The Build Up: Middlesbrough vs Stoke City
Next up for the Boro is the visit of Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City, as the Potters make the trip up north to the Riverside.
Heartache, anger, pain. Just a few words to describe Boro’s meeting with Swansea in the Reds’ last outing. A breath-taking and outrageous decision made by Gavin Ward – let’s not hope to hear that name for a while – to disallow Marc Bola’s thumping strike was met with huge criticism for the official, from the nation.
What better way to eradicate the anger of Boro’s trip to South Wales than to put Stoke to the sword in Saturday’s meeting. Neil Warnock will be out for vengeance at the weekend, especially after his comments and the players’ understandable show of disappointment towards the officials landed the club in a spot of bother with the FA.
It was a positive showing from Boro, and Warnock will be hoping for more of the same at the weekend. After Chuba Akpom’s introduction at half time, Boro gained a presence upfront, and looked a constant threat to the Swansea backline. Akpom should start against Stoke, with Watmore struggling in the first half before being substituted for the striker. Bolasie benefitted from having a natural striker with him, so that may be an avenue Warnock explores.
Fellow striker, Britt Assombalonga, was missing for Boro at the weekend, although Neil Warnock was quick to address that the former club captain was ill when they made the trip to South Wales. After having the captaincy taken away from him, it will be interesting to see how Assombalonga is used for the rest of the season.
Grant Hall continues to impress since his return from injury, despite a late lapse in concentration last week. However, you feel his inclusion is largely dependant on the system; should Boro revert to a back 4, he could very well be the casualty. Anfernee Dijksteel will miss the rest of the season, a huge miss for the club, so the onus will be on young Djed Spence in the absence of both Dijksteel and Darnell Fisher, should Fisher continue to be on the treatment table.
After also falling victim to a late Swansea City penalty, the Potters regained momentum by beating bottom-placed Wycombe Wanderers. Stoke’s form as of late has been possibly as Stoke City as you could imagine with the visitors struggling to mount a run of games without defeat, before ultimately losing two or three on the bounce.
Stoke have struggled since their talismanic youthful strike Tyrese Campbell picked up a knee injury in December. The responsibility has fell on the shoulders of the experienced Steven Fletcher to hit the ground running, and ex-Manchester United prospect Nick Powell. John Obi Mikel makes his return to the Riverside for the first time since departing after his short stint in 2019. The veteran midfielder has been a regular feature in Stoke’s midfield, with his partner varying, largely due to Stoke’s injury occurrences.
When the two sides met in December it was a dull affair, with young defender Nathan Collins scoring the only goal of the match. With Boro only mustering the single shot on target, Warnock should be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. The post-match comments were the highlights of the day, from a Boro perspective, which saw Warