Middlesbrough v West Brom, Championship, September 19, 2009
The Championship witnesses a top of the table clash on Saturday as first placed West Brom head to second placed Middlesbrough. In a surprising twist to the norm, the three teams who were relegated from the Premier League last season – the Baggies, Boro and Newcastle – currently occupy the top three spots in the league as all three appear to have acclimatised with life in England’s second top division.
The Baggies remain the only unbeaten side in the Championship after recording five wins and two draws in their opening seven fixtures. After a summer full of upheavals including the departure of manager Tony Mowbray to Celtic, new boss Robert di Matteo has got the Baggies back on track from the get-go.
A pair of dodgy ankles will keep Di Matteo’s team selection a mystery until kick off. Both Slovak international Marek Cech (11/2 to score) and former Aston Villa forward Luke Moore both remain touch and go for the trip to Boro after turning their ankles during the week.
On a brighter note, Di Matteo could have new signing Gonzalo Jara available for the trip to Teesside with the Baggies making progress in their visa application for the Chile international. The centre-back, who signed from Santiago club Colo Colo on a three-year contract during the summer transfer window, is currently in the final stages of having his paperwork processed.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old New Zealand striker Chris Wood may well be called upon for the match at the Riverside, the teenager fresh from his first senior goal scored in the 3-1 win over Doncaster during the week. Swede Jonas Olsson (20/1 to score last) will also have the taste for more goals on Saturday after the midfielder grabbed a brace in the last match – Olsson having also been the match-winner for West Brom in this fixture last season, which proved to be the Baggies on away win of last year.
The Baggies will be confident that goals can arrive from all over the pitch. Already leading the goalscoring charts with 15 goals so far this campaign, 12 different West Brom players have already broken their ducks with Roman Bednar (13/4 to score & West Brom win) having already scored twice while influential midfield schemer Robert Koren (5/1 to score) has also got off the mark.
With two wins and a draw so far from their three home matches, Gareth Southgate’s Boro will be no easy pushovers.
For all of the disruption that relegation cause on Teeside, Boro managed to hold onto the nucleus of their squad despite falling down divisions and they are now reaping the benefit with one of the most impressive set of players in the Championship.
Not only was Southgate able to keep defenders David Wheater, Chris Riggott (currently sidelined) and Emanuel Pogatetz, but they has also been a successful recruitment drive as up-and-coming Irish international Sean St Ledger has been brought in from Preston on a loan, with a view to a permanent transfer in January. (Boro are 7/4 to keep a clean sheet.)
Further up the field, Boro have an almost ideal blend of youth, experience and talent in midfield which many of their peers could only dream of. While the likes of Julio Arca and Gary O’Neil (4/1 to score) provided the stability, Adam Johnson (11/1 to score first & Boro win) (six goals already this season), who had previously spent his career understudying Stewart Downing is finally emerging as goal-scorer and creator-in-chief wide of the left-hand side.
Boro are also not short of firepower up-top. Jeremie Aliadiere (6/1 to score first) has struck third goals in four days since last Saturday, while Marvin Emnes (7/4 to score) and Leroy Lita (6/4 to score) have both opened their account for the season. A fourth striker could soon be thrown into the mix as Hull City’s Caleb Folan appears set to complete a move to the Riverside before kick off on Saturday.
101predicts: Middlesbrough 2 – West Brom 1 (15/2)
Full match odds here.