The Build Up: Blackburn Rovers vs Middlesbrough
Updated: Jan 28
Middlesbrough travel to Ewood Park on Monday night with a reunion or two awaiting them.
Last minute winners, you just can’t beat them can you? And under Chris Wilder, they’re becoming quite the tradition, as Boro stole their third successive win in added time last Saturday thanks to Matt Crooks and his divine barnet.
Next stop on the Wilder express is Ewood Park, as Boro cross the Yorkshire Dales and arrive in Lancashire looking to extend their eight game unbeaten run at the home of one of the division’s surprise packages.
Thanks in large part to the stewardship of Teesside hero Tony Mowbray, Blackburn Rovers have seemingly transformed overnight from mid-table obscurity to automatic promotion contenders.
But with the absence of some key players, can Boro take full advantage on Monday night? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this huge clash.
Stadium: Ewood Park
Current league position: 3rd
Last season finish: 15th
Manager: Tony Mowbray
Current Top Scorer: Ben Brereton-Diaz (20)
Fun fact: Blackburn and Bolton Wanderers are the only two clubs in England to win three successive FA Cup’s, with Rovers winning three on the spin in the years 1884, 1885 and 1886.
The 2021/22 season has seen the amazing, and largely unexpected rise of Blackburn Rovers. After a 15th placed finish last term, and similar finishes for the previous couple of seasons, Rovers have evolved from a mid-table team to a genuine promotion contender in seemingly the blink of an eye, with the side currently sitting in third place.
To find out more about their fantastic first-half of the season, I spoke to Daniel Ainsworth (Twitter - @AinsworthD99) from Blackburn fansite Rovers Chat (Twitter - @roverschat_). Here’s what Daniel had to say on his Blackburn Rovers side.
What has changed at Rovers to enable this sudden rise?
“It’s hard to describe. I believe the change in play to suit our team is an obvious reason. We tried possession football but it didn’t help last season, so we moved to counter attacking football and that’s worked wonders.
“This team just seems different and it’s a pleasure to watch. We might not have the incredible players of Fulham and Bournemouth, but we’ve a team of fighters and battlers and it’s worked.”
What are your thoughts on the job that Tony Mowbray has done?
“Nothing short of incredible. He’s had his criticism from everyone and I think we all thought his time was up when we got beat 7-0 off Fulham, but he’s managed to turn the ship around and long may it continue.
“He knows how to manage a dressing room with the right characters, and that’s one of many reasons we are where we are this season.
How has ex-Boro boy Daniel Ayala fared at Ewood Park?
“An injury hit first season saw us realise what the Boro fans meant about his record, and we was worried it was a failed signing.
“However, he was - barring Brereton Diaz - probably the best player earlier in the season.
“He had an injury that saw Scott Wharton come into the side in his place, and Ayala has not been able to get back in.
“That’s no mark on the Spaniard though, our defence has just been incredible and we’ve had no option but to keep the same line up.”
Who would you say are the players we should be wary of?
“With Ben Brereton Diaz absent due to an international call up, the obvious option is out the way, but there’s plenty of others to watch.
“Joe Rothwell is having his best season in a Rovers shirt. His ability to carry the ball 50 yards or so is incredible and he’s been key in getting the team up the pitch.
“Reda Khadra has impressed on loan from Brighton and is an almost definite starter given Diaz’s absence and Markanday’s injury. He’s adapted to the wide striker role well and is electric.
“John Buckley has been excellent in the ‘number 10’ role and looks to be only improving. He’s tenacious and wins the ball back a lot for us and will be key in this match.”
Daniel’s Match Prediction
“I’ll go 1-1. We enjoy drawing the matches between our two sides and I’ll back that to continue.”
The Form Book
Middlesbrough (Last six: WWWWWD)
Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading
Mansfield Town 2-3 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)
Blackpool 1-2 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough 2-0 Nottingham Forest
Middlesbrough 1-0 Bournemouth
Stoke City 0-0 Middlesbrough
Blackburn Rovers (Last six: LWLDWW)
Hull City 2-0 Blackburn Rovers
Cardiff City 0-1 Blackburn Rovers
Wigan Athletic 3-2 Blackburn Rovers (FA Cup)
Blackburn Rovers 0-0 Huddersfield Town
Blackburn Rovers 2-1 Barnsley
Blackburn Rovers 4-0 Birmingham City
Head-to-Head League Record
Matches played - 96
Wins - Middlesbrough 29-39 Blackburn Rovers
Draws - 28
Goals - Middlesbrough 126-142 Blackburn Rovers
Points - Middlesbrough 115-145 Blackburn Rovers
Middlesbrough 1-1 Blackburn Rovers - August 28, 2021
Middlesbrough 0-1 Blackburn Rovers - January 24, 2021
Blackburn Rovers 0-0 Middlesbrough - November 3, 2020
Middlesbrough 1-1 Blackburn Rovers - February 1, 2020
Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Middlesbrough - August 17, 2019
Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Middlesbrough - February 17, 2019
7th, won 12, drawn 6, lost 8
Goals scored 31, goals conceded 25
Clean sheets 10
3rd, won 14, drawn 7, lost 6
Goals scored 44, goals conceded 30
Clean sheets 10
For perhaps the first time this season, Middlesbrough are going into a match with practically a full squad of players available and fit.
Of course, having a completley absentee-free list is not really a Middlesbrough thing, there’s always one or two missing for one reason or another, and Monday night is no exception, but it’s as good as we’re going to get.
Marc Bola is of course injured and out for the remainder of the season in all likelihood, but Boro were dealt a blow with their latest arrival, Riley McGree, being called up by Australia this week for upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, and thus Boro’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United will be his earliest opportunity to make his Middlesbrough debut.
Those two are the only players that Chris Wilder will not have at his disposal, with Grant Hall back fit and in full training, you can expect him to be back amongst the matchday squad.
As for Rovers, Tony Mowbray will have to contend with the absence of some key players on Monday night, none more-so than 20 goal striker Ben Brereton-Diaz, who like McGree has been called up for international duties.
Rovers were hit with another blow in the aftermath of their dissapointing defeat to Hull City in midweek, as tricky winger and new arrival Dilan Markanday was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury.
Wing-back Harry Pickering and winger Ian Poveda are both sidelined with injuries, whilst talisman attacker Bradley Dack will see Monday night’s game come to soon for him, with Mowbray confirming he will see some action in the U23’s before returning to first-team action in the coming weeks.
On the more positive note for Blackburn, two key players in central midfielder Lewis Travis and wing-back Ryan Nyambe are both set to return to the starting XI, after missing Rover’s midweek match due to illness and suspension respectively.
Following Boro’s dramatic late winner last Saturday, Boro boss Chris Wilder insisted that it was not through luck that his side were victorious, stating: “Everybody loves a last-minute winner don’t they? The whole of the Riverside was bouncing and especially when we got back on level terms it was all in, stick the lot on, red or black, stick it on.
“We found a bit of quality and got the win. But I don’t think we were a lucky team today. Our quality was a bit off at times, but we had 62% possession against a team that has quality.
“But in the end, through perseverance, through belief and through keeping on doing the things we did, forcing them back - credit to the coaching staff for changing the system and having a go - we got the win.”
Wilder has now called for his players to embrace the high expectations that are being put on his side, saying: “Everybody looks at league tables, come on. Players look at it and they’ll say, ‘if we can get a result here that puts us here’.
“But there is naturally a pressure and expectation while playing for this football club because it’s a huge club in this division. The players have got to embrace that and run with it and enjoy it.
“I certainly will. If someone says to me, ‘Do you expect to win tomorrow?’ The answer is always, ‘yes I do.’ If we play well we’ll always have a fabulous opportunity to win.
“You have to embrace it if you want to be successful and we want to be successful. There is no two ways about it. We want this run to continue. We don’t want to look back and think it was a decent period in the season and then we fell away.”
Speaking on his boyhood side Middlesbrough, Rovers boss Tony Mowbray would say: “They’re a team who have been on a really good run and are on a reasonably long unbeaten run. They’ve been getting plaudits and I know, with my family home being on Teesside, that there’s and excitement about Boro at the moment.
“The Riverside Stadium is bouncing and there’s real excitement amongst the fans. As I watch my kids play football on Sundays, I’m surrounded by Boro fans and they tell me how excited they are by their team and how well they’ve been playing.”
Speaking on his opposite number in the dugout on Monday night, Mowbray would state: “Chris (Wilder) brings a different sort of drive to them. Neil (Warnock), the previous manager, you can never say that his teams aren’t totally committed in everything they do, but Chris has given them a different direction in terms of how they play.
“There’s a different level of control with the ball yet they still fight as they did under Neil.
“They’ve always been tight games against Middlesbrough and I hope the supporters can help us come out on top on Monday night.”
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Paddy McNair MID: Isaiah Jones, Jonny Howson (C), Marcus Tavernier, Matt Crooks, Neil Taylor ATT: Aaron Connolly, Andraz Sporar
Blackburn (3-4-1-2): GK: Thomas Kaminski DEF: Darragh Lenihan (C), Jan Paul Van Hecke, Scott Wharton MID: Ryan Nyambe, Lewis Travis, Joe Rothwell, Joe Rankin-Costello ATT: John Buckley, Reda Khadra, Sam Gallagher
Referee: Darren England
Assistants: Darren Cann & Wade Smith
Fourth Official: Leigh Doughty
This Boro team just don’t know when they’re beat do they? Oh Matty Crooks your hair is so fine. Last minute winners against Reading, it’s just a Boro thing now isn’t it?
That win meant the Chris Wilder party bus continues to roll on, and with the Vengaboys, or perhaps Oasis blasting as they cross the Yorkshire Dales, they’ll be stopping off at Ewood Park confident of picking up some more points.
And if they do, they could be absolutley crucial if Boro are serious about mounting an automatic promotion charge nevermind a play-off one, as a win would take them just four tantalising points away from the 2nd placed Bournemouth.
And although Blackburn are experiencing a slight wobble in form, picking up just one win in their last four Championship games, Rovers are a team that Middlesbrough have a historically hard time getting the better of.
Indeed, Boro have failed to beat Blackburn in any of their previous five league meetings, with three draws and two defeats. So even without their top striker and some other important players, this still has the feel of being a really tricky game for the Boro.
What is interesting though when analysing Blackburn’s season is that they’ve got to where they are by having the 22nd least amount of average completed passes per league match this season with 229.4, and even more eyebrow raising is that they are the worst team for average possession % per match too, with just 42.1%. This would make sense though however thanks to Daniel’s earlier comments regarding moving away from a possession based style.
Centre-backs Darragh Lenihan and Jan Paul Van Hecke aren’t frequently seen passing through the lines and playing out from the back, similar to Boro’s defenders under Neil Warnock. Instead, whether through tactical instruction or through understanding a lack of ability to play that role, they commonly take the approach of playing long balls up to Brereton-Diaz, however, on Monday night, that won’t be possible.
So with a Boro team under Chris Wilder that are all about possession and keeping the ball and being patient in waiting for their openings, this could work in our favour. But as we all know with Boro, having possession is one thing, doing something with it and being clinical with your chances is another.
But do you know what people, I’m weirdly confident heading into this one. Removing a 20 goal striker out of any lineup is massive, and with the blow of losing Markanday who looked a very decent player in his debut against Hull, and with some other starting players unavailable, I do have a feeling that Blackburn’s wobble will turn into the sort of wobbling you see from a person slipping on a patch of ice, a few arms waving and all that.
I do think that unlike most people in that predicament, they will regain their balance and not fall smack on their backsides, but the truth is that outside of Brereton-Diaz - who hasn’t scored in three Championship games now either -, their next top scorer is Sam Gallagher with five. And with one league win in four, you sort of get the feeling, at least from the outside looking in, that a cog has stopped working for Rovers.
Whether the league have begun to figure them out, or it’s just the Championship being the league that it is with anyone having the ability to beat anyone, I’m not sure. And it’s not to say that whatever cog that has seemingly stopped turning can’t get going again, and if that cog is Brereton-Diaz’s goals momentarily drying up, then you’d certainly back him to turn that around again eventually.
But for now at least, Rovers are just beginning to tread water in the race for promotion for the first time this season, and other than Fulham, Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough is perhaps the last rabble they would want turning up on their doorstep right now. Ok Preston too but that’s not down to the current strength of the team with all due respect to them.
I see Boro having the majority of possession, I see Rovers frustrating them and keeping the game close as they look to hit Boro on the counter. But ultimatley, I see Boro doing what they have seemingly begun to do best in recent weeks, and that’s snatch games from the opposition and take home all three points.
Prediction: Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Middlesbrough