Dike brace downs Middlesbrough as West Brom keep pushing for play-offs
Daryl Dike struck an early double at The Hawthorns to force West Bromwich Albion back into the Championship play-off mix – and dent Middlesbrough’s bid to reel in Sheffield United and the automatic promotion spots.
USA international Dike found the net in the eighth minute when teed up by Jed Wallace, and two minutes later John Swift was the provider as Dike delivered a cushion for Albion.
Boro, who had been in rampant form prior to this, were comparably modest in the final third and they now find themselves seven points behind the second-placed Blades after going down 2-0.
The opening goal was expertly created. Swift picked up the ball on the left and slipped Wallace, who had held his run to avoid the offside flag, in down the wing. His centre was delicately turned in beneath compatriot Zack Steffen.
Things got even better for the American almost immediately after with another beautifully crafted move – this time it was Wallace who found Swift, and he in turn laid it onto Dike. In on goal, he needed two attempts to beat Steffen.
The high-flying visitors began to settle after their early setback and started applying pressure around the hosts’ penalty area, but Albion continued to have them at an arm’s length.
Indeed, it was they who looked more likely to add a third goal. Wallace skied an opportunity at the back post after Grady Diangana and Conor Townsend had combined to good effect, and Dike came close to completing his hat-trick when the ball was taken off his toes by the alert Jonny Howson.
Boro, who possess the division’s highest scorer in Chuba Akpom, finally tested young goalkeeper Josh Griffiths when Marcus Forss sent a stinging drive towards the top corner. Griffiths, at full stretch, was able to to tip it over the bar. Akpom then warmed his gloves with a header on target.
The game ought to have been over as a contest a little over five minutes after the second half started. Substitute Marc Albrighton found Dike in the penalty area with his back to goal, and he rolled Paddy McNair before jinking past the last man.
With only Steffen to beat, the goalkeeper produced a big save with his legs to deny him.
It became apparent quickly that McNair, having gone to ground, required treatment and, after a lengthy stoppage, he was carried off on a stretcher to applause from both sets of fans.
Dara O’Shea, the West Brom captain, went close when he rose highest to meet a Swift corner from the right but he nodded his effort down and just wide of the far post.
Boro, by comparison, still saw plenty of the ball but they were largely kept at bay by a dogged Baggies defence – and Griffiths again, who was on hand to repel Izzy Jones at the back post deep into stoppage time.