West Brom vs Middlesbrough: The Breakdown build-up
Middlesbrough will face a West Bromwich Albion side on Saturday who remain the only team in the division yet to lose at home this season.
Neil Warnock’s record setting 1,602 games in management was ruined in the space of five infuriating second-half minutes on Tuesday.
So what better place to put things right on Saturday than The Hawthorns, I mean it’s just the zero defeats, 15 goals scored and four conceded on home soil for The Baggies this season.
But The Hawthorns has been somewhat of a happy hunting ground for Boro in recent years, with wins in their previous two visits to the West Midlands.
A tough test awaits Middlesbrough this weekend, and here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.
West Bromwich Albion
Nickname: The Baggies
Stadium: The Hawthorns
Current league position: 3rd
Last season finish: 19th - relegated from Premier League
Manager: Valerien Ismael
Current Top Scorer: Karlan Grant (8)
Fun fact: At an altitude of 551ft/168M, The Hawthorns is the highest stadium above sea level in England.
West Brom are back in England’s second tier once again, but like any newly relegated team, it’s evident they have no plans to make it any longer of a stay than it needs to be.
Former Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael was appointed with the task of bouncing The Baggies straight back to the Premier League, and so far, it’s only the other two relegated sides in the shape of Fulham and Bournemouth that are getting in their way.
Ismael has brought that high intensity style of play with him to The Hawthorns, as his players defend from the front and press high up the field. Ismael has tinkered between 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-3 formations this season, both to good effect, so you can expect one of those two systems to be what the Boro will be facing on Saturday.
The Baggies didn’t feel the need to make significant splashes in the summer transfer market, and only brought in a modest six new players, two of which will be familiar to Boro fans. Teesside native Jordan Hugill - who spent the 2018/19 season on loan at Boro - was signed on loan, whilst former Middlesbrough academy graduate Adam Reach - who spent six years as a pro between 2011-2016 at Middlesbrough - was signed on a free transfer.
The biggest headline from The Baggies’ transfer window came in the departure of their mercurial midfield talent, Matheus Pereira, who left for Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal for £15M. Central midfielder Romaine Saywers left for Stoke City on loan, whilst long-serving central defender Ahmed Hegazy also left for Saudi Arabia. Striker Charlie Austin was allowed to leave on a free transfer, as he made his return to QPR.
One man who’ll of been licking his lips watching that Luton Town game is striker Karlan Grant. The forward has eight goals in 16 Championship games this season, and often operates on the left in West Brom’s 3-4-2-1 formation, which is how I expect them to lineup on Saturday. Winger Grady Diangana is about as talented winger you could find in this division, but for one reason or another, he is often having to make his impact from off the bench.
West Brom can also boast the fact that they have an England international between the sticks, and in the form of Sam Johnstone they have arguably the divisions best keeper. Centre-backs Kyle Bartley, Semi Ajayi and Matt Clarke pose a formidable challenge to Boro’s forwards, and they’ll have to be at their sharpest if they want to fire Boro to a victory.
The Form Book
Middlesbrough (Last six: LLWWWL)
Luton Town 3-1 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough 0-2 Birmingham City
Cardiff City 0-2 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough 2-0 Barnsley
Middlesbrough 2-0 Peterborough United
Hull City 2-0 Middlesbrough
West Brom (Last six: WLWLWL)
West Brom 1-0 Hull City
Fulham 3-0 West Brom
West Brom 3-0 Bristol City
Swansea City 2-1 West Brom
West Brom 1-0 Birmingham City
Stoke City 1-0 West Brom
Matches played - 82
Wins - West Brom 30-36 Middlesbrough
Draws - 16
Goals - West Brom 104-111 Middlesbrough
Points - West Brom 106-124 Middlesbrough
West Brom 0-2 Middlesbrough - December 29, 2019
Middlesbrough 0-1 West Brom - October 19, 2019
West Brom 2-3 Middlesbrough - February 2, 2019
Middlesbrough 1-0 West Brom - August 24, 2018
Middlesbrough 1-1 West Brom - January 31, 2017
West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough - August 28, 2016
14th, won 6, drawn 3, lost 7
Goals scored 18, goals conceded 18
Clean sheets 6
3rd, won 9, drawn 4, lost 3
Goals scored 26, goals conceded 14
Clean sheets 7
For Boro boss Neil Warnock, positive news on the injury front has been hard to come by this season, but that’s exactly what he’s gotten in the days following the away defeat at Kenilworth Road.
Centre-back Grant Hall has been sidelined for just over a month now, but he could be set to make his return this weekend provided he passes a fitness test on Friday. Speaking on Hall, Warnock said: “Grant was on the grass having a jog with one of the physios.
“I’ve not spoken to him yet, but I’ll be having a chat. He’s been stepping up his training for a bit now.”
Martin Payero was also missing from the squad against Luton Town, but there appears to be a good chance to the Argentine will be available for Saturday. Speaking on Payero, Warnock said: “Martin was on the grass (on Thursday) doing a session with the fitness guy, I think it was just fatigue with him really. I think we got a bit lost in translation.
"I asked him if he wanted to be rested on the Sunday when we were in because he looked shattered, but on his translator thing, he showed me that he wants to play every game. I had it in my mind that he was playing, but then on Monday morning he could barely walk when he came in. He was like an old man.”
Middlesbrough will definitely be without Matt Crooks, as his fifth yellow card of the season against Luton Town means a one game suspension.
As for The Baggies, they will definitely be without three key players for the visit of Middlesbrough this weekend, with the main absence being star midfielder Alex Mowatt.
Mowatt has missed the last four matches after he sustained an injury during a Baggies victory over Birmingham City, and manger Valerien Ismael confirmed: “Alex Mowatt looks good, he trained Friday morning, he did the next step, so now if everything goes right he will be back after the international break.”
The Baggies will also be without defenders Darnell Furlong - through suspension -, and Kean Bryan, a player that Middlesbrough were linked with as a free agent signing this summer. On Bryan, Ismael said: “Unfortunately, it looks like it could be a bad injury. We’re concerned about the injury, but we just need to wait and see what the scans come back with.”
Reflecting on his sides loss to Luton Town, a disgruntled Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock said: “I’m disappointed because, as daft as it sounds, it’s a game we should have won.
“I know we had that daft five minutes, but other than that we didn’t have to do a lot more to win.
“We haven’t got that nastiness that they’ve got, that little bit of what you need in the Championship. We’re quite a nice team if I’m honest.”
And of course, it couldn’t of been Warnock’s record-setting day without him having a dig at the officials, on those penalty incidents Warnock said: “I thought we were let down a bit with the penalty decisions tonight. I think the linesman overruled the referee on one on Isaiah Jones.
“Then in the second half, I think it’s a penalty. He’s outside the box and he gives it which is an easy kop out really but he gives Isaiah advantage. So the advantage takes you into the box and then he’s fouled. So it’s a penalty.
“I thought the linesman over the far side who didn’t give the Isaiah Jones penalty, I don’t think he’s ever given us anything when I’ve seen him so I’ll not miss him when I do retire.”
Speaking after his sides 1-0 win over Hull City, a happy Baggies boss Valerien Ismael said: “I think we played very well in possession. I thought that it was our best performance in terms of being in possession of the ball this season.
“We raised the intensity and the energy in the second half and our performance improved.
"Now we need to recover and we won’t celebrate too much. We have to stay focused because we have another really tough game at home on Saturday.”
Baggies academy graduate Taylor Gardner-Hickman made his full debut against Hull City, and Ismael was full of praise for the 19-year-old wing-back, saying: “I think the Man of the Match was the young man Taylor. Taylor had a great game. He’s the first step in the right direction.”
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Anfernee Dijksteel, Paddy McNair, Sol Bamba
MID: Marcus Tavernier, James Lea Siliki, Jonny Howson (C), Isaiah Jones, Onel Hernandez ATT: Andraz Sporar, Josh Coburn
West Brom (3-4-2-1): GK: Sam Johnstone DEF: Semi Ajayi, Matt Clarke, Kyle Bartley MID: Taylor Gardner-Hickman, Jake Livermore (C), Robert Snodgrass, Conor Townsend ATT: Matt Phillips, Karlan Grant, Callum Robinson
I was again just the one goal off in my last prediction for Luton Town, as I had The Hatters winning by two goals to one. But really, that was a game Boro could, and should of won, but Warnock didn’t want to be the centre of attention on his big day, so he sportingly asked his Boro defenders to effectively kick the ball in the net three times for Luton, a touching gesture.
The team they’ll be facing on Saturday however, will certainly not require any Middlesbrough freebies when it comes to putting the ball in the net, so let’s get back to Virgil van Bamba and two Beckenbauer’s on Saturday please lads.
Mind you, The Baggies have, at times, been generous at the back this season, conceding three own goals so far, which is the most in the Championship. So it could be a case of I scratch your back you scratch mine then this weekend.
I mentioned at the start of this preview that West Brom press high up the pitch, and that’s evident in the fact that they lead the division in the most possessions won in the opposition’s final third (90). This is a major concern, as Boro do like to try and play out from the back, but as seen on Tuesday night, that does pose a risk of gifting chances and goals away. It will be interesting to see if Warnock opts for a more direct approach to potentially counter this threat.
Recent trips to The Hawthorns have provided some memorable moments, Ashley Fletcher scored that half-volley from midway inside the West Brom half on our last visit, and before that it was Boro who came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 with a late Assombalonga double.
But like the Luton game, I just can’t seem to find the confidence that would make me believe Boro can go and snatch three points before the international break.
They are unbeaten at home, with only four conceded. And the absence of Matt Crooks is a huge blow for Neil Warnock. Crooks provides the link between the defence-midfield and midfield-attack better than any Boro player in my opinion.
He’s the heartbeat in the middle of the park for Boro, and with a not 100% Martin Payero, who may have to start, but his fitness would mean he’d ideally be on the bench, means I believe West Brom will dominate the midfield and thus be allowed to press as high as they like all afternoon, and thus win the game.
Prediction: West Brom 2-0 Middlesbrough
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