Middlesbrough v Blues preview

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March 15, 2013 by Made In Brum

middlesbrough crestWe make the 3 hour trip up the A1 on Saturday, and with every reason to be optimistic. Off the back of a fantastic second half in the win against Derby, we play a Middlesbrough side who have been in exceptionally poor form lately. A win against them could take us into the top half of the table for the first time since September, yet a draw or defeat would hardly change our situation drastically. We can go into the game with no pressure, unlike Borough, who simply must win if they are to stay in touch with their quickly-fading play-off hopes.

Looking back…

I’ve got to give Clark a little bit of credit for last week. It’s always a brave move to make two half-time substitutions, because if you make them too often it can have a tendency to unsettle players, but last week it was a necessary measure. He could see that the way things were going, there was no energy, no passion in the team. I reckon had he not made those changes, we would have ended up losing 0-2. He saw that we needed more pace in the team, particularly in the forward areas, and Thomas and Redmond certainly provided us with that.

I was also pleased he put on Morrison for Reilly with half an hour to go. Don’t get me wrong, I do rate Reilly, he offers us a lot of closing down when we haven’t got the ball. But when you’re losing at home, you need players on the pitch who can provide those moments of quality and flair with the ball. Ravel Morrison is the most creative player in the squad in my opinion. He picked out a probing pinpoint pass, which had a touch of the Scholes about it, for Wes Thomas to score his first.

My selected XI

I’d be inclined to stick with the same keeper and back four as against Derby. Partly for the advantage of having a settled defence, which has become split up since the injuries to Caldwell and Hancox. But also, against Derby, Curtis Davies rarely lost an aerial challenge, it was an improved centre-back performance from Paul Robinson, and Shane Ferguson tested my early opinion of him that he’s not so good at left-back.

Tony Mowbray has been known to tinker with his selection quite a lot, but for home games he seems to favour an attacking 4-4-2 system. For the match against top of the table Cardiff, he played 2 strikers, with both Kieran Dyer and Sammy Ameobi on the wings, and a creative central midfielder in Josh McEachran. No disrespect to ourselves, but you wouldn’t think he’d go for a more defensive line-up against a team like us, would you?

Therefore my gameplan, if I was Clark, would be to sit quite deep and soak up all of their pressure. But I’d also want to have players in the team who can hit them on the counter attack, to use their speed to exploit the space created by the attacking nature of Middlesbrough’s play. You can argue that players like Redmond, Morrison and Thomas are more effective coming off the bench, but they completely changed the game on it’s head for us last Saturday, so I personally would play all 3 of them from the start.  Players like Lovenkrands and Elliott haven’t done much in my view, certainly not recently, so why wait for the second half for these players to make an impact?

I’d have Jonathan Spector and Callum Reilly sitting quite deep in the centre, in a bid to break down Middlesbrough’s attacks, and I’d instruct both of them to always stay back. Chris Burke didn’t have a great game last time, but I’d probably keep him in the side as he’d been impressive in previous weeks. I’d go for Nathan Redmond on the left, because he can play well on either flank, he seems to be a two-footed player. I’d encourage him to cut inside and exploit the space in behind Middlesbrough’s midfield. There, he can either switch the ball for Shane Ferguson breaking forward out wide, or to try one of his trademark curling shots. As the playmaker in the team, I’d have to go with Ravel Morrison. He’s got a fantastic touch, he’s a good passer and can dictate the tempo of games. I’d slightly prefer him to Wade Elliott, who has made little contribution.

Up front, I think I’d reward Wes Thomas for his brace against Derby with a start. When we haven’t got the ball, I’d want him to swiftly close down the defence and force them into panicky clearances, and when we have, to play on the shoulder of the last defender and look to run onto through balls. We must look to use his pace to our advantage. However as a plan B, if we were losing with 25 minutes to play, I would take off Callum Reilly, put on Zigic and change to 4-4-2. I’d also instruct the team to play more direct football, to get it to the flanks early and make use out of Zigic’s aerial threat, so that Thomas, or maybe Redmond, Burke and Morrison can run onto his flick-ons.

Middlesbrough this season

Middlesbrough are amongst the Championship’s more attacking teams. They’ve scored 55 goals from 37 games so far, and only 4 teams in the league have scored more than them. This is mainly because the source of their goalscoring has been very widespread. No fewer than 22 different players have found the net for Borough this season, which is the highest number in the Championship.

However, this may distort the fact that Middlesbrough are in very poor form at the moment. They may be 9th in the table but they are also 21st in the form book, which is based on their last 6 games of which they have won one, drawn one and lost four. In addition, they’ve lost 9 of their 12 games since the turn of the year. Victory a couple of weeks ago over league leaders Cardiff looked to see them return to business, but back-to-back defeats after that away to Huddersfield and Bristol City, mean that the Teeside club’s play-off hopes are fading rapidly.

My prediction

With Middlesbrough in such poor form, I do think a draw is well within our grasp. And because we’re both quite attacking teams, I think it’ll be a relatively high scoring match. I’m going to say Middlesbrough will take the lead twice, but both times Blues will hit back with goals from Chris Burke and Wes Thomas. 2-2.

In a final message, I’d just like to say good luck to Villa and Wolves, both of whom are playing in a relegation six-pointer this weekend. We’re routing for you. Not.

Other predictions

@brummie69: As me and @hayden_bcfc are making the trip up there I’m hoping for a win!! 2-1 Blues

@stephengill745: it’s a good time to play them. 2-1 blues Thomas with the winner

@greekbluenose: 1-3 Wes Thomas to bag a hat trick

By Gabriel Sutton

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