MIDDLESBROUGH opened their Championship campaign with a battling draw against fellow promotion candidates West Brom in a mixed bag performance from the home side.

Chris Wilder’s side personified the ‘tale of two halves’ cliché having stormed into an early lead into the game before failing maintain their heights in the second period as the Baggies found their way back in.

Boro pushed for a winner but the presence of a proper goalscorer will be playing on the mind of the manager tonight with chances to put the game beyond their opponents not taken.

Zack Steffen was quickly called into action on debut to deny a long cross that was on it’s way in. After Boro attempted to play the ball out from the back losing possession, the American had to eat up the yards to claw Darnell Furlong’s long all into the box onto the crossbar to avoid what would have been a bizarre opening goal to the game.

As it turned out, the opening goal of the game turned out to be well constructed slick Boro move that would have cracked a smile on the face of the manager. Ryan Giles is expected to become huge cog in this Boro machine and he showed how direct he can be as he drove into space in West Brom’s defensive third. A neat through ball was played to Chuba Akpom who strengthened his case in the Boro squad by hooking the ball back across goal. The chance was on a plate for Isaiah Jones who slammed home to erupt a wave of red after just ten minutes.

The Northern Echo: Isaiah Jones celebrates the opening goal of the game.Isaiah Jones celebrates the opening goal of the game.

Boro were beginning to open up West Brom with the concise passing and clever movement. They were living up to their label as promotion candidates putting the sword to West Brom who barely had a sniff in the first half.  

Wilder’s side continued to pin the Baggies back in their own half and pressure nearly told when the home side had a really strong shout for a penalty waved away. Duncan Watmore’s neat through ball to Riley McGree found him with room in the box. The Australian went to strike as Jake Livermore stretched his leg across his body to block. He appeared to catch McGree but referee Tony Harrington thought otherwise. It definitely fell under the ‘you’ve seen them given’ category.

That man Giles was once again the architect of a move that should have seen Boro double their lead. After patient build-up play with around 20 passes, the wing-back fizzed a teasing ball across goal. With Watmore racing across to meet it, the forward failed to get the proper connection. It was a glorious chance but it failed to taint a solid first half display.

The Championship is synonymous for it’s unpredictability and it slapped them hard in the face in the opening stages of the second half. Darragh Lenihan and Marc Bola were both caught out of position as Jed Wallace was freed into space down the right hand side. Boro’s defence charged back to make up the yards but that saw John Swift with space around him in the box to slam home the ball from close range.

The Baggies debutant was denied by Steffen this time as he faked the shot to turn away from Bola but Boro’s keeper blocked the shot from close range. A rocked Boro had their keeper to thank for keeping things level. As the game eeked past the hour mark, things levelled out for both sides as Boro managed to steady the ship through some rough waters.

The Northern Echo: Chris Wilder and Steve Bruce in the dugoutChris Wilder and Steve Bruce in the dugout

Wilder threw Josh Coburn and Marcus Forss into the mix to freshen up his point of attack but West Brom almost made them pay with a counter attack from a blocked Coburn effort. Grady Diangana skipped past Jones on the left and threaded through to Wallace with space in the box but the tame cross was clawed away by Steffen.

Boro needed a moment of inspiration from somewhere and they were all throwing caution to the wind for a winner. But they were playing a risky game and they were caught with a lack of numbers at the back. Daryl Dike’s cross was deflected up into the air and Swift’s bicycle kick diverted the ball across goal. Diangana and Jones both challenged each other for it but neither got the connection as the ball rolled out the other side.

Boro’s desire for a goalscorer has become a running theme throughout the summer and the frustrations of their fruitless search were laid bare when Giles teasing cross at the byline couldn’t be finished by a man in a red shirt in the box. Steffen was once again on hand to thwart a late Baggies surge to find a winner as he palmed away Conor Townsend’s cross at the byline.

Upon reflection, a draw felt like a fair result on the day with the home side failing to match the standards of the first half. A solid start to the campaign against another predicted promotion candidate. One down, 45 to go.