Hal Robson-Kanu strikes late against Middlesbrough to keep West Brom top

first_imgThe Observer Football League: Phillips caps off Leeds gala, Bowen lands maiden Reading win Share on WhatsApp Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Championship A little over an hour had passed, the rain was unrelenting and West Bromwich uninspired when a clearly agitated Slaven Bilic liberated Hal Robson-Kanu and Kyle Edwards from the bench.Thirty minutes later the clouds were lifting, Edwards had created the decisive goal for Robson-Kanu and the visiting fans were singing “We’re top of the league.” West Brom’s first win on Teesside in 10 years had done more than just leave Bilic’s side two points clear of second-placed Leeds, though. In consigning Middlesbrough to a fourth defeat in a run of five games in which Jonathan Woodgate’s team have collected a solitary point they raised all sorts of awkward questions about the former England centre-back’s powers of defensive organisation. Evidence for the prosecution seems to have been mounting in recent weeks and a switch to three at the back for West Brom’s visit initially looked to have done little to diminish it. Instead the early moment when Dani Ayala’s woefully misjudged attempted back pass was all too easily intercepted and Matheus Pereira should have done better than shoot over appeared to serve as a prime exhibit of the flaws that have left Boro one point above the relegation zone.Yet in some ways Woodgate has been as good as his word. On succeeding Tony Pulis in the summer, he promised entertainment and the sheer openness of Boro’s football dictates that, for the neutral at least, their games are rarely dull. The downside is they lack the sort of ruthless forwards capable of camouflaging vulnerabilities at the other end of the pitch and, worryingly, missed a handful of decent chances here.Granted Bilic’s goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, made some decent saves and Woodgate’s side were evidently much improved from recent weeks. The switch of system had perhaps offered Boro a more robust defensive structure and, a few typically slapdash moments apart, they generally succeeded in keeping Bilic’s attack at bay, restricting West Brom to a solitary shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.“If we play like that we’re going to win games,” said Woodgate. “We’ve got to stay positive. We did really well against a really good team who will go up this season, we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”The visitors seemed to be missing their injured winger Matt Phillips and as the bank of steel grey clouds rolling in from the Cleveland Hills drenched the Riverside in heavy rain Bilic cut an increasingly fidgety technical-area figure. While he combated the conditions with first a woolly hat and then a heavy duty anorak, Woodgate appeared impervious to the wet soaking through his suit as he stood straight backed and virtually still, hands in pockets. If only Boro possessed a defender with half his old assurance and elegance.Bilic was non too shabby at the back either and West Brom could certainly have done with some of their manager’s old on-pitch nous as only Johnstone’s stellar reflexes prevented Jonny Howson and George Saville scoring.On came Robson-Kanu and Edwards with the former swiftly missing a sitter and Edwards being denied a goal by Marvin Johnson’s tremendous sliding tackle before Boro’s counterattacking substitute Ashley Fletcher hit the woodwork.Tensions rose, the two benches exchanged cross words and then everything changed when Robson-Kanu redeemed himself by tapping home in the wake of Grady Diangana’s cross and Darren Randolph’s parry of Edwards’s shot.“It became a difficult game,” said Bilic. “Middlesbrough lack confidence but they’re fighting hard. I wasn’t that happy but we’re delighted now.” West Bromwich Albion Read morecenter_img Share via Email Share on Messenger Share on Pinterest Share on Facebook match reports Middlesbrough Topics Reuse this contentlast_img

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