Boro fans were left frustrated with their side after a 0-0 draw at home to Rotherham on Tuesday evening. It was the third blank they’d fired in a row at the Riverside which of course means that Boro are also winless in their last three home matches. They’ll be hoping to put that statistic to bed on Saturday.
Nothing quite went right for the men in red on Tuesday; Boro created numerous opportunities to score but were wasteful in finishing them off. A draw was probably a fair reflection of the game, which says a lot when that was Rotherham’s first point away from home all season. If Boro are to get anything out of the game against Derby, they’ll have to improve upon the poor run at home that they currently find themselves in.
The Rams, on the other hand, had a great midweek result as they thrashed West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at the Hawthorns and come into this match in a good run of form having not lost since the end of September. They’ve won back-to-back matches against serious promotion contenders and will be looking to make it a hat-trick of wins against teams in the top four in their next Championship fixture.
One man who has been key to Derby’s upturn in form is summer signing Jack Marriott, who was League One’s top scorer last year with 27 goals in 44 games. After not finding the net in his opening six matches for his new club, Marriott now has three goals in his last three appearances and will almost certainly lead the line for Frank Lampard’s men on Saturday.
He’s one that the Boro backline will have to keep a close eye on during the match, but Derby possess an array of attacking talent through the likes of Martyn Waghorn, Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Tom Lawrence. Derby certainly have the quality up front to hurt this Middlesbrough side, however, Boro have only conceded twice at home in the league all season and have kept six clean sheets in their seven matches at the Riverside.
The last time these sides met was in the latter stages of last season when both teams were battling it out for the final two Play-Off spots. Boro were the winners on that day as goals from Mo Besic and Britt Assombalonga gave the away side a deserved 2-0 lead before a last-minute penalty from David Nugent halved the deficit. The opening goal scorer that day (Besic) has scored in successive away fixtures against Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday and Pulis has urged the Bosnian midfielder to target ten goals for his team this season. Another one against Derby on Saturday wouldn’t be a bad time to get his next.
Boro’s fluidity seems to be most effective when operating in a 3-5-2 formation and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Pulis revert back to this system in an attempt to neutralise Derby’s attack. Dael Fry has been harshly dropped in the eyes of many fans and his ability to play out from the back could be a handy asset to have on Saturday as well as having an extra man on the field to deal with the threat of Marriott and Waghorn.
Again, there are cries for the likes of Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier to be included in the matchday squad, but you would think that they would be more likely to feature against Crystal Palace in the cup on Wednesday. That doesn’t mean to say that there won’t be a surprise inclusion; after all, Paddy McNair made his first start for Boro against Rotherham in midweek.
In terms of Derby’s expected line-up, there’s no real need to change an 11 that have just beaten one of the favourites for promotion 4-1 on their own patch and you would think that Lampard would name an unchanged side. Derby currently have no absentees due to injury, but two players are walking tightropes ahead of Saturday’s match: Craig Bryson and Bradley Johnson are both one booking away from suspension. Daniel Ayala is also one booking away from suspension for the home side.
In this fixture last year Boro suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat leaving them three points outside the relegation zone having played a game more than 6th place Derby. This time around the hosts go into the match 2nd in the division boasting the best defence in the EFL. The winners of this match will go top of the league, albeit for only a few hours, but it’s an opportunity that both sides will want to grasp.
Boro: Randolph, McNair, Flint, Ayala, Fry, Friend, Clayton, Besic, Howson, Downing, Assombalonga.
Derby: Carson, Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Malone, Wilson, Huddlestone, Mount, Lawrence, Waghorn, Marriott.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC