Following a disappointing and humiliating defeat to Aston Villa last weekend, Boro will want to write the wrongs against Blackburn Rovers this coming Saturday.
It was mentioned in last weeks blog post just how much of an attacking threat Villa possessed with the likes of Yannick Bolasie, Jack Grealish and Tammy Abraham to name just a few. That worry then became a reality last Saturday evening as Villa bossed not only the possession stats, the shot stats and the passing stats; but more importantly the scoreline as well.
As a result, Boro have now slipped down to the fourth place in the division and are the joint-lowest goal scorers in the top 18, with Swansea City being the other. It’s quite clear where the problem lies, putting the ball in the back of the net, but the January window is still five league fixtures away and with Boro now only holding a play-off position by a single point, the goals have to start coming now.
Yet despite that patch of negativity, Boro’s next five fixtures do provide a glimmer of opportunity to pick up points and bridge the gap between themselves and the top two. Blackburn (H), QPR (A), Reading (A), Sheffield Wednesday (H) and Ipswich (H) are all winnable fixtures for Tony Pulis’ side to see out the year. Nevertheless, last season Boro dropped six points against the three relegated teams and so although you would expect the Teessiders to bring back a minimum of ten points, you shouldn’t forget that they have already dropped points against Rotherham (H) and Hull City (A) so far this season.
So, with Boro desperately needing a win to disguise their last two fixtures, who better to welcome to the Riverside than a Blackburn team that have conceded 11 goals in their last four away games? It was commented on earlier that Boro need to start scoring goals if they want an automatic promotion place come May-time and Saturday’s match might come at just the right time for them to prove their critics wrong.
But with the additional return of a few ex-Boro faces, Blackburn will be wanting to build on their impressive 4-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday as they push for a play-off spot. Danny Graham netted a hat-trick in that game and will be looking to add to his eight goals scored already this season coming up against the club who granted him his first professional deal. Graham made 33 appearances for Boro during his two spells at the club scoring a reputable seven goals in the process.
However, he’s not the only one making a return to Teesside this weekend. Manager Tony Mowbray made 348 appearances for Middlesbrough and ranks seventh in local paper The Evening Gazette’s all-time Boro legends. As well as captaining the club from the age of 22, ‘Mogga’ also managed Boro after the painful reign of Gordan Strachan. Mowbray had to cut the club’s budget and make drastic changes to the squad but still managed to cement Boro’s championship status during his three-year reign. Mowbray can expect an outstanding reception when he steps out of the dugout on Saturday afternoon.
The last time these sides met was during the 2015/16 season of the Championship, a year when Middlesbrough were promoted to the Premier League whilst Blackburn finished 15th. Rovers won 2-1 that day thanks to goals from Hope Akpan and Danny Graham and despite Boro pulling one back through Adam Forshaw, the points had already been sealed. This match has often favoured the Lancashire side with Blackburn winning 58 of the 131 contests. Boro’s last win over Rovers came 2012 and they haven’t beaten Tony Mowbray’s men in the last six matches; a statistic they’ll be wanting to put to bed this weekend.
With Boro wanting to avenge their loss to Villa, Tony Pulis is expected to make changes to the side that was comfortably beaten 3-0 a week ago. It is believed Ryan Shotton is available for selection again after he recovered from a knee injury that has kept him out of the last seven fixtures.
As for Blackburn, it’s anticipated Mowbray will stick with the same eleven that beat Sheffield Wednesday as his side look to keep up their impressive record of scoring in every fixture since their 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United at the start of October.
Boro: Randolph, Fry, Flint, Batth, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Wing, Downing, Braithwaite, Hugill.
Blackburn: Raya, Nyambe, Downing, Mulgrew, Williams, Evans, Smallwood, Reed, Dack, Conway, Graham.