Middlesbrough 1-0 West Bromwich Albion Player Ratings: Shotton defies his doubters

Tony Pulis – skysports.co.uk

Middlesbrough are the Championship’s new leaders after Daniel Ayala’s injury-time winner gave them a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. Here’s our Player Ratings from the match.

Middlesbrough

Darren Randolph – the Irish stopper has proved a good signing since joining the club last summer; his direct kicking led to one of the goals at Bristol City last time out. Here though, he barely had any work to do as whenever Boro were in trouble, an outfield player would normally stabilize the situation. Randolph did though tip Rodriguez’s effort wide in the second half. 6

Ryan Shotton – given that Shotton, a centre-back by trade, barely looked at home at right-back at times, it seemed surprising that he was deployed as a right wing-back, but he proved his doubters completely wrong on this occasion. What he lacked in pace and skill, he more than made up for in endeavour and a desire to bully his way forward; the ex-Stoke man got impressive distance on his throw-ins, too and that was a major source of the chances Boro created. Should have scored a back-post header early in the second half, though. 8
Aden Flint – the ex-Bristol City centre-back, who has scored a hat-trick including a rabona in his career, posed a threat in the opposition’s penalty area; on various occasions, he attracted an extra marker to create space for others. As a defender however, he played his part in a clean sheet but not without had one or two shaky moments, notably slicing a clearance onto his own crossbar. 7
Daniel Ayala – the Spanish centre-back, who has returned from injury, might have wondered how he might find his way back into the first team fold due to the form of Fry. However, Pulis moved to a back-three, perhaps hoping that Ayala would pose an additional threat at set pieces, which he certainly did, heading over the bar on one occasion before nodding straight at Johnstone from Shotton’s throw early in the second half. Defended well, too. 9
Dael Fry – helped perhaps by Ayala’s injury at the start of the campaign, the academy graduate has settled in well, contributing to a defensive record of what is now four clean sheets in Boro’s first five games. Fry did the simple things well, although he wasn’t as much of a threat from set pieces as Flint and Ayala. 7
George Friend – the left-back does not quite offer the same level of pace that he used to, but he still largely dominated that left flank up against Phillips. Friend played intelligently by working in tandem with his teammates in and out of possession, getting forward at the right opportunities. 8

Adam Clayton – the experienced midfielder, who was key to Middlesbrough’s promotion in 2015-16, might not be the most exciting midfielder in the world but his defensive awareness can go under the radar. The ex-Huddersfield man made some good interceptions and did superbly as the last man standing to halt West Brom’s breakaway early in the second half. 8
Jonny Howson – the former Norwich man has had an excellent start to the campaign, pressing effectively and playing a major role in the midfield battle. Won one or two free-kicks in good areas and selflessly teed up Assombalonga for a good chance late in the first half. He might not have loads of pace, but the energy he does have, he uses selflessly and intelligently to create space for others. 9

Stewart Downing – the veteran wide man is an excellent technician and his set pieces continued proved useful for Pulis’ side, especially with the likes of Flint and Ayala in the side. In open play, he did his fair share of defensive work and forced a save from Johnstone with one of the best strikes of the first half. 7
Martin Braithwaite – the French forward appeared to have a problematic relationship with Tony Pulis, having been sent out on loan in January, but it has since been repaired and thus Boro have one of the most naturally gifted forwards in the division. Braithwaite looked bright and creative here, although he perhaps should have done better than to fire over from close range at the end of the first period. 7
Britt Assombalonga – the striker might not have the same raw pace he had at Peterborough, but tonight proved he can still be an asset to his side. He closed down selflessly from the front, he held the ball up well at times and posed a threat, even if he was denied by Johnstone from a tight-angle. 7

Muhamed Besic (on 72) – Boro were delighted to get the busy Bosnian back on loan from Everton; he wasn’t especially effective for much of his short time on the pitch, at least until he delivered the free-kick that led to the winner. 5
Jordan Hugill (on 81) the West Ham loanee offers a wide range of qualities – reasonable mobility, a good spring, a decent presence and a respectable goalscoring record – although, he’s perhaps yet to establish himself as a master of at least one of those traits. 5
Paddy McNair (on 86)- the Manchester United academy graduate is a centre-back by trade; the fact he came on for forward Braithwaite suggests characteristic conservatism from Pulis. 5

West Bromwich Albion

Sam Johnstone – the Manchester United academy graduate was arguably the best shot-stopper in the Championship last season when at Aston Villa; here, he pulled off a good save from Downing and made himself big to deny Assombalonga. 7

Ahmed Hegazi – the Egyptian is not the quickest and that became problematic when Boro looked for the early balls in behind Gibbs. While it was obvious he prefers dealing with aerial balls, he still made some shaky decisions, even in the types of situations that should have suited him. 5
Kyle Bartley – the centre-back, who impressed at Leeds two seasons ago, likes to defend on the front foot and his aerial dominance was a big part of why Albion stayed in the game for so long. Should have conceded a penalty for a shirt pull mid-way through the first half, though. 8
Tosin Adarabioyo – the Manchester City loanee showed moments of defensive naivety, giving the ball away cheaply once or twice, which is perhaps to be expected, given that he has had little exposure to the senior game. Equally, Adarabioyo was West Brom’s only centre-back who looked the slightest bit comfortable in possession; just sometimes too comfortable. 6

Matt Phillips – the winger by trade occupied an unfamiliar wing-back role here, but there were not too many occasions when he could power down the right flank as one senses he wanted to. The ex-QPR man has been West Brom’s main creative influence so far this season, but this was an off-night in which he struggled to get the better of Friend. Completed one or two crucial pieces of defending though. 5
Jake Livermore – the former Hull midfielder is often criticized for his limitations in possession, played some decent passes here and became a key figure in the game in the latter stages. However, his lack of mobility can be problematic: at times he could barely keep up with Howson, who is not exactly rapid and sometimes that issue held West Brom back from imposing themselves on the contest with more vigour. 5
Chris Brunt – it might seem surprising that Brunt has been deployed in central midfield, but he doesn’t offer the pace to play out wide and clearly, Darren Moore wants to keep him in the starting eleven due to his set piece quality and dressing room influence. Brunt appears to struggle when Albion drop deep but, whenever they do try to play on the front foot, he is capable of calling the shots. 6
Kieran Gibbs – the former Arsenal man, who has scored in a North London Derby, should on paper be too good for the Championship yet the problem is, Gibbs seems to believe that himself. While he should theoretically have been more productive going forward than Shotton, his opposing wing-back, he lacked that extra bit of desire to commit to attacking. In the interests of balance though, he did put in some decent crosses when moved to a more familiar left-back position and defended his back-post well on one or two occasions. 5

Harvey Barnes – the Leicester loanee has caught the eye so far this year with moments of magic, including a stunning opening day curler against Bolton. While he showed flashes of skill and quality tonight, he was very slow to react to losing possession and sometimes that denied West Brom opportunities to impose themselves further up the pitch; thus Darren Moore took him off midway through the second period. 6

Dwight Gayle – the poacher proved a real asset at this level with Newcastle in 2016-17. Surprisingly though, he didn’t come up trumps with the best chance of the match, firing off-target when through on goal early in the second half. Few would have bet against him putting that one away and given that he was an otherwise peripheral figure, it’s fair to say he didn’t quite do himself justice. 4
Jay Rodriguez – the former Burnley striker has started the campaign in fine form with two braces in his previous two games, but in the first half his lack of pace was problematic, mainly because the dynamics of the contest meant he rarely received balls to feet. Slightly better after the break, forcing a stop from Randolph. 5

James Morrison (on 69) – there was  uncertainty as to whether the long-serving midfielder would pen a new deal  this summer but on this evidence, he could be a valuable asset. Showed some tidy touches and added a certain freshness to West Brom’s midfield which perhaps isn’t normally evident when he features for the whole 90 minutes. 7
Craig Dawson (on 69) – despite being the longest-serving player in the squad behind Brunt and Morrison, Dawson begins his season with the challenge of winning the fans over, following the questionable manner in which he handled a possible summer move away. It’s not ideal, therefore, that Dawson missed his interception for the goal, but his entrance smoothened the necessary transition to a four-man defence. 5
Hal Robson-Kanu (on 83) – the main highlight of Robson-Kanu’s career has been that excellent goal for Wales against Belgium at Euro 2016, but we’re yet to truly see that player in club football; held the ball up nicely once or twice here but didn’t set the world alight. 5