Middlesbrough 1-1 West Brom: John Swift salvages a goal for the Baggies on opening day of the season after Isaiah Jones had given hosts the lead in battle between promotion hopefuls
- Middlesbrough and West Brom share the spoils in back-and-forth game
- Boro took the lead early through academy product Isaiah Jones
- Baggies hit back after half-time with goal from debutant John Swift
The respective managerial CVs would tell you that Middlesbrough and West Bromwich are among the favourites for a return to the Premier League this season.
But what looks good on paper – Chris Wilder and Steve Bruce have seven Football League promotions between them – does not always transpire on grass. At least not yet.
It is the absolute infancy of the campaign, of course, but there is much work to do with these teams before you would back either to challenge at the very top of the Championship this season.
Middlesbrough enjoyed a sustained spell of dominance during the first half
A draw was fair, if only because both sides enjoyed one good half and endured one not so good. They scored a decent goal apiece and also gave up some cheap chances which were duly missed. Perhaps that is an indicator of the strive for consistency that will be the greatest challenge for Wilder and Bruce in escaping the division come May.
‘There were a few home truths at half-time,’ said Bruce, whose side trailed at the break. ‘There was a reminder to play with a bit more intensity. The second half was much better and that is the standard we need.’
Wilder, meanwhile, is frustrated by Boro’s lack of attacking reinforcements and the team-sheet betrayed his paucity of options, where winger Duncan Watmore was paired in attack with fringe player Chuba Akpom.
West Brom looked energised after the break and John Swift levelled the game on 51 minutes
Grady Diangana missed a chance to put West Brom 2-1 up during the second half
Steve Bruce(left) has been joined in the West Brom dugout by his son Alex Bruce
Even the back of the matchday programme noticeably listed only 17 Boro players – a quick sweep may well have found the manager’s fingerprints on that page. The notion of them being one of the frontrunners for promotion is, for now, not supported by the strength and depth of the squad. Their preparations for this game were also thrown into disarray when midfielder Marcus Tavernier headed to Bournemouth for a medical last week ahead of a £12million move.
But, for all of that, a Wilder team will never want for motivation and organisation – he is why the bookies have priced them too short – and they were way superior in the first half.
One of the reasons Boro allowed right back Djed Spence to join Spurs this summer is because they have Isaiah Jones. It is easy to see why. The 23-year-old not only pocketed West Brom wideman Matt Phillips, he caused countless problems charging in a forward direction, too.
He scored the game’s opener on 10 minutes when Wolves loanee Ryan Giles broke down the left before freeing Akpom, whose decision to cross rather than shoot looked ill-judged until Jones appeared at the far post and swept home.
Debutant Giles deserved an assist of his own when drilling low through the six-yard area before half-time. Watmore showed all the will in the world to get across two defenders to connect. But where there was a will there wasn’t a way and his effort – skewed wide of an open goal – had Wilder down on his knees. He should have used that moment to offer prayer towards the directors’ box in a plea for more signings. Watmore’s miss would prove costly.
Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough have been pegged as promotion favourites by the bookies
New Boro signing Marcus Forss appeared after the interval but failed to find a winner
‘I would go five (signings needed),’ said Wilder afterwards. ‘But there is no angst. We are a club who are together from the top downwards. We are very close on a few. Taking in what happened this week (losing Tavernier), I was delighted. It will be different when the window shuts.’
West Brom were never going to be as passive as they were in the first half and their equaliser, on 51 minutes, was merited. In the form of Jed Wallace and John Swift they have a pair of smart free transfers and the latter converted from the former’s clever pull-back.
But while neither side deserved to win, nor did they deserve to lose. It was that sort of game, little bits to like and dislike. There is work to do for both Wilder and Bruce.