After a win and a draw already this week, Boro will be aiming for seven points from nine when they entertain Dean Smith’s Aston Villa on Saturday evening.
A draw away at a Preston side who are unbeaten in their last eight is nothing to be sniffed at. Yet critics have slated a negative away performance as if Boro were trashed three or four nil. Of course, the team selection left many a fan scratching their head as to why there were so many changes following a convincing performance away at Brentford, but Boro were still able to pick up a point on the road.
And when chances come along in the first team you want your younger players to step up and grasp their opportunity. Marcus Tavernier and Lewis Wing have been highly praised in recent weeks for their performances and both will feel like they deserve a place in Pulis’ matchday squad. Tavernier now has two goals in his last two matches and Wing, on current form, manages to assist a goal every other start.
Both have also shown grit and determination to fight their way back into the 11 having been unfortunately dropped in favour of more experienced heads. Tav found himself benched on Tuesday night despite an impressive performance at the weekend, yet took his chance wonderfully well after Rudy Gestede was forced off during the first-half due to yet another injury. After being undoubtedly Boro’s man of the match on Tuesday night, you would have to expect the 19-year-old to keep his place in the starting line-up on Saturday.
As for Aston Villa, they come into this match on the back of a four-match unbeaten run following their 5—5 draw with Nottingham Forest in midweek. Since his appointment as Villa boss, Dean Smith has achieved 13 points from a maximum of 21; with Villa only failing to score in one of his seven fixtures as manager. With both sides putting together impressive runs of late, it sets up Saturday’s encounter very nicely.
The last time these sides met was in the play-off semi-finals in May when Villa came out on top in the two-legged tie. A one-nil win at the Riverside, courtesy of a Mile Jedinak header, gave Steve Bruce’s side a healthy advantage going into the second leg in which Boro rarely threatened. Saturday’s match comes as a chance for revenge.
Not only revenge for last season, but for what seemed like Villa’s endless pursuit of Boro’s transfer targets in the summer. Yannick Bolasie, Joe Bryan and Jason Puncheon were all targets for Boro during the latest transfer window and were all on Villa’s radar at some point too. It seemed like whenever Boro were linked with a player, that Steve Bruce and his recruitment team were there to try and intercept any potential deal.
Bolasie, of course, signed for Villa on loan opting to join them instead of Boro. Joe Bryan also snubbed the North-East for a preferred move to Villa Park before Fulham swooped in at the last minute. The appeal of Premier League football was simply too much for the young full-back to turn down. Jason Pucheon was also considered by both clubs as a potential option but only after Boro were initially linked did Villa throw their name into the hat.
Another man who decided to opt for Villa Park is Ghanaian winger Albert Adomah. The former Boro fan favourite switched Teesside for Birmingham in 2016 with Adama Traore coming the other way. However, Villa’s no.37 was dropped for the Forest match in midweek and it’s unsure as to whether he will return to the matchday squad on Saturday evening.
But, one man who will definitely be taking the field for Villa is striker Tammy Abraham, who, after scoring four goals on Wednesday night, will be one that the Boro defence have to keep an eye on. Abraham has now scored ten goals already for Villa this season, a tally only bettered by Brentford’s Neal Maupay and Nottingham Forest’s Lewis Grabban.
After conceding in back-to-back fixtures, for the first time this season, Boro will be wanting to keep a clean sheet on Saturday to get back to normality and add to their impressive tally of 11 this campaign. Although, that’s easier said than done against an Aston Villa side with the likes of Bolasie, Grealish, Abraham, Kodjia and Adomah within their ranks.
Boro: Randolph, Fry, Flint, Batth, Friend, Clayton, Besic, Howson, Downing, Tavernier, Hugill.
Aston Villa: Nyland, Hutaton, Chester, Tuanzebe, Taylor, McGinn, Hourihane, Grealish, Bolasie, Abraham, Kodjia.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC