandon Thomas-Asante to be called up to the Ghana squad for AFCON, adding to the expectation that Diangana will be in the DR Congo squad, may add further selection problems for next month. I suspect Corberán will be parking that issue for the time being, although I’m sure it will have featured in discussions with Mark Miles and Ian Pearce about the transfer window.
The central midfield and defensive positions have, thankfully, been largely unaffected by injuries so far and Corberán has been fairly consistent in his selections of late. This hectic period might see one or two changes to ensure players don’t burn out, particularly in the middle of the park, but I’m sure the boss will keep things the same as much as he can.
Having lost their last two home games, Middlesbrough will be desperate to give their home fans some festive cheer, but Albion may be able to take advantage of a lack of confidence at on their own patch with a fast start. Boro’ have lost as many as they have won on their own patch and their League Cup run so far has been all away from home against lower league opposition. This is a match that Albion can win, but any sort of positive result will be a great way to reach the halfway point in a much better position than most of us feared.
Teesside has rarely been a fruitful destination for the Baggies having recorded just nine wins in their fifty-one visits to Middlesbrough. However, three of those victories have come in Albion’s last six matches at the Riverside Stadium. Having recorded a first victory at the Smoggies’ new home in a Premier League fixture in September 2008, Jonas Olsson scoring the only goal of the game, the two clubs met in the Championship the following season when Chris Brunt inspired Roberto di Matteo’s side to their record win on Teesside. Brunty score twice with further goals from Youssouf Mulumbu, Roman Bednár and Jerome Thomas making the final score 5-0 to the visitors.
Hal Robson-Kanu scored a late winner in a smash-and-grab victory for Slaven Bilić’s team in October 2019 to record the Baggies’ most recent victory at Boro’ while last season, Albion opened their campaign at the Riverside with John Swift’s first goal for the club earning Steve Bruce’s side a point.
Looking back into history, Albion’s first two wins at Middlesbrough were at Linthorpe Road in 1901, the first in the FA Cup in March, the second in a Division Two fixture in October. Boro moved to Ayresome Park in 1903 but the Baggies wouldn’t record a win there until 1921. Five of Albion’s nine away wins against Middlesbrough have come in the fifteen games that were not played at Ayresome Park – their record at that famous stadium was four wins in thirty-six matches and none after 1952 – less than impressive!
However, Boro’s biggest home win over Albion came at the Riverside Stadium and was something of a blip – Bryan Robson’s team were in the midst of a resurgence that would result in the Great Escape but five matches from the end of the campaign, they were battered 4-0 by Robson’s old team with Szilárd Németh scoring twice with further goals by Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Stewart Downing.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
26 Aug 2023 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 4 (Kipré, Swift, Thomas-Asante, Sarmiento)
Middlesbrough 2 (Latte Lath, Forss (pen))
Last meeting at Middlesbrough
30 Jul 2022 – League Championship
Middlesbrough 1 (Jones)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Swift)
Last win at Middlesbrough
19 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Robson-Kanu)
Albion’s Record against Middlesbrough