With Boro only managing a draw at home to Swansea City last time out, this weekend’s fixture at the KCOM Stadium comes as a chance for the away side to prove their goalscoring critics wrong against a side who’ve conceded 16 league goals already this season.
The story for Boro in their last match was that they were lacking in creativity. It wasn’t poor finishing that cost them their perfect home record, it was just simply that it was a game of few chances.
Although fans might be accustomed to seeing Boro win at home this season, under Garry Monk, last Saturday’s game was a point they wouldn’t have gained. It’s testament to the job that Tony Pulis has done so far that fans are unhappy at not picking up three points against recently-relegated Swansea, who were one of the favourites for promotion at the start of the season.
However, Boro face a completely different challenge this weekend as they entertain a Hull side who have fallen immensely since their season in the Premier League only two years ago. League One football is a real possibility for the Tigers next season if their decline continues at its current rate; fans continue to remain unhappy at their Egyptian owner, with protests and stadium boycotts still ongoing.
The last time these sides met was seven months ago, on a cold February night on Teesside. Rudy Gestede’s brace enhanced Boro’s play-off hopes with Patrick Bamford also scoring for the home side. Hull levelled through Evandro in the 41st minute after Gestede had opened the scoring midway through the first-half. Bamford then latched on to a loose back pass to fire Boro back in front just before half-time. With Hull pushing to level the game again, Gestede emphatically flicked the ball home on the hour mark to give the hosts all three points.
Although Boro have fared well at home against the Tigers in recent games, they’ve only won once at the KCOM in the last five meetings. That shouldn’t faze out Boro this time though, Hull have only won once at home all season and that was against an Ipswich side who currently lie 23rd in the Championship. They’ve conceded 10 goals at home in all competitions this season, having only played five matches.
Although Boro’s attack may be statistically the worst one in the top eight, Saturday provides a chance for the players to put a few past their opponents, with Hull conceding an average of two goals a game at home.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean Hull don’t provide a threat going forward. Star man Jarrod Bowen has already netted twice for the Tigers this season while still deployed as a right winger. Bowen was given his first real break at the start of last season, as Hull recovered from being relegated from the Premier League, and hasn’t looked back since. He was Hull’s top goal scorer last season while also winning Supporter’s Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year. He’ll certainly be one that Boro will have to keep an eye out for on Saturday afternoon.
After Boro’s cup-win over Preston North End in midweek, Pulis will have an even bigger selection-headache in deciding who starts at the weekend. Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier particularly impressed on Tuesday night and both will be hoping to be involved on Saturday in some capacity. With Boro firing a blank in three of their last four fixtures, it might be time to once again call upon their young stars to try and provide that creative spark which has been lacking since the international break.
Both Wing and Tavernier have shown that they have the quality to be involved in the first team this season; they changed the game on the opening day away at Millwall. But, with Pulis splashing out £7m on George Saville, they may find that the manager has to justify the large transfer fee and they might have to settle for a place on the bench.
Against a Hull side that leak goals, you’d expect to see Pulis keep the same side that was held to a goalless draw against Swansea but there may be one or two changes to that line-up. For Hull, they need to start picking up points at home and so they’ll be desperately trying to find a winning formula. After a humiliating away defeat at Reading, changes are on the cards for Nigel Adkin’s side as they try to pick up three points at home for only the second time this season.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Flint, Ayala, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Saville, Downing, Braithwaite, Hugill.
Hull: Marshall, Lichaj, de Wijs, Elphick, Kingsley, Bowen, Irvine, Henriksen, Grosicki, Campbell, Dicko.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC