After a disappointing afternoon in East Anglia, Boro will be looking to bounce back against Bolton at home on Wednesday night.
The Norwich match was a frustrating one for everyone involved, with the players openly admitting that their performances weren’t at the necessary standard they’ve set since the opening day of the season. Tony Pulis’ side created very few chances going forward and although their success so far this season has been based upon a solid defence, Boro’s backline looked unusually shaky.
A deflected shot from Teemu Pukki condemned Middlesbrough to their first defeat of the new campaign and also broke the best defence in the league for the first time since the opening day of the season. However, Boro now have a chance to rectify that result just four days later.
Now, attention must turn to Boro’s next fixture, under the lights, against Bolton Wanderers. Bolton also suffered a poor result at the weekend, losing at home to QPR who won their first away game in their last nine attempts.
The last time the two sides met was on Boxing day last year in Tony Pulis’ first match in charge. Boro ran out comfortable 2-0 winners in that match with both goals coming in the second half from Martin Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga.
It’s a fixture that Boro often tend to do well in. They’ve triumphed in all of the last six meetings they’ve had with Bolton, keeping a clean sheet in four of them and you have to go back a decade for the last time Bolton beat Middlesbrough on their own patch.
The most memorable meeting between the two sides was the Carling Cup final in 2004 when Middlesbrough won their first ever trophy by defeating Bolton 2-1 at the Millennium Stadium. So, it’s a fixture that recent history would suggest favours the home side, but Boro have actually lost to Bolton more times than they’ve beaten them.
However, with Bolton only retaining their Championship status on the final day of last season, it’s a match that Middlesbrough go into as strong favourites. While Boro spent £5 million on their first summer signing, Bolton spent only £225,000 in the entirety of the window. It might be expected that there’d be a gulf in class when these sides meet on Wednesday evening, but that would be unfair on Bolton whose current 10th place league position does not flatter them.
Last year, at this stage of the season, Bolton had only accumulated two points and sat bottom the Championship table. With a minus 10 goal difference and the league’s worst defence, Bolton were the bookie’s favourites for relegation after only seven matches with the future looking bleak for the North-West club. Yet fast forward a year and Bolton are showing themselves to be more than a club battling against relegation even amidst their worries of administration.
Although Bolton might not be going into this game full confidence, they can take heart from their encouraging displays this season against West Brom, Reading and Birmingham where they have taken maximum points. Yanic Wildschut was the match-winner against both West Brom and Reading, a man Boro know all too well from his spell on Teesside.
Yet Wildschut is not the only former Boro man returning to the Riverside on Wednesday. David Wheater, Jonathan Grounds, Andy Taylor and Gary O’Neil have all worn Boro red at some point in their career and all will be hoping to make an impact on their return to the North-East. Another former Boro player Sammy Ameobi was taken off during Bolton’s match at the weekend, and it remains to be seen if the Nigerian winger will feature on Wednesday evening.
Although, one player who will definitely feature is summer signing Josh Magennis who has started his Bolton career on fire, netting four times in their opening seven fixtures. With Bolton spending just £225,000 in the summer, Magennis was there only permanent signing that demanded a transfer fee. He has certainly justified his fee so far; he’s Bolton’s top scorer with only Andreas Weimann and Neal Maupay scoring more times than him this season.
With both teams looking to overturn a poor result at the weekend, this midweek fixture will have a significant impact on both sides. If Boro win they could go back into the top two depending on how Brentford and Bristol City fair in their midweek matches. Yet if Bolton win, they’d go level on points with Boro, having spent 85 times less the amount that their opponents had spent in the transfer window.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Fry, Flint, Ayala, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Saville, Braithwaite, Assombalonga.
Bolton: Alnwick, Olkowski, Wheater, Beevers, Grounds, O’Neil, Lowe, Ameobi, Williams, Wildschut, Magennis.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC