After a 0-0 draw away at Stoke City last weekend, Boro look for their first league win at home since the 19th September when they entertain Paul Cook’s Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
Wigan themselves aren’t in the best run of form having lost their last three Championship matches; they’ve also conceded eight goals during that period. Lactic fans will be looking for a reaction this weekend with Wigan now only five points adrift of the relegation zone.
Saturday’s game is Wigan’s first match under their new owners after David Sharp stood down as Chairman after 23 years of Wigan Athletic being under his family’s ownership; grandfather David Whelan had bought the club in 1995. The Whelan family this week transferred their controlling stake in the club to a Hong-Kong based international corporation.
For Boro to still be two points off the top of the table, having not won at home in the league in almost two months, does highlight the competitive nature of the Championship. However, Boro have had the chance to go top of the table on a number of times this season but on few occasions have they actually made use of that opportunity.
Stoke away, Forest at home and Rotherham at home, were all fixtures that, if Boro were to win, would have sent them to the summit of the Championship – the problem in all those matches was that they were unable to find the back of the net. It’s a dilemma that needs addressing quickly; Boro are the sixth lowest scorers in the division behind the likes of Reading, Millwall and Preston North End. It’s all well and good being able to keep a clean sheet but you have to score to win a match.
The last time these sides met was three years ago in the Championship. Boro ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a goal from loanee striker Patrick Bamford in the 20th minute of the game. Middlesbrough against Wigan is a match that has only ever taken place 15 times, with Boro unbeaten in the last seven meetings.
Yet, only three seasons later, only two of Boro’s starting line-up that day are expected to feature in the next game against Wigan Athletic. George Friend and Adam Clayton are two of the four remaining players still at Boro since that match, Grant Leadbitter and Dimi Konstantopolous being the others, that are likely to start this weekend
Lewis Wing’s appearance in the matchday squad last against Stoke was a welcome surprise. But, with Daniel Ayala back in contention after his one-match suspension, you would think that there’d only be one spot left on the bench for either Tavernier or Wing.
It’s undeniable that Boro looked much more of an attacking threat when the former Shildon Athletic player stepped onto the pitch. However, you do get a sense that Pulis feels obliged to play the midfielders he’s brought to the club and so it wouldn’t be unexpected for Wing to drop out of the squad at the expense of George Saville or Muhammed Besic.
Wigan, on the other hand, will be without captain Sam Morsy after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Leeds United in their previous match. Five yellow cards automatically trigger a one-match ban and Wigan players Josh Windass and Chey Dunkley are walking a tightrope with both Lactic’s players only one booking away from suspension. Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs remain sidelined through injury.
Boro certainly come into this fixture as favourites but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the home side will take all three points. They were favourites at home to Rotherham and Nottingham Forest yet still didn’t manage wins against those sides and in recent weeks the crowd has grown frustrated with their poor home performances.
If Wigan can start strong and build themselves a foothold in the game, we could see a very nervous Riverside Stadium on Saturday afternoon. However, if Boro can start strongly and put Wigan on the back foot early on, they might find themselves top of the table come 5pm if results elsewhere go in their favour.
Boro: Randolph, Fry, Batth, Flint, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Besic, Braithwaite, Downing, Hugill.
Wigan: Walton, James, Kipre, Burn, Robinson, Byrne, Gibson, MacDonald, Naismith, Windass, Garner.