Saturday we welcome former Premier League side Middlesbrough to SE16, with Neil Harris and co. keen to build on our last two performances. A draw away to Villa backing up a superb win over Sheffield United the week previous, The Lions’ tail is firmly up as we look to kick on during the Christmas fixtures.
In Middlesbrough, we have another spending club who are keen to restore their Premier League status. This is evident with big money signings arriving in the summer, along with the appointment of former Swansea and Leeds manager Gary Monk.
The visitors spent massively in the summer, with players such as Britt Assombalonga, Johnny Howson, Darren Randolph and Cyrus Christie joining for large fees. There’s an evident commitment to Gary Monk and faith he will get it right and put the club back on the scene.
Expectations were immediately high for the club; however they currently find themselves outside the play-off places occupying 8th in the league standings. Results have been inconsistent, with the lack of a real run of victories so far this season.
Recent form has also been a mixed bag for Boro, picking up three victories but equally losing the same amount in their last six games. Form away from The Riverside has been also a struggle, with only three victories arriving whilst on their travels.
Defeats in recent weeks to Leeds, Derby and Bristol City have proved costly, with a gap now forming to the top six in the division. There seems to be a trend of beating the teams below their league standing, however failing to beat the teams above currently occupying the play-off places.
Last time out Middlesbrough picked up a valuable win at home to fellow play-off hopefuls Ipswich Town; the home side running out 2-0 winners at the weekend. Goals arrived via previous club loanee and now permanent signing Patrick Bamford and attacker Martin Braithwaite.
Lining up with two forwards and taking the game to the opposition they were worthy winners, whether they fancy matching up to us away from home though remains to be seen.
With the inconsistent run of form, the visitors will be keen to put together a decent run of results. Over Christmas a positive run of form can mould your season in this division, Middlesbrough will be no different, though I’m positive they wouldn’t pick to play us after our last couple of games.
Players to look out for will be familiar faces if you’ve paid attention to The Championship in recent seasons. Additions of Howson and Assombalonga highlight their summer recruitment plan of attaining players who know their way around the division. Assombalonga already on 11 goals this season highlight’s why they’ve paid the fee to bring him up north.
Elsewhere on the park in defence captain Ben Gibson received recognition for his performances last season whilst in the Premier League, culminating in a senior call up to the England squad back in March. Touted with a move to clubs like Chelsea throughout the summer, you’d hope the likes of Lee Gregory and Steve Morison are relishing the challenge when Saturday arrives. Ex West Ham Stewart Downing and Darren Randolph will receive warm welcomes to The Den, but also highlight the amount of players the visitors have at their disposal.
So how are we going to win on Saturday? Well, with only 27 goals scored so far this season, and 11 coming through forward Britt Assombalonga the plan starts with keeping him quiet. Defensively they’ve conceded 20, less than one a game but highlights if you keep their striker quiet you’ve got every chance of walking away with the win.
Excited for Saturday? I certainly am…