The pressure was on Middlesbrough on Tuesday night after only winning one of their past five matches.
A disappointing result last weekend at Hull meant that Boro simply had to pick up maximum points against a side that hadn’t won in the league this season.
They didn’t disappoint. Boro came racing out of the blocks, quickly assembling themselves a 2-0 lead. They broke the deadlock in the 12th minute as Mo Besic’s persistence in getting his shot away paid off, before Stewart Downing doubled the scoreline four minutes later, after a mistake from Luke Chambers.
Ipswich weren’t without their chances, however, and Boro did well to hold onto their eighth clean sheet of the season. Boro may have the best defensive statistics in the EFL, but on Tuesday they also proved that they also possess quality at the top end of the pitch.
Up next is Nottingham Forest and the return of their former manager Aitor Karanka. Boro know all about Aitor’s tactics after his four-year spell on Teesside; he builds his team on solid defensive foundations while trying to control possession. His tactics were sometimes perceived to be negative as when Boro found themselves 1-0 down they very rarely came back and claimed a point, but he did put together the best back-four in the Championship.
Although, that defensive prowess hasn’t been on show down by the River Trent so far this season. At the time of writing, Forest have conceded 11 goals in 10 matches and sit 11th in the table before Wednesday’s midweek fixtures. The hope at the City ground this season was that Forest were capable of a serious promotion push, but so far that hope has not met reality.
However, it’s not for the want of trying. Forest have spent some serious money this season trying to put together a successful squad. They broke their transfer record to bring in Portuguese attacking midfielder Joao Carvalho from Benfica as well as signing compatriots Diogo Goncalves and Gil Dias on initial loan deals. They also added Sam Byram from West Ham United and Michael Hefele from Huddersfield with the latter gaining promotion with the Terriers only two seasons ago.
Forest certainly have players that can hurt Boro’s backline; Karanka’s men have only failed to score in one away game so far this season. But, Boro still haven’t conceded at the Riverside and are also the only side to keep clean sheets against Leeds and West Brom. Yet, despite Forest’s impressive attacking abilities, they have conceded at least one goal in every away match this season. If Boro can get their noses in front early on, they’ll be confident of gaining all three points.
The last time these sides met was in April of last season when goals from Daniel Ayala and Stewart Downing made sure that Karanka saw defeat on his first return to his former club. Since 2012, Boro have faced Forest six times at home in the Championship; winning four of them. Forest have only won once at the Riverside this millennium and Boro certainly go into this fixture as the favourites.
It’ll be interesting to see what changes, if any, Pulis makes to his starting line-up. Clayton is back in contention following his one-game suspension and Rudy Gestede was fit enough for a place on the bench in midweek. Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier must also be close to breaking into the matchday squad after impressing in the cup.
Pulis has also deployed both Hugill and Assombalonga up front in recent weeks with neither of them firmly nailing down a place in the starting 11. Assombalonga must be favoured to get the nod after missing out on Tuesday and also netting last weekend but Pulis might throw out another curveball and play them as a pair just like against Hull.
For Forest, Soundani remains unavailable because of an injury to his knee. The Algerian international has been sidelined since the last week of August when he was taken off against Birmingham. Diogo Goncalves is also out for the away side as he serves the last match of his three-game ban following his dismissal against Stoke at the back end of last month.
It’s the final fixture before the international break meaning both sides will be aiming to go out on a high. Karanka is also coming back to the ground where he made his managerial debut and can be expectant of a great reception for the work he did during his time on Teesside. But, all respect is halted at 3 o’clock with another three points there for the taking.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Flint, Friend, Clayton, Besic, Howson, Downing, Braithwaite, Assombalonga.
Forest: Pantilimon, Janko, Hefele, Fox, Robinson, Guedioura, Colback, Lolley, Carvalho, Osborn, Grabban.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC