Match Preview: Can beleaguered Boro continue home form?

At this moment, it feels like the level of optimism surrounding Middlesbrough is fully dependent on the result of the last match.

After the best first 30 minutes fans had seen in a long time against Hull, and a first win in 10 games over Barnsley, it began to feel like Boro were turning a corner.

Then Jonathan Woodgate took his side to Elland Road and got trampled by a totally superior Leeds United team – and fans were calling for the boss’ head.

LEEDS, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 30: Leeds United’s Mateusz Klich scores his side’s second goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Middlesbrough at Elland Road on November 30, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

The cycle then repeated itself after a win over Charlton, a good point at Nottingham Forest and then a capitulation against Swansea where the Teessiders ended the game with only nine men.

This is the third time in the past eight matches that Middlesbrough have not been able to win a game after having a player see red.

What makes this recent trip to Wales even more maddening is that Boro had looked the better team just before Marcus Browne lost his cool.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 01: A general view the Riverside Stadium, home of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Preston North End at Riverside Stadium on October 1, 2019 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Fans are hoping that some good can be taken out of this game before facing Stoke City on Friday, under the lights at the Riverside.

Woodgate’s side, however, is looking more and more threadbare by the match.

Team News

Middlesbrough will be without Paddy McNair and Browne for the remaining games in this calendar year following their dismissals at the Liberty Stadium – McNair’s red was upheld in midweek after an appeal by Boro.

SWANSEA, WALES – DECEMBER 14: Marcus Browne of Middlesbrough is given a red card during the Sky Bet Championship match between Swansea City and Middlesbrough at the Liberty Stadium on December 14, 2019 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

This adds to the number of players that Woodgate is unable to chose from; the likes of George Friend, Darren Randolph, Anfernee Dijksteel and Ryan Shotton all being out until the new year.

Rudy Gestede did get his first league minutes of the season in the last fixture, but could be set for another bench role against the Potters, as Britt Assombalonga is set to train this week for the first time since a horrendous Darren Pratley tackle saw the DR Congo forward leave the stadium on crutches.

Britt Assombalonga of Middlesbrough in action with Alex Mowatt during the Sky Bet Championship match between Barnsley and Middlesbrough at Oakwell, Barnsley on Wednesday 27th November 2019. (Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Assomablonga could walk back into the side, but one player who can count himself unlucky if he is pushed down the pecking order, is Stephen Walker.

The young boro-born striker saw his more recent minutes come against Charlton, where he could easily have scored on two occasions if not for some rash finishing.

Walker has a lot more to offer the club going forward than Gestede, and has shown more recently than the former Aston Villa and Blackburn frontman. One would hope that Walker gets more opportunities to show his worth over this festive period.

The Opponents

Former Norther Ireland boss Michael O’Neill will take charge of his eighth game as manager of Stoke City on Friday, having taken over on November 8th.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 14: Michael O’Neill manager of Stoke City gestures during the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Reading at Bet365 Stadium on December 14, 2019 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

O’Neill will be glad to see Boro’s joint-second-highest goalscorer McNair out for this match, after both he and George Saville featured heaving for the Green And White Army under O’Neill’s rule.

The Potters have won three of O’Neill’s first seven games in charge, but were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Reading in their last match.

BARNSLEY, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 09: Sam Clucas (R) of Stoke City celebrates scoring his teams forth goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Barnsley and Stoke City at Oakwell Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Barnsley, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Sam Clucas is the current leading scorer for Stoke, with five goals to his name for the club who recently announced a pre-tax £15.4 million loss for 2018-19.

The two sides have faced off four times this century, the first being Middlesbrough’s first game back in the top flight since 2009, where Alvaro Negredo and Xheridan Shaqiri both netted in a 1-1 draw.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND – AUGUST 13: Alvaro Negredo of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Stoke City at Riverside Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)

Assombalonga scored in the second minute of the most recent match up, last season, and Middlesbrough won 1-0.


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