Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for today's match as West Bromwich Albion
host newly-promoted Middlesbrough
at The Hawthorns. Only one point separates these two sides in the table after two games, but the managers will have contrasting feelings as to how they have started this campaign, particularly when you factor in transfer activity too. Let's start with a look at the team news...
WEST BROM STARTING XI: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Galloway; Phillips, Yacob, Fletcher, Field, McClean; Rondon
WEST BROM SUBS: Rose, Olsson, Gardner, Lambert, Berahino, Leko, Wilson
MIDDLESBROUGH STARTING XI: Guzan, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Barragan; Forshaw, Clayton, Stuani, Ramirez, Downing; Negredo
MIDDLESBROUGH SUBS: Konstantopoulos, Bernardo, Rhodes, Reach, Fischer, De Sart, Nugent
What can we make of those two sides, then? Well, the headline from the West Bromwich Albion camp is that Saido Berahino misses out on a place in the starting XI for the first time this season. The striker has once again been heavily linked with a move away from The Hawthorns in the current transfer window, but no deal has yet been done and he was named in the team for the first three games of the campaign. However, he drops to the bench having scored just one goal and provided no assists in his last 26 Premier League appearances.
The only new injury concern for the Baggies heading into this match was Brendan Galloway, who picked up a hamstring problem in midweek. However, the full-back has recovered in time to make his Premier League debut for the home side this afternoon following his summer loan switch from Everton. On the bench is 16-year-old Kane Wilson, who replaced Galloway in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, and should he come on today then he would become the first player born in the 21st century to play in the Premier League.
As expected, there are a few changes from that defeat to Northampton in the League Cup, with the likes of Foster, Evans, Yacob and Fletcher returning to the starting XI this afternoon. Gareth McAuley keeps his place in the side, and the defender will be looking to score for a third game in a row this afternoon having netted against Everton last week and then against the Cobblers in midweek. He is a big threat from set pieces and, given Middlesbrough's fine defensive record under Karanka, that could be West Brom's best hope of a goal.
The main goalscoring burden will lie on the shoulders of Rondon, though, and the striker made a good start to the season by opening his account in the very first game of the campaign. The Baggies are likely to need him to keep up that sort of form throughout the season, though, as the team really struggled for goals last term. Lambert and Berahino are both on the bench today, but Rondon has established himself as the first-choice striker under Pulis.
As for Middlesbrough, their biggest problem in terms of team selection for this match came at left-back. Friend, Fabio and Husband are all sidelined at the moment, but summer signing and former Liverpool man Antonio Barragan fills in on the left side of defence today. That is helped by the return of Daniel Ayala to fitness, with the Spaniard - another former Liverpool man - starting against Fulham in midweek and retaining his place in the side today.
Behind that defence, which will also see Nsue drop into a deeper role than he had against Fulham, Brad Guzan
is given the nod to start in goal due to an injury to Victor Valdes. Both goalkeepers arrived at the club during the summer, demoting Konstantopoulos to third choice, and despite an error against Sunderland last weekend, it is Guzan who retain his spot between the sticks. A string of good performances from the former Aston Villa man could just be enough to see him move above Valdes in the pecking order while the Spaniard is sidelined with a hamstring problem.
In midfield, Karanka recalls the likes of Forshaw, Ramirez and Stuani, the latter of whom was the hero of the Tees-Wear derby against Sunderland last weekend with two goals. It was the Uruguayan's first Premier League appearance for Boro, and should he also find the back of the net today then he would become just the third player in Middlesbrough history to score in their first two Premier League appearances for the club, following in the footsteps of Hasselbaink, Boksic and Mido.
Alvaro Negredo has been the star of the show for Boro so far, even accounting for Stuani's two goals last weekend. The striker, in his second stint in the Premier League following a spell with Manchester City, has been involved in all three of their goals so far this season, scoring on the opening day before setting up both of Stuani's strikes against Sunderland. Should Negredo fail to fire, though, the likes of Rhodes and Nugent provide extra ammunition on the bench, with the latter having scored on his previous two league games at The Hawthorns, in 2006 and 2015.
There are options for Middlesbrough, then, and that is largely down to the club enjoying a busy and productive summer transfer window - something which certainly cannot be said for West Bromwich Albion. Only a matter of days remain before the deadline on Wednesday, and still Matt Phillips is the only new face to come through the doors on a permanent basis. The winger joined from QPR in a £5.5m deal, but things have been frustratingly quiet at The Hawthorns ever since his arrival.
Manager Tony Pulis
has repeatedly admitted that he needs reinforcements all over the field, but at the same time he has insisted that he will not panic buy in the closing stages of the window. The Baggies are thought to want to sign as many as five new players before Wednesday's deadline, with Nacer Chadli, Jay Rodriguez and Calum Chambers among the names linked to the club, but time is really beginning to run out for them.
The lack of transfer activity has made for a frustrating start to the season, even though matters on the field have started reasonably well. The Baggies kicked things off with a good away win over Crystal Palace as Pulis got one over on his former club courtesy of Rondon's 74th-minute goal. They once again took the lead against Everton here last weekend, this time through McAuley, but they were unable to hold on to their advantage as Mirallas and Barry scored either side of half time to hand the Toffees all three points.
Despite that defeat, West Brom are in a better position at this stage of the season than last term, when they had to wait until the fourth game for their first win, picking up just one point from their first three outings. They finished last season poorly too, failing to win any of their last nine games, meaning that the opening-day victory over Crystal Palace this term in their only victory in their last 11 league outings - a run that stretches back to the 1-0 win over Manchester United at the beginning of March.
Things haven't been great at The Hawthorns either, where West Brom have picked up just one point from the last five Premier League outings, scoring only two goals in the process. Only three teams had a worse home record than the Baggies last term, while only Palace and Aston Villa scored fewer in front of their own fans. That was still better than their record on the road, though, where they scored a measly 14 goals in 19 appearances - six fewer than they managed in front of their own fans.
Indeed, it was their lack of goals that was their main problem throughout last term, with only bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa finding the back of the net fewer times than the Baggies. It is fair to say that Tony Pulis
has never placed a huge amount of emphasis on attack, instead leaning towards defensive tactics, and that is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that West Brom have scored just 55 goals in 58 Premier League games under the former Stoke boss, an average of just 0.95 per game.
West Brom did score twice in their most recent outing, but that came against League One side Northampton Town and still wasn't enough for them to win the match. The Baggies were dumped out of the EFL Cup in the second round courtesy of a penalty shootout defeat to the Cobblers, going down 4-3 in the shootout following a 2-2 draw. Goals from McClean and McAuley saw West Brom cancel out Northampton's opener and move into the lead, only for Revell to strike late and force penalties, which saw the League One side triumph.
Pulis will be demanding a response from his side following that shock exit, but he comes up against a Middlesbrough team who have made a positive start to life back in the Premier League. Boro were away for a lot longer than they would have liked, but going into their third match of the season they are one of only six teams yet to be beaten - although the majority of sides have played a game extra after yesterday's fixtures. Even so, sitting eighth in the table even at this stage of the season makes for a satisfactory start for Karanka's side.
Of course, there is still a long way to go, and Middlesbrough could have been dealt a much tougher start than they were given, although four points from two games against experienced Premier League campaigners like Stoke and Sunderland is not bad going at all. Neither are the easiest side to face, but Boro have dealt with the tests well so far. Negredo got things off to a flying start with an 11th-minute opener in their first match back in the top flight, only for Shaqiri to rescue a point for Stoke, before Stuani's brace last weekend was enough to see off the Black Cats in the North-East derby.
Like West Brom, though, there was disappointment for Boro in the EFL Cup in midweek as they also crashed out to lower-league opposition. It was not quite as big a shock as West Brom's exit at the hands of Northampton, but Karanka would still have been disappointed with his side's 2-1 defeat to Fulham after extra time. For the third time in as many games this season, Middlesbrough took the lead as Nugent broke the deadlock inside 10 minutes, but an own goal from De Sart was enough to force extra time, during which Christensen got the winner for the Cottagers.
Conceding two goals is a relatively rare thing for Middlesbrough, whose success under Aitor Karanka
has been built on a sturdy defence. They boasted the best defensive record in the Championship last term and have conceded just 33 goals in their 48 league matches since the start of last season - the best tally of any team in the top four tiers to have played in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns.
The one concern for Middlesbrough heading into this season is that their away record was significantly worse than their record at the Riverside last term. It was still not bad by any means, with only Burnley and Brighton amassing more points on the road and only Burnley winning more games, but 23 of the goals they conceded came on their travels, compared to just eight at home. It is unlikely that they will manage to be quiet as good in front of their own fans having made the step up to the Premier League, so they may need to improve their away record to balance things out.
