Middlesbrough 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
This was a very entertaining game - possibly the most entertaining and open game I have seen in the Pulis era. I thought we did enough to win it and on another day or with a touch more quality we could have done so by a clear margin.
We started brightly with Phillips, Mozza and Chadli pushing right up high to press with Rondon and Yacob and Fletcher backing them up not far behind - and took a deserved lead with a great strike from Mozza.
We continued to press high and play at a high tempo and were in charge of the game I thought, but were probably a bit more open to the counter than normal because of the pace and power of Negrado and Traore. This was especially the case a couple of times where we went gung-ho on the pressing and they managed to get through Fletcher and Yacob high up the pitch - neither of whom have the pace to recover.
The penalty was soft and I'd say 50/50 although there was no need for GMac to go to ground there.
From then in it was a bit topsy-turvy until half time but again I would say hugely entertaining. We created chances that Rondon should have done better with (an earlier shot on his left foot when he was put through, a close-range header straight at the keeper. Foster also made some fine saves.
After the break we rallied and were in far more control again and we just needed Rondon or Phillips to take one of the 4 or 5 clear cut chances we created. Probably the easiest was Rondon's sitter after Phillips had been unlucky to see his header hit the post. Rondon somehow hit the opposite post with the whole goal at his mercy.
I thought it was a good away performance and I thought Pulis was right with his subs - Chadli seemed to disappear before halftime and HRK deserved a good 20 minutes in place of Rondon.
The transfer window has been tricky - I'm glad we haven't purchased players for the sake of it and I think Livermore is a decent signing. With us being out of both cups and very near to safety already we can afford to be picky but it will be a shame if the season flickers out. I hope Field and Leko get plenty of minutes now as a result but I wouldn't bet on it.
This was another well earned point from a hard working, well organized team. But the result could have gone either way. We created more chances in this game than many we have won, but couldn't put them away and Boro could have taken it with a couple of deflections off Nyom and Fletcher that Foster did brilliantly to keep out.
Mozza's goal was sweetly struck. I thought he had a good game overall, but once again our main attacking threat was Phillips. It's a pity he couldn't convert one of his chances. Bizarrely, both he and Rondon contrived to hit both posts in the same sequence after being set up by the soon to be subbed Chadli, his only real contribution. Rondon's miss was really poor. He just didn't have it and was also deservedly subbed. Traore ran us ragged and highlighted the need for more speed at the back. Evans is really being missed and his absence is starting to bother me. McClean's directness and crossing ability gave us much more than the out of touch Chadli. Pulis has so have the courage to start either McClean or the unfortunate Leko in place of Chadli.
Since Dan Ashworth left we have been unable to find the 'rough diamonds' in the transfer market. Pulis understandably wants proven players who will immediately improve the team, but these types don't want to come to the Albion or we won't pay the price. Other teams like Bournemouth, Southampton and Burnley seem to come up with 'no name' players and transform them into valuable assets. Why can't we?
But how would they do on a cold, wet, midweek night on Teeside ?
Admittedly a question most often asked of the "continental" player, yet in this case the question posed to an Albion side without an English goalscorer since before "Brexit", though fortunately for the Baggies, their blend of Scots, Welsh and Irish, both Northern and Eirean, would have probably played in far worse conditions than those at Middlesbrough, on many an occasion, so may even had an advantage over Aitor Karanka's more cosmopolitan line-up.
The only change to the line-up from the previous game saw a change of sides for Chadli and Phillips, although the former simply doesn't look as happy, and is certainly looks nowhere near as effective, out wide, as he did when through the middle, when he started, albeit only getting that opportunity at a time when our current middle-man mantle holder, Morrison, wasn't available.
Indeed, Chadli's chances of getting a start through the middle lessened even more after 6 minutes, as Morrison made the most of some mis-control by Fletcher, to whom the ball had fallen following a bout of in-the-box head-tennis under a Brunt free-kick, in driving fiercely along the ground from the edge of the area and beating the dive of Valdes.
If the stats were to believed, then that was effectively game over, what with 'Boro being the lowest scorers in the league, with only 1pt from a losing position, this season, and not having won a game in which they'd gone behind in a whopping 46 games, and for ten minutes there were few signs that any of those stats would need re-writing, ten minutes within which Phillips would carry the ball 50 yards at pace, before running out of ideas and options, and which also saw Brunt, far advanced from his left-back position, lobbing a right-foot effort onto the roof of the net, with the jury out as regards the back-peddling of Valdes.
But that was about as good as got, although the circumstances through which it got worse were confusing to say the least. McAuley, on the left side of Dawson in the centre-back pairing, decided to go to ground across an attacker heading towards the bye-line and away from the goal and in doing so brought him down, and although the linesman, with the clearest view, from the left touchline, of any/all contacts with either attacker or ball, saw no reason to raise his flag, the referee, with just a from-behind-the-challenge view, from much further away, pointed to the spot.
Traore's conversion of the penalty seemed to kick-start Boro to the extent that the rest of the half belonged to them, indeed they would have a even better shout for a penalty, Nyom tripping Stuani some ten minutes later, that got waved away. Although Albion might point to a Dawson header, from yet another Brunt free-kick, that Valdes had to push away in stoppage time, Boro could point to an even better save from Foster to keep out Nyom's ungainly attempt at a clearance that was heading goalwards, with five minutes of normal time left.
And whilst Boro would be singling out Foster as the villain of the piece once again, ten minutes into the second half, as he saved magnificently from Fletcher (yes, our Fletcher), Albion would have been as frustrated at the sight of a defence splitting ball from Dawson, that had played Chadli in down the right, only resulting in a diving header from Philips hitting the right post and then Rondon steering a shot, from the rebound that hit the left post.
As is so often the case, Chadli's highlight moment would be his last moment, as he was soon replaced by McClean, Phillips swapping to the right, and five minutes later Rondon's chances of ending his scoring drought were over too, with HRK coming on to replace him.
Neither change made much difference to the pattern of the game though, with Albion now content to stifle the threat, mainly from Traore, with their usual possession conceding, but impenetrable, eight or nine behind the ball, whilst still hoping that they might get something on the break and, whilst Brunt did force Valdes to push one over around the 70 minute mark, the two chances Phillips would spurn - one high, one wide - and an HRK fluff from the penalty spot with a minute left, no more troubled the Boro goalie than all of Boro's possession troubled Foster.
And so the answer to that question then? Well, when playing a bottom three side, on another cold, wet, midweek night on Teeside, Albion might have won, but on this one, it was merely yet another away draw, against a bottom three side, as our regular starters marched towards that magic forty-point mark.
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