Middlesbrough are under strength in defence as Chambers and Friend sit out, but with Barragan returning they avoid a total shortage at full back as he’s set to be pressed straight into action. Fabio continues at left back, while Ramirez continues to be missed going forward, with Downing and Stuani likely to flank Alvaro Negredo in a three man attacking line, but creation from deep is limited. With the league’s poorest attack, scoring at an average of under a goal a game, they won’t want the game to be open and end to end, so they’ll set up in a balanced approach but always retain a focus on defensive solidity. This is a game they’ll feel they can win, but they’ve struggled to convert draws into victories this season so against a strong West Brom side, a point wouldn’t be a disaster. The first goal holds huge importance to Middlesbrough at home as every time they’ve gone behind they’ve lost this season, while they’re unbeaten when getting ahead. Chasing games with their meagre output doesn’t suit their style of play, so to win they really need to keep it tight and get ahead, closing out a narrow victory. They’ll control the ball for long spells, but need to be incisive.
Aside from Evans, West Brom can count themselves at full strength to face Middlesbrough, and though they’re weakened by his absence, they’ve coped fairly well so far. An unchanged 11 is likely from their 2-0 win over Sunderland last time out, having had plenty of time to recover between games. Rondon keeps his place up front despite a six game goal drought, being a key figure in the team. They may have lost a few on the road of late, but their last four losses have come against the current top four, so they won’t be disheartened. They’ve enjoyed a great season so far and can travel with confidence. A draw would be a result they’d take, but they’ll see this as a chance to get a rare away win, setting up to play on the break in what is likely to be a very cagey and tactical battle. They’ll pose a threat from set pieces and will look to utilise that strength throughout, allowing them to be dangerous without being too attacking. They haven’t kept many clean sheets but if they can get the opener they’ll believe they can see out a win by dropping deeper and soaking up pressure. If behind, they’d be more than happy with a point, but from the outset they’ll not set up to draw.
Verdict & Prediction
West Brom are enjoying a terrific season by their usual standards and are closing in quickly on the 40 point mark, which has been outlined as the initial season aim by Tony Pulis. Confidence is very high and they’ll travel to Middlesbrough with genuine belief this is a game they can win. Even though away form hasn’t been great, their last four defeats have come against the current top four, and only once did they look out-classed. They won’t feel down about those results and will look for maximum return this time round, though a draw wouldn’t disappoint at all.
Prediction : West Brom +0.00 Asian Handicap (same as Draw no bet, stake returned if draw)
Odds : 2.11 SBOBET