West Bromwich Albion v Middlesbrough; The Hawthorns. Saturday 25th February 2023, 3pm
It’s been a tough month for Carlos Corberán and his Albion team and it concludes on Saturday when the division’s form team visit the Hawthorns looking for their sixth successive victory.
When the two clubs met on the opening weekend of the season, there was little sign of what was to come for both clubs. Both were under a manager who had been appointed midway through the previous campaign and both were amongst the favourites for promotion. The 1-1 draw was a fair result and both sides would have been fairly satisfied. Within a couple of months, however, both sides were languishing in the lower reaches of the division despite impressive xG stats. Bruce and Wilder were both sacked in October, the former Blades boss getting his marching orders a couple of weeks earlier than the Baggies manager, but the new boss of both clubs took charge of their respective teams for the first time on 29th October, and both lost their first game.
The two clubs then marched up the table with a staggering symmetry with Albion earning 27 points from Corberán’s first dozen games and Boro just a couple of points fewer from Carrick’s first twelve. On 25th January, Boro were a point ahead in the table in sixth with the Baggies in tenth. February, however, has seen Albion falter but Carrick’s team march on with maximum points from their last five matches including an impressive victory at Sheffield United. The Teessiders are within four points of the top two and in with a real shout of automatic promotion while the Baggies are now a dozen points behind them in tenth.
One of the biggest differences between the sides is that Middlesbrough have scored 14 more goals than Albion, and a big reason for that being the form of Chuba Akpom who now sits five goals clear at the top of the Championship goalscoring charts with 19 in all competitions. Boro have scored three goals in each of their four games in February so far and Akpom has scored six goals in his last five games. By contrast, Albion’s top scorer is Brandon Thomas-Asante who has only seven goals to his name in all competitions and his only strikes in 2023 came in the 3-3 draw at Chesterfield in the FA Cup; his last league goal was at Bristol City on Boxing Day.
In recent weeks, Albion’s goalscoring has dried up a little, perhaps since BTA received his three-game ban after the first game against the Spireites, and flakiness at the back has emerged since Alex Palmer’s injury. While Griffiths is an undoubted improvement on the underperforming David Button, it will inevitably take time for him to command the same confidence from his defence that Palmer had developed, although it didn’t take him that long.
While it will be a few more weeks before Palmer is back, one thing that Corberán can do to try to recover the defensive stability Albion were enjoying in November and December is to keep the midfield pair of Okay and Molumby together. Chalobah is a useful addition and there is no doubt that he has good technical skills and bags of experience, but he didn’t seem to fully understand what was expected of him at Vicarage Road on Monday evening, particularly when Albion were out of possession. Molumby knows exactly what Corberán expects and he should definitely start on Saturday.
I’ve seen calls in some quarters for the back four to be changed, but for me, while there have been one or two individual errors, none of them has dropped their performance far enough to warrant being left out of the side. If the whole team is functioning as it should, that back four has proved to be the best we have available.
As well as starting Molumby, I believe that Corberán should play John Swift as a number ten, and not “lost” on the left side as he was at Watford. The Spaniard explained that he deployed the former Reading man as a “false playmaker” from the left rather than a winger, and hoped that it would give Townsend more space to attack the left wing – it was a tactic that didn’t work and the Baggies looked much more potent with Wallace and Diangana wide and Swift behind the striker.
Wallace and Albrighton can both play on either wing, although both are more naturally suited to the right. Diangana’s best displays have tended to come off the bench and I do wonder whether CC may try Albrighton on the left. The other decision to make is who to start up front. Dike continues to underwhelm and, while he has looked more dangerous, BTA has not found the net since his suspension. We can only hope that one of them starts scoring soon.
This match is obviously a massive test given Middlesbrough’s form, but getting a result is by no means an impossible task. After Saturday, Albion’s fixture list looks a little bit easier, on paper at least, but a win over Carrick’s team would be a massive boost.
The Baggies have won just one of the last nine meetings with Middlesbrough, a 1-0 win at the Riverside in 2019 thanks to a late goal from Hal Robson-Kanu, and they haven’t beaten the Smoggies at the Hawthorns for almost 13 years. A 2-0 win in April 2010 thanks to goals from Simon Cox and Roman Bednár kept Roberto di Matteo’s team in a comfortable second place having already secured promotion a week earlier. Since then, Albion have drawn two and lost two of the four meetings between the sides in B71.
The 2-0 victory in 2010 was the fourth successive victory for the Baggies over Boro without conceding a goal, including the famous 5-0 win at the Riverside in 2009 that is Albion’s biggest win over Boro. At the Hawthorns, the Baggies have never won by more than three goals, with the two biggest scoring wins coming in 1935. In January of that year, Ginger Richardson, Wally Boyes, Arthur Gale, Teddy Sandford (2) and Joe Carter were all on target for the hosts as they ran out 6-3 winners with George Camsell (2) and Ernie Coleman scoring for Boro. The Smoggies returned on Boxing Day later that year and the legendary Ginger Richardson made it five goals in two games against Boro as he scored four in Albion’s 5-2 victory. George Shaw scored the hosts’ opener while Camsell was on the scoresheet for the visitors once again along with Benny Yorston.
The most recent three-goal win for Albion at the Hawthorns was in the Premier League fixture in January 2009. Tony Mowbrary’s team were bottom of the table but just three points behind Gareth Southgate’s Boro who sat in 16th place. Chris Brunt’s shot in the fifth minute was deflected into his own goal by Tony McMahon to give the hosts the lead. After the break, Arsenal loanee, Jay Simpson, had a great chance to double Albion’s lead but fired high and wide but it soon was 2-0 when Robert Koren’s shot deflected off Marc Antoine-Fortuné past Ross Turnbull in the Boro goal. Didier Digard then received a red card for a late lunge on Koren before the Slovenian made it three as he calmly stroked home after being put through by Brunt. The win briefly lifted Albion off the bottom of the table above, believe it or not, Tottenham Hotspur, albeit Harry Redknapp’s side had a game in hand. Both Albion and Boro would be relegated come the end of the season – Spurs finished 8th!
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Jul 2022 – League Championship
Middlesbrough 1 (Jones)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Swift)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
6 Nov 2021 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Diangana)
Middlesbrough 1 (Coburn)
19 Oct 2019 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Robson-Kanu)
Last win at the Hawthorns
17 Apr 2010 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Cox, Bednár)
Albion’s Record against Middlesbrough
If you cannot see the tables, click here.