Boro have made a good start in that respect with victory over Sunderland in their first away game back in the top flight, and another win this afternoon would give them back-to-back Premier League away wins for the first time since 2006, when they coincidentally also beat Sunderland West Brom in succession. Their victory over the Black Cats ended a 12-match losing away streak in the top flight, though, and a 13-match winless one, with just one point coming from a previous 39 available on the road in the Premier League. That 13-game winless run also saw Boro score just four goals, with their last away victory before the win over Sunderland coming in November 2008.
Home and away, Boro will today be looking to record back-to-back Premier League wins in the same season for the first time since December 2007, when they beat Arsenal and Derby. They did win two in a row in 2008 too, although those came in the last game of the 2007-08 season - an 8-1 win over Manchester City, no less - and the first game of the 2008-09 campaign.
PREDICTION: Right, we have 10 minutes remaining until kickoff at The Hawthorns, so it is about time I made a prediction! Unfortunately, both of these sides are very much defensive-minded teams first and foremost, so I can't see a goalfest here. Indeed, there aren't many fixtures in the Premier League which look more likely to be a 0-0 this season, so I'm going to go for a scoreless stalemate.
West Brom have had the better of this fixture in recent times, winning each of the last four meetings and scoring 11 goals in that time while conceding none. That includes a 5-0 Championship triumph at the Riverside in September 2009 that saw Brunt score twice along with goals from Mulumbu, Bednar and Thomas. The last time West Brom conceded against Middlesbrough was in an FA Cup tie that finished 1-1 after a replay in 2007.
Boro went on to win that game on penalties, but excluding shootouts West Brom are unbeaten in their last six meetings in all competitions. Middlesbrough's last win over the Baggies did come at The Hawthorns, though, as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored both goals in a 2-0 victory more than 10 years ago.
The most recent meeting between the two teams came in April 2010 when they met in the Championship, and it was the Baggies who came out on top on that occasion with a 2-0 victory. Cox and Bednar were on the scoresheet as West Brom picked up another three points en route to securing promotion to the Premier League.
Right, we're just about ready to go at The Hawthorns! The players are out and the pre-match niceties have been exchanged - just the football to come now!
KICKOFF: Here we go then! West Brom get us underway at The Hawthorns for the first of the two Premier League matches this afternoon.
YELLOW CARD! It takes a little over a minute for the first booking as Ayala is beaten to the ball by Galloway and scythes the full-back down. No complaints there, even this early in the match.
Phillips shows good anticipation to cut out a loose pass from Ramirez and get West Brom onto the front foot, but he then lets fly from range only to see his shot block.
Brilliant play from McClean as he cuts inside and bursts past a number of red shirts with a powerful and purposeful run. He gets to the edge of the box, but just as he is about to pull the trigger Barragan gets a crucial foot in and makes a fine challenge.
CHANCE! Half-chance for the Baggies from a corner as Evans peels away from his man to get to the delivery. The defender goes for a first-time volley, but can't connect with it properly and the ball ends up on the roof of Guzan's net.
Not a great deal to report in the opening 10 minutes so far, with that Evans half-chance the only minor sight of goal either side has conjured up. It has been a tentative start at The Hawthorns.
Boro get in behind the West Brom defence for the first time as Stuani races past the full-back, but his resulting delivery is poor and goes behind for a goal kick.
CHANCE! Good football from West Brom as they create another chance, with McClean and Galloway both in the area looking to get on the end of a chipped ball forward. It is McClean who gets there first, but Guzan is quick off his line to thwart the winger from a tight angle.
West Brom have had the better of the opening exchanges here, settling into the match better and creating the two sights of goal so far. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, are struggling to get their feet on the ball at the moment.
Important defending from McAuley to deny Negredo a good opening. The strike had initially beaten McAuley all ends up down the left flank to race clear, but after cutting inside and past another defender in the area, McAuley got back to make the interception.
CHANCE! Another half-chance for the hosts as Rondon gets his head onto a cross from the left flank, but the ball is behind him and he can only steer his effort wide of the target. Not an easy chance by any means.
Tony Pulis will certainly be the happier of the two managers with what he has seen so far, but the scores are still goalless and if there is one thing that Middlesbrough know how to do, it is to frustrate teams.
Almost another half-chance for Rondon as he climbs in the area to get on the end of a cross, but he gets caught underneath it and is unable to trouble the keeper.
Gibson gets away with one here! He gifts possession straight to Fletcher deep in his own half, but the West Brom captain's subsequent cross is too long and Middlesbrough escape unscathed.
Possession has been fairly evenly split in this game so far, but it is West Brom who continue to have a little more control over the visitors. They are seeing more of the ball in better positions, although in truth there isn't a great deal to separate them.
Middlesbrough apply their best spell of pressure of the game so far with a corner followed by a cross into the box that Foster flaps at, although the danger passes as the offside flag is raised.
Well, it hasn't exactly been a classic so far, but not many people would have been expecting much more in truth. These two sides have defensive mindsets and so far are cancelling each other out.
Phillips leads a West Brom attack forward before being forced to cut back and, via Fletcher, work the ball to Dawson. He hoists a hopeful cross into the box that McClean manages to get something on, but not enough to cause Guzan any problems.
Middlesbrough almost have their first chance of the match as Ramirez provides a rare piece of quality with a fine pass to Negredo. The striker is up against McAuley, but the Baggies defender does well to dispossess the Spaniard and deal with the danger.
McAuley is a little fortunate to escape without a yellow card for a foul on Negredo in the corner, one which was similar to Ayala's in the first couple of minutes.
There has been a distinct lack of quality in the final third o far today. Set pieces have not been good enough, and there has been precious little to shout about from open play aside from McClean's chance.
There is some tidy passing going on in midfield, but it is all sideways and happening in front of the opposition defences. There hasn't been a particularly probing pass or moment of magic from anyone on the field so far.
Ayala whips a cross into the box that Ramirez takes down having peeled off Dawson, but the Middlesbrough man used his arm to control it and another attack comes to nothing.
SAVE! Much more like it from West Brom as Field wins the ball thanks to some battling play, before giving it to Galloway. The full-back turns and drives towards the box before hitting a low shot from 25 yards, but Guzan is down well to make a fairly routine stop.
Just five minutes remain before half time, and you will do well to see a more depressingly predictable half of football this season. This match had 0-0 written all over it before kickoff, and nothing in the opening 40 minutes has suggested anything different.
You'd have to think that Boro would be the happier of the two teams with a draw here, and they are playing like it to. They are yet to have a shot this afternoon and seem to be content to left West Brom come out before trying to hit them on the break.
CHANCE! Almost a chance for West Brom right at the end of the half as Galloway whips in a decent cross from the left, but Rondon can't get his head on it having escaped the attentions of Gibson. He looked to be there in time, but he just misjudged his header.
CLOSE! Rondon is inches away again here as Guzan comes to claim a corner but gets nowhere near the ball. It travels through to the back post, but Rondon is a stud away from connecting and turning it into the back of the net.
There will be just a minute of added time at the end of this half.
HALF TIME: West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Middlesbrough
The first half comes to an end at The Hawthorns, and we're still goalless after a very dull and uneventful opening 45 minutes. You may not see a worse half of football all season, but on the bright side things can surely only get better! Both sides will hopeful begin to push more for a winner as the second half wears on as there has been very little to separate them so far.
West Brom just about edged the opening 45 minutes, but for the most part they had to make do with half-chances. Their best goalscoring opportunity of the half came after 12 minutes when Fletcher's chipped a ball forward for McClean, but Guzan was quickly out to meet the winger, smothering his effort from a tight angle.
Aside from that, there really has been very little to shout about. Rondon has had a couple of half-chances, first steering a header wide before failing to get on the end of two crosses in quick succession towards the end of the half. Evans has also squandered a sight of goal with a miskick, while Galloway brought a rare save from Guzan with a low drive that was fairly comfortable for the keeper.
As far as Middlesbrough are concerned, they have offered even less in attack, failing to have a single shot in the opening 45 minutes. Foster has been a spectator in the game so far, with the service to Negredo being poor from the visitors. Indeed, at both ends of the field there has been a distinct lack of quality in the final third.
KICKOFF: Middlesbrough get us back underway for the second half as they look to break the deadlock and maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
SHOT! Middlesbrough have a shot! It isn't a good one and it doesn't threaten Foster, but it is a shot! Nsue drives forward and plays a pass down the right channel for Ramirez who, due to a lack of support, goes for goal from a tight angle and slices his effort well wide.
YELLOW CARD! Ramirez was shown a yellow card just before that shot having tripped Galloway with a late challenge, which Anthony Taylor initially played advantage for.
Clayton finds himself on the end of a robust aerial challenge from Dawson which wins Middlesbrough a free kick. This second half hasn't got into any sort of rhythm so far, and the early signs don't suggest that we're in for a game of two halves.
The two managers may be starting to think about changes here, with Berahino the most obvious potential match-winner on either bench. This game needs a goal, that is for sure.
Ten minutes into the second half and it is still hard to see a breakthrough coming. These two could be playing until midnight tonight and, if they carry on like this, they wouldn't find the back of the net.
Set pieces can often provide the difference in matches like this, but both defences are very well organised and there has been little joy via that route today either.
We're at the hour mark of this game now, and Berahino is making moves to come on now. His introduction looks to be imminent, and hopefully he can be exactly what the game needs to provide a bit of life, even if his recent scoring record in the Premier League is pretty poor.
West Brom win a free kick in a decent crossing position, but Stuani deals with Phillips's initial delivery and a second ball into the box is also cleared.
CLOSE! This is the closest we have come to a goal! West Brom win a corner as Phillips sees a long-range strike deflect over, and the summer signing goes over to take the set piece himself. His delivery is met by Dawson, who plants a header narrowly wide of the target.
WEST BROM SUB: The hosts do make a change, but Berahino will have to wait a little longer here. Jonathan Leko is the man introduced to replace McClean.
YELLOW CARD! Yacob becomes the third name in the book today for a foul on Ramirez.
Berahino has just been left sitting on a step, ready to come on for almost 10 minutes now. Pulis appeared to call for him, but has not made the change just yet.
Both teams have a couple of players struggling right now. Ramirez seems to have a tight hamstring, while Leko, who has only just come on, needs treatment on an ankle injury. Both look like they will try to carry on, though.
WEST BROM SUB: Well, Leko tried top carry on but he is unable to do so, and the youngster makes way less than 10 minutes after coming on. Berahino is the man to replace him, finally getting the call.
CHANCE! Boro have their first chance, and their first shot on target! Barragan is released down the left flank and collects the ball in space before cutting inside. He never looks in complete control, but manages to keep hold of the ball before playing it out to Stuani. The Uruguayan has the angle against him, though and places his finish straight at Foster.
Berahino collects the ball and loses it with his first action since coming on, and the reaction from the fans speaks volumes. There were jeers and boos that seemed to accompany Berahino getting possession.
Another shot from Boro, but this one is never troubling Foster as Downing lets fly from range and hits it high and wide of the target.
WEST BROM SUB: A third and final change for the hosts sees debutant Sam Field replaced by Craig Gardner.
YELLOW CARD! Barragan goes into the book after complaining about a decision from the lineman following a foul on Rondon. Cheap yellow card there.
This match is just beginning to open up a little right now, with more space appearing in the forward positions. There is still a noticeable lack of quality in the final third, though.
A goalmouth scramble ensues in the West Brom area following a Middlesbrough corner, but the ball eventually pops up into the hands of Foster. Had that somehow squeezed in then it would have summed this abomination of a game up.
SHOT! Downing looks to steal a late winner for Boro as he fires a well-hit shot towards the far corner, but it zips a couple of yards past the target.
MIDDLESBROUGH SUB: The visitors make their first change of the afternoon as David Nugent replaces Ramirez.
Messy stuff again, this time in the Middlesbrough box as West Brom come forward and apply some sustained pressure. A low pass is fed into the box which Ayala tries to clear, but he cannons it into his own player and is fortunate that it doesn't bounce into his own net.
It is West Brom who are applying most of the late pressure here as they push for the win, but a recurring theme today has been the lack of quality in dangerous areas.
I'm not sure why the fourth official is doing this to us, but we have to endure four more minutes of this match.
In truth, any late goal would flatter this match a little. It has been a 0-0 all day long and that doesn't look like changing in the closing stages here.
MIDDLESBROUGH SUB: One late throw of the dice for Boro as Viktor Fischer comes on for his Premier League debut, replacing Stuani.
FULL TIME: West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Middlesbrough
Anthony Taylor finally brings an end to that snoozefest, and unsurprisingly the match ends goalless. It was not one that will go down as a classic by any stretch of the imagination, and what's more it was no surprise that it ended up that way. Neither side ever really looked like scoring and a 0-0 stalemate is exactly what the game deserved. At least we can all now enjoy our bank holiday Sunday night and not have to stay in for the highlights...
Right, that is all we have time for this afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for today's game, which saw West Brom and Middlesbrough play out a goalless stalemate at The Hawthorns. Recap what little action there was in our match report
, and also stick around for reaction too. It will be interesting to hear what Pulis has to say about those boos at full time. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!