Middlesbrough 2 West Brom 1
Just like the palindromic ambigramic date, Albion’s predicament looks the same whichever way you look at it.
The Baggies may have avoided setting a new club record of six games without a goal thanks to Jayson Molumby’s first goal for the club, but a sixth successive defeat leaves them floundering in midtable with little sign of a turnaround in form.
Steve Bruce was looking for a reaction and, in some ways he got it. Albion were the better side in the first half and were on the front foot for much of it without being in real control. They were fortunate with one or two refereeing decisions, particularly the decision not to award a free kick against Conor Townsend when he looked to have pulled down Isiah Jones in a dangerous position. Perhaps the referee, David Salisbury, remembered his poor decision to award a penalty to Fulham against us earlier in the season, or perhaps he just bottled it.
Grady Diangana looked bright once again, but there were a number of opportunities to take on his man that he opted against, which is purely down to confidence, something that we know is lacking throughout the squad. Reach and Molumby were getting forward well to support the front three, but there weren’t too many other real opportunities other than the goal, and that came from a Boro mistake rather than any incisive forward play.
At the back, the Baggies had looked relatively comfortable, but once Chris Wilder made his changes ten minutes into the second half, the game changed. Suddenly, Albion looked vulnerable on both flanks and, having been used to playing with three centre backs for most of the season, the back four started to creak.
It was fairly simple football that opened Albion up for both of Middlesbrough’s goals with Dara O’Shea, in for his first start since returning from injury, and Conor Townsend both being pulled out of position. Kyle Bartley also got dragged wide for the second goal with Boro ending up with two players free at the back post.
Bruce didn’t make any changes until Albion were behind – perhaps he could have switched back three straight away but the impact of Wilder’s substitutions was pretty immediate and the equaliser came within five minutes of the changes.
The changes he did make, bringing on Callum Robinson and Rayhaan Tulloch, had little impact as the hosts easily saw the game out. The Baggies had one or two set pieces but they never looked close to getting an equaliser, and the confidence will have taken another hit.
I’m sure the former Blades boss took particular satisfaction in beating the club who opted against appointing him in the summer – that is a decision that will haunt Albion for some time.
For now, Steve Bruce has the unenviable job of trying to navigate through the mire that the Baggies’ season has become. On Monday, the Baggies have a huge match at home to Swansea City which is surely a must win if they have any faint hopes of getting back into the play-off picture.