Boro are the visitors to St. Andrew's this weekend, a game you can watch exclusively live on BluesTV.BCFC
The Sky Bet Championship match is Blues' sixth of December and comes just three days after a trip to South Wales that ended 3-2 in the favour of Cardiff City. The defeat was Blues' second in succession but their first in four away from home.
In contrast, Middlesbrough travel to the West Midlands after back-to-back home wins. The most recent of these - over Luton Town - lifted them to seventh and just two points outside the play-off places.
These midweek outings mean both sides, along with the rest of the division, have now played 19 of their 46 league matches. And, although the visitors lie ten places and eight points ahead of Blues, the two teams sit neck and neck in the form table for the last half a dozen matches.
Indicating what is expected to be another closely fought encounter, there is the added ingredient of Aitor Karanka facing his former club for the first time as Blues boss.
Since their relegation from the Premier League in 2017, Middlesbrough have only come close once to returning. This came when they reached the play-offs in May 2018, narrowly losing to Aston Villa at the semi-final stage under the guidance of Tony Pulis. He had replaced former Blues boss Garry Monk earlier in the campaign.
Following Pulis’ departure a year later, there was the unsuccessful tenure of Jonathan Woodgate who was dismissed in June with the club hovering perilously above the drop zone.
Looking for an experienced head to get them out of the mire, Boro’s board turned to Football League specialist Neil Warnock. His impact was instant with the Teessiders steering clear of safety to finish 17th, before beginning to fight at the right end of the table this term.
After losing on the opening weekend, Boro embarked on a ten-game unbeaten run which was only ended at the hands of the current league leaders, Norwich City. In their seven outings since meeting the Canaries, they have won four and lost three. This spell has included responding to back-to-back away defeats by beating both Millwall and Luton Town at The Riverside in the past week.
Key to their recent success has been former Sunderland man Duncan Watmore. Since his arrival in November, the 26-year-old has found the net four times and provided one assist – a vital contribution to the joint lowest scorers in the top half.
LAST TIME OUT:
There was real disappointment for Blues on Wednesday night as they let slip a lead to lose at Cardiff City. In ‘one for the neutrals’, Karanka’s men had shown real character to come from behind, taking the lead after the break through Ivan Sanchez’s spectacular solo effort. This added to Marc Roberts’ equaliser and was backed up by a stunning Neil Etheridge penalty save.
Unfortunately, it was not enough as the Bluebirds levelled through Harry Wilson before captain Sean Morrison headed home an 89th-minute winner.
There was also penalty drama involving Middlesbrough as their opponents on Wednesday night, Luton, saw a spot-kick disallowed. Leading 1-0, thanks to a Chuba Akpom effort, the Reds had a penalty awarded against them with Sam Morsy sent off for a deliberate handball on the line. They were, however, given a reprieve when James Collins had his penalty chalked off after he struck the ball twice during his execution.
WE MEET AGAIN:
Blues 2 Middlesbrough 1, 04 October 2019
Middlesbrough’s last visit to St. Andrew’s ended in defeat on a thrilling Friday night for the Blues.
In a dominating display, the home side registered 26 attempts on goal to Boro’s five but had to wait until the final minute of regulation time to win the match.
Victory had been on the cards thanks to Fran Villalba's first-time finish before the break, only for Daniel Ayala to find a leveller for the visitors late on.
And it seemed Blues would be made to pay for a combination of wastefulness in front of goal and the fine work of former keeper Darren Randolph.
That was until Dan Crowley picked out teenager Odin Bailey at the far post, with his header sparking pandemonium amongst Bluenoses.
BLUES TEAM NEWS:
Zach Jeacock (ankle), Caolan Boyd-Munce (thigh), George Friend (knee) and Jeremie Bela (thigh) all miss out.
Blues wins: 45
Middlesbrough wins: 36
LAST FIVE MEETINGS:
Championship 21 Jan 2020 – Blues 1 Middlesbrough 1
Championship 04 Oct 2019 – Blues 2 Middlesbrough 1
Championship 12 Jan 2019 – Middlesbrough 2 Blues 1
Championship 11 Aug 2018 – Middlesbrough 1 Blues 0
Championship 06 Mar 2018– Blues 0 Middlesbrough 1
Supporters can watch this game live on BluesTV for only £10.
Referee – Stephen Martin
Assistant Referees - Adam Crysell and Matthew McGrath
Fourth Official - Thomas Bramall