As the transfer window draws to a close, Tony Pulis must concentrate on the small matter of a trip to the Riverside as the Premier League programme resumes after a weekend of FA Cup football. With Boro on poor form, in the league at least, it is a match from which the Baggies should be looking to take all three points.
Aitor Karanka’s team’s only wins in 2017 have come in the FA Cup, with their last Premier League win a 3-0 win against Swansea on the Saturday before Christmas. In fact, the Teessiders’ only league wins in their last dozen games have come at home to teams below them in the table, Swansea and Hull, and they have only scored nine goals in that period, a clear indicator as to where their problem lies.
Middlesbrough have found the net just 18 times in the league all season, two less than anyone else in the division, and only two Boro players have scored more than twice all season. Álvaro Negredo, the former Manchester City striker on loan from Valencia, is the club’s leading scorer with five Premier League goals, while Greek forward, Cristhian Stuani, has scored just one less despite having started half the number of games.
Karanka has looked to address the problem with the permanent signing of Patrick Bamford from Chelsea earlier this month, a player who spent a successful season on loan at the Riverside in 2014/15 scoring 17 goals in the Championship. His Premier League opportunities have been limited, however, having not made a league appearance for Chelsea and having notched up just a handful of top flight appearances while on loan at Crystal Palace, Norwich and Burnley without finding the net. He made is Premier League debut for Middlesbrough from the bench in the home defeat to West Ham.
At the back, however, Middlesbrough have been extremely efficient conceding just 25 goals in their 22 Premier League matches, a record not bettered by any club outside the top seven. They will, however, be without Callum Chambers, who has been a virtual ever-present in the back line since he joined on loan from Arsenal, as he is suffering with a broken foot, while fellow defender, George Friend, is also out with a muscle injury. That will leave Karanka with few options at the back, which could play into the Baggies’ hands.
Meanwhile, while Pulis continues to be frustrated in the transfer market, the ongoing injury to Jonny Evans is another source of frustration as he looks to be missing for yet another game. The switch of Craig Dawson into the centre of defence against Sunderland was a definite improvement over Jonas Olsson, and I would expect Pulis to play the same back four on Tuesday evening. Brendan Galloway is reportedly suffering from a knock, but he would be unlikely to figure anyway, and Pulis otherwise has a fully fit, if meagre, squad to choose from.
The two teams played out a drab 0-0 draw back in August, in what was undoubtedly the worst game at the Hawthorns this season, but Albion won the four previous meetings between the sides including a thumping 5-0 win on their last trip to Teesside more than seven years ago, with Chris Brunt grabbing a brace to add to goals from Mulumbu, Bednar and Thomas. The Baggies also won on their previous visit to the Riverside in the Premier League in November 2008 and are on a run of four matches without defeat in Middlesbrough since the 4-0 defeat in the latter stages of the Great Escape season in April 2005.
Historically, however, Teesside has not been a happy hunting ground for the Baggies, with those two recent victories the latest of just eight wins in Middlesbrough in all competitions in 46 matches, although after the hosts won the first three meetings at the Riverside, Albion have remained unbeaten since.
With Middlesbrough struggling for goals and missing two of their key defenders, Albion should be looking to take full advantage and continue their good form. I see the Baggies recording their fourth Premier League away win of the season.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
28 Aug 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Last meeting at Middlesbrough
19 Sep 2009 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Brunt (2), Mulumbu, Bednar, Thomas)
17 Apr 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Cox, Bednar)
Albion’s Record against Middlesbrough
|Premier League Record|