West Bromwich Albion 4 Middlesbrough 2
The Baggies moved up to seventh in the fledgling Championship table thanks to a 4-2 victory over Middlesbrough at the Hawthorns. Like the win over Swansea City a fortnight ago, it was not as comfortable as it should have been, but seven goals scored in two home games is an encouraging sign for what could be an entertaining season for the 18,000 season ticket holders.
While the four goals against the Teessiders were all well crafted and superbly taken, there are obvious concerns that Albion failed to finish their opponents off when they were reduced to ten men early in the second half leading to an anxious few minutes after Forss’s penalty and before Sarmiento’s clincher.
Corberán opted to go with the same eleven that started the game at Leeds with Matt Phillips once again playing as a left wing back. Although he was beaten in the build up to Boro’s first goal, he put in another strong performance and has probably Albion’s most impressive player so far this season.
Another player who also performed well was Cédric Kipré – since his error at Blackburn, he has been excellent and he capped another fine display with a fantastic goal. The control and strike was one that any player would have been proud of, not least John Swift who exhibited his own talents a couple of minutes later with an equally impressive goal. The Baggies’ second half goals were also very well taken – BTA was gifted the ball from Engel’s poor back pass but he remained ice cool and finished with aplomb despite the close attentions of Dieng and a couple of Boro’ defenders, while Sarmiento’s first senior goal was a wonderful finish after some excellent footwork.
Okay was back to his assured self once again after a poor display at Leeds and, while I was pleased to see Mowatt get some minutes, I thought the team missed the Turk in the middle of the park when he went off. Molumby also had a good game with his usual combination of tenacity and energy and it is difficult to see either Chalobah or Mowatt getting in the starting line up while the Ireland-Turkey duo are fit.
Conceding two goals to a team that had only scored one in their previous three league games is something of a concern however, and while Kipré was a stand out performer, his defensive colleagues were less impressive. Semi Ajayi put in some excellent cross-field balls and was generally good in possession, but he really should have done better for Boro’s first goal as Emmanuel Latte Lath stole in between him and Furlong. Erik Pieters is also looking less assured than he did last season and his lack of pace was evident at times. If Phillips is to continue at left wing back, I think I would prefer to see Townsend as the left-sided central defender unless the club can sign another one before the week is out.
Perhaps more pressing, however, is some competition for Darnell Furlong on the right. He had another shaky display against Boro’, equally at fault with Ajayi for their first goal and also giving away the penalty. I’m guessing that a right back will be more of a priority than a centre back this week, unless they can find someone to take Kyle Bartley.
At home, at least, scoring goals hasn’t proved to be a problem so far – BTA has started the season well with three goals already in four games, albeit he knew little about the one at Leeds, and Josh Maja has showed some good quality with intelligent hold-up play and clever touches. However, Corberán has indicated that he wants to bring in another attacking player, perhaps as cover for John Swift as there isn’t anyone else with his set of skills in the squad. Having said that, the 3-4-3 formation that the Spaniard seems to be settled on does not use a number ten, Swift’s preferred role, but he has played as a more central creator than the formation might suggest with Phillips normally providing the width on the left.
Seven points from the opening four games is probably more than most would have expected given the supposed strength of the opposition, but there will definitely be an expectation that Huddersfield will be beaten next weekend – their only point this season was at Middlesbrough and only Sheffield Wednesday are below them in the table.
Before that, of course, we will all be hoping to see one or two more faces through the door in the final week of the transfer window. Corberán feels it is vitally important that the squad is strengthened further, and it is difficult to argue with him.