The Build Up: Barnsley vs Middlesbrough
Saturday’s fixture sees Boro make the trip to South Yorkshire to face Play-Off hopefuls Barnsley at Oakwell.
Boro come into the game, perhaps as a bit of an unknown quantity, after manager Neil Warnock continues to say that all attention is being placed on ensuring the squad are ready for next season’s campaign.
Boro drew with Watford on Easter Monday in a drab affair, thanks to Yannick Bolasie heading home his first Boro goal.
After hinting towards a potential Bolasie return next season, should financial demands not be too steep, Warnock may keep giving the winger appearances in the team to build up his fitness and relationships within the squad. Bolasie will be keen to build on his already positive relationship with Boro fans and leave his mark on the season.
On the other hand, Warnock’s comments regarding Watmore’s starting berth in the squad won’t make for kind reading to any Ashley Fletcher fans, after he insisted that Watmore is ‘the one that works his socks’. With Assombalonga heading out the door, we may see Fletcher follow him when his contract expires this summer.
The comments should be a wake-up call for Chuba Akpom, as Boro’s marquee signing of last summer has struggled to get into his stride in Boro colours. It would be good to see the striker be given from now until the end of the season to really stake his claim to be Boro’s number nine for next season.
There is an experimental feel around Boro’s remaining fixtures for the season, following on from Warnock’s comments. Djed Spence started once again on Monday but continues to struggle to find his form in this side. Sam Morsy’s injury will be a blow to Warnock and Boro fans may be itching for Hayden Hackney to be given a chance to add to his sole appearance, where he impressed in a cup bout against Brentford.
Times have changed since Boro last played against Barnsley. The sides met in early October and Boro’s win over the Tykes meant that Barnsley were still winless in their first four games. Now with Valérien Ismaël in charge, Barnsley are right amongst the Play-Off places as the end of the seasons draws nearer.
The loan capture of Daryl Dike in the January transfer window has proven to be one of the signings of the season. The young American striker continues to impress and has found himself right in amongst the goals, scoring seven in his 13 Barnsley games, including a brace last time out against Luton. His partnership with Cauley Woodrow has helped fire Barnsley to fifth in the league, 11 points clear of their visitors on Saturday.
Defending hasn’t been the Tykes strong suit this season, conceding the most of any team in the top 10. They’ve also kept just two clean sheets from the last eight fixtures. However, with Boro’s lack of potency upfront, Ismaël will know that if their attack is on-song, they stand a great chance of strengthening their Play-Off push.
As mentioned, the two sides met in October where Boro ran out 2-1 winners thanks to goals from Jonny Howson and Chuba Akpom either side of half time. Howson opened the scoring in the second minute of stoppage time, before Akpom made it 2 in 2 for him in Boro colours, three minutes into the second half. Cauley Woodrow managed to get one back from the spot after he was felled in the box under a challenge by Howson.
Boro hold the better head-to-head record between the two sides, although their last league win at Oakwell came in 2011.
Boro wins: 33
Barnsley wins: 18