A Friday night game in the Championship is normally a fixture that favours Middlesbrough.
Out of the last 13 Friday games they’ve played, Boro have won 11. The last match played on a Friday – the 3-0 drubbing of Leeds United at the Riverside when Patrick Bamford scored his first professional hat-trick.
However, Bamford has since departed the club and so someone else will have to step up to the plate this time out.
The likeliest man – Martin Braithwaite. The Danish forward has started this season on fire, scoring an impressive three goals in his opening four games and was on target once again on Saturday at Ashton Gate. It remains to be seen as to whether the World Cup quarter-finalist will still be at Teesside by the end of the month, but he could be the difference between the two sides tomorrow.
Although, West Brom aren’t without their own match-winners and if you thought Braithwaite’s goal tally this season was impressive, Jay Rodriguez has gone one better averaging a goal a game in Albion’s opening four matches.
The Baggies will also be going into the game after a 7-1 demolition job on QPR – needless to say that they’ll be high on confidence going into tomorrow’s match. Dwight Gayle was also on the scoresheet and the Boro defence should certainly be wary of the threat that he poses – he scored 23 goals the last time he was in the Championship with Newcastle.
However, after three wins on the bounce, Boro will also be heading into this fixture on a high and they’ll need to be at their best to de-rail Pulis’ old side.
Assombalonga and Braithwaite were both on the scoresheet against Bristol City and it’s that sort of partnership that could be crucial for Boro in this game and in their quest for automatic promotion.
The most interesting battle Friday night will see the league’s best attack go up against the best defence in the division. With West Brom boasting a side full of attacking talent, Boro will have to be tight at the back to keep out a side that has scored 13 goals in just four matches. Although, Boro can take heart from the fact that they’ve kept three clean sheets in the previous three matches.
West Brom may have one of the strongest front lines in the division, but they also concede goals – they’ve leaked seven goals at the back in their opening four games. Therefore although the stats prove West Brom are beatable – as shown by Bolton on the opening day – they also say that Albion are likely to score at some point in the match, so the question is: can Boro score at least two? They’ve averaged two goals a game so far this season, but they also know that West Brom will be tougher than any opponent they’ve faced so far.
The last time these sides met it was a Premier League fixture, but with both clubs suffering relegations in the past two seasons, this is the first time that the clubs have met in the Championship since 2010 when West Brom were promoted to the top flight as runners-up.
A 1-1 draw two seasons ago saw Middlesbrough academy graduate James Morrison put the Baggies ahead before an Alvaro Negredo penalty meant that the points were shared on Teesside.
This time, however, Tony Pulis will be in a different dugout as he goes up against his former team for the first time since his sacking in November last year.
With Pulis based in Birmingham for almost three years, Baggies fans will probably know what to expect from Boro in this match. A well-drilled physical side that poses a strong threat from set-pieces. But, what they may not be expecting is the creativity in Boro’s build-up play from the likes of Wing, Howson and Braithwaite that we have seen in recent weeks.
West Brom will also be a threat from set-pieces with 6ft4 central defenders Kyle Bartley and Ahmed Hegazi both in their ranks. But, with a Premiership strike force in Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle they’ll also finish off any chances they have at the top end of the pitch as well. It should make for an entertaining game.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Flint, Fry, Friend, Downing, Clayton, Howson, Wing, Braithwaite, Assombalonga.
West Brom: Johnstone, Adarabioyo, Hegazi, Bartley, Phillips, Livermore, Brunt, Barnes, Gibbs, Rodriguez, Gayle.