Following an impressive result away at Hillsborough on Friday night, Boro will be looking to maintain their spot at the top of the table when they face Rotherham at home this evening.
Although the game against Wednesday may not have been the most entertaining fixture Sky will offer this season, Boro got the job done; they were the only side in the top six to win this weekend. Although, a lacklustre first half offered little encouragement to the travelling fans as Wednesday hit the bar and went close again through Boro academy graduate Adam Reach.
But, it was the second period of the game where Boro asserted their dominance, as good work down the right-hand side from Downing and Howson led to Besic’s opener. The Bosnian international then pounced on a mistake from Wednesday captain Tom Lees and laid it on a plate to Assombalonga who netted his 50th goal in the division.
Wednesday did pull one back through the man of the moment Reach, who gave Randolph no chance with a volley from outside the area. But, Boro hung on to all three points despite a rugby-like scrum on the goal-line to prevent an equaliser for the hosts.
Up next for Tony Pulis’ men are Rotherham United; a side winless in their last six matches. The Millers are yet to pick up a single point away from home this season, conceding 14 goals in those six games. It would be disrespectful to say that Boro should be putting five past Rotherham on Tuesday night because of their woeful away record, but they do go into this game as strong favourites to win.
After a disappointing display in their last home game, Boro will be hoping to put on a strong performance and win back some of the fans that were left bewildered and irritated by the result against Forest. One thing in the host’s favour though is their record against the Millers; the last time Rotherham won on Teesside was in 1966.
The last time these sides met at the Riverside, Boro ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a first-half goal from Stewart Downing. A match that also featured Carlos de Pena, Bruno Zuculini and Fernando Amorebieta. While Boro were promoted to the Premier League that year, Rotherham were relegated to League One. Fortunes then reversed over the following seasons and while Boro were instantly relegated back to the Championship, Rotherham gained promotion to the 2nd tier after winning the League One Play-Off final at Wembley.
The Millers did strengthen in the summer bringing in the likes of Billy Jones, Marek Rodak and Kyle Vassell. All started on Saturday in their 1-1 draw against Bolton and the line-up against Boro is expected to be similar after the Millers were unfortunate not to take away all three points in that match. Rotherham have a full squad available for Tuesday’s game with no injuries or suspensions in place.
As for Boro, Pulis hopes to have Braithwaite back in his matchday squad after leaving out the Danish forward against Wednesday to give him time to recover from international duty. Boro, like Rotherham, have a full squad available to them but Ayala will pick up a one-match suspension if he is booked. The Spaniard has already received four yellow cards this season and the cut-off date for suspensions is not until the end of next month.
You would expect Pulis to name a similar eleven to the one that started against Wednesday with perhaps the only change bringing Braithwaite back into the side and dropping one of the three centre-backs. With Derby coming up at the weekend, you could excuse Pulis giving Ayala a rest if it meant he was definitely able to feature against the Rams.
The Boro manager would certainly insist that they’ll be taking it one game at a time and that no fixture guarantees you three points. But, with a promotion rival coming up on Saturday it might make sense to ensure one of your best centre-backs is available to play.
So, it’s Boro against Rotherham at home in the Championship with the leaders going up against the side with the worst away form in the division. All the stats would point towards a Boro win but can Rotherham pull off a shock result?
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Flint, Fry, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Besic, Braithwaite, Downing, Assombalonga.
Rotherham: Rodak, Jones, Ajayi, Wood, Mattock, Taylor, Vaulks, Towell, Williams, Vassell, Smith.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC