Following last weekend’s draw with Blackburn Rovers, Boro are now winless in their last three matches, something they’ll be looking to end when they face, former manager, Steve McClaren’s side in their next fixture.
Not many teams in this division would be able to clinch a point after falling behind with 10 men, but that’s exactly what Boro managed last Saturday. But they should never have found themselves in that situation in the first place. While Besic dawdled on the ball in his own half Bradley Dack pounced on a loose touch and was racing through on goal before the Bosnian international pulled him back. It was a clear red card and although it took what seemed like an eternity for referee Simon Hooper and lineswoman Sian Massey-Ellis to pull the play back, the decision to dismiss Besic after only 21 minutes was correct.
Saturday’s encounter with QPR marks the first of Besic’s three-match ban, which will see him return for the last game of this calendar year at home to Ipswich Town. The key debate for this weekend will be who replaces him in the middle of the park with Lewis Wing, George Saville and Paddy McNair all vying for a place in the starting 11. However, it may not be a like-for-like replacement as Pulis may opt for a change in formation. Britt Assombalonga and Jordan Hugill worked well together after the red card and it was the link up play between the two that resulted in Boro’s equaliser. The call from the stands has been to play them together in a 4-4-2 this weekend.
For QPR, they’ll be hoping to bounce back after a 2-1 defeat at Elland Road in their last match. The ‘Rs’ are now winless in their last four and are lumbered in 14th place; they were showing signs of a play-off push before their recent demise in form. Luke Freeman was linked all summer with a move to Middlesbrough but that never came to fruition. In fact, the 26-year-old has just penned a new three-year deal with Rangers highlighting his intent to stay at the club long-term. Freeman has netted five times for the Hoops already this season despite operating as an attacking midfielder and he will be one of many players Boro need to keep an eye out for, as his side aim for their fourth home win in their last six matches.
The last time these teams met was in January this year when Boro romped to victory. Tony Pulis’ side won 3-0 that day thanks to a Daniel Ayala tap-in, a George Friend wonder strike and a first goal in English football for Adama Traore. A similar result this weekend would go down very well.
However, keeping a clean sheet has proved problematic for Boro’s backline in recent weeks with the Teessider’s conceding in each of their last four fixtures. Defensive solidity was something Boro prided themselves on in the early part of the season but since the last international break, Boro have let in six goals in just four matches, almost half of their total goals conceded so far.
And that run could very well continue this weekend as Boro come up against a side that have only failed to score twice at home this season. Steve McClaren is undoubtedly Boro’s most successful manager but this weekend he will want to be the undoing of his former employers seeing his side continue their impressive scoring record. Although, Boro have only lost one on the road this season and have scored in five of their past six away matches.
The match is set up quite nicely in that both teams find themselves in a bit of a lull having not won in their last three games. If Boro manage to claim all three points at the weekend they could find themselves in third position if results in other matches go their way. But a defeat would almost certainly result in dropping out of the top six for the first time since the opening day of the season.
As for QPR, three points could see them reach as high as 9th in the league with no real danger of sinking further down the table. The only real concern for them is that Jake Bidwell and Massimo Luongo are only one booking away from suspension, as is Aden Flint for Boro.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Flint, Ayala, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Saville, Downing, Hugill, Assombalonga.
QPR: Lumley, Rangel, Leistner, Lynch, Bidwell, Luongo, Cameron, Wszolek, Eze, Freeman, Wells.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC