West Bromwich Albion 2 Middlesbrough 0
American striker, Daryl Dike, repaid his head coach’s faith in him with two goals inside the first ten minutes against in-form Middlesbrough that proved to be enough to claim all three points for the Baggies. They were just his fourth and fifth goals of the season, and his first since mid-January, but they will hopefully give him some confidence to take into the remainder of the campaign.
Both goals were superbly crafted with John Swift, restored to his preferred number ten position, involved in both. It was his through ball that put Jed Wallace behind the Boro back line, and the former Millwall man’s cross was superbly timed and placed to give Dike a fairly simple finish underneath Zack Steffen. Those three combined again for the second as Wallace nodded a poor clearance towards Dike, who managed to get enough on the ball to allow Wallace to poke it through to Swift. As the American spun in on goal, Swift played the perfect through ball for Dike to finish at the second attempt.
Those early goals gave Albion something to defend and defend they did, superbly. Despite enjoying 70% possession, Michael Carrick’s team, who had scored three goals in each of their previous four matches, were restricted to just three shots on target with the 21-year-old Josh Griffiths equal to all three. His save to keep out Isaiah Jones in the 97th minute was a wonderful stop and secured a well-earned first clean sheet in an Albion shirt.
The players in front of Griffiths deserve just as much credit for the clean sheet as they produced an excellent defensive performance with energy and bravery in abundance. There were one or two nervous moments when playing out from the back but, by-and-large, the whole team was superbly organised and devoid of the errors that have punctuated recent performances. The overall commitment to the cause was perhaps epitomised by Erik Pieters who battled on until the 86th minute despite having picked up a knock in the first half. We all hope that it will not keep him out for long as he has been excellent for Albion this season and, being left-footed, offers great balance to the defence. Nevertheless, it was good to see Semi Ajayi back on the field and he slotted in well for what turned out to be the last 12 minutes or so.
Despite conceding most of the possession, Albion continued to offer a threat on the break and Dike really should have registered his first hat trick in English football when he danced through the defence in the second half only to be denied by Steffen. Wallace and O’Shea also had good chances but couldn’t find the target.
While his two goals will obviously grab the headlines, Dike’s all round performance was probably his best in an Albion shirt. He hassled and harried the back line and was much better at holding the ball up than he has been in recent weeks. If he can continue in that form for the remainder of the season, he will be a massive asset to the team.
It was the overall balance of the team that was most impressive. I’m not sure whether Corberán has taken to reading my blog, but he did exactly what I would have done for this match in returning Molumby and Diangana to the starting line up and leaving Albrighton and Chalobah on the bench. Molumby may not be as tidy with the ball as Chalobah, and there were a few wayward passes from him on Saturday, but he is excellent out of possession providing the energy and intelligent positioning that was all important in a match such as this. His presence also allows Okay to flourish, concentrating on getting a foot in and looking to start attacks rather than having to chase around the field.
While Corberán could perhaps switch Grant or Albrighton for Diangana, and perhaps choose BTA up front rather than Dike, but if everyone stays fit, the remainder of the outfield line up should be as we saw against Boro. It has proved to be the most effective selection on numerous occasions.
Other results meant that Albion’s league position did not improve following this victory, but that just underlines how big a result it was. The Baggies remain five points off the top six and now have a run of four games against sides in the bottom half of the table before the trip to Sheffield United – they should be capable of taking maximum points from those games and, should they do that, they will be well-placed for the final run-in.