After a comfortable 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday evening, Boro will be hoping to maintain their 100% home record in their next fixture against Swansea.
Although Boro weren’t at their best, goals from home debutant George Saville and Britt Assombalonga were enough to see off a Bolton side that rarely troubled Darren Randolph in the Middlesbrough goal. In many ways it was what you’d expect from a Tony Pulis side; a solid team that may not be the most thrilling to watch but do know how to grind out a result.
Swansea, on the other hand, experienced a difficult night at the Bet365 Stadium, with Joe Allen’s second-half strike condemning the Swans to their first away defeat of the season. The Welshman’s goal was not without controversy, however, as Benik Afobe appeared to be in an offside position before he played in Allen before firing home. Those results have left Swansea in 10th coming into this game, while Boro have moved back up to the automatic promotion places and currently occupy 2nd place.
The last time these two sides met was in the Premier League less than two years ago. It promised to be an eventful encounter at the Liberty Stadium with both teams needing a win to boost their survival hopes. However, the game was a stark contrast to what it promised. Neither side ever really challenged the opposition keeper with the only clear-cut chance dropping to Rudy Gestede, whose header missed the target from two yards out when it looked easier to score.
With both teams having since been relegated from the Premier League, Saturday’s match is the first time Boro and Swansea have met in the second division since a goal-fest in 2011. Swansea were the winners on that day as they ran out 4-3 winners on a chilly February afternoon. A 90th minute winner from Craig Beattie saw the Swans come back from 3-1 down to claim all three points at the Riverside Stadium. But, with Boro keeping the most clean sheets in the EFL this season, there’s little chance of that scoreline happening when the two sides meet again on Saturday.
With Swansea unable to find the net in their previous two matches against Nottingham Forest and Stoke City, it might be a good time for Boro to come up against Graham Potter’s side. Despite winning their opening two fixtures, Swansea now find themselves on a bit of a barren run having only picked up six points from a possible 36 since those first two matches.
However, those statistics may not tell the full story. All of Swansea’s matches (bar the Stoke encounter) this season have been won by a single goal or drawn, and the only time they’ve conceded twice was against table-topping Leeds United. Saturday’s match will no doubt be another tight affair as the two of the best defensive sides in the division go head-to-head.
Oli McBurnie has been without doubt Swansea’s most influential player this season and he’ll be wanting to prove his worth on Saturday after being benched in their last fixture. The Scottish forward has registered four goals already for recently-relegated Swansea after also impressing in the Championship at Barnsley last season. With Swansea normally playing two up top, McBurnie often drops deep to receive the ball and then times his run late into the box, hoping to arrive unmarked.
Britt Assombalonga and Martin Braithwaite have also been scoring goals this season, with both forwards having already found the net three times, and with Jordan Hugill’s impressive bustling display in midweek, Pulis has a real dilemma on his hands as to who he decides to play up front.
It’s no secret that Pulis’ likes to have a strong target man leading the line and Hugill’s performance on Wednesday night will have done him no harm in Pulis’ selection talks. But, with Assombalonga scoring off the bench and Braithwaite currently being Boro’s most creative player, it’ll be interesting to see which two he chooses to play up top on Saturday. Whoever misses out will, of course, be disappointed, but it does give Boro another option off the bench.
Middlesbrough v Swansea is a match that Boro have only won twice since 1983 but with Boro’s recent record, it’s one that they go into as slight favourites; they’ve won their past seven Championship home matches, conceding only once in that time. It’ll be a tough test for Tony Pulis’ men, but if they want to mount a serious promotion push, another three points at home would send out a serious statement of intent to the rest of the league.
Boro: Randolph; Shotton, Flint, Ayala, Friend; Clayton, Howson, Saville, Downing; Braithwaite, Hugill.
Swansea: Mulder; Roberts, van der Hoorn, Carter-Vickers, Olsson; Dyer, Naughton, Grimes, Routledge, James; McBurnie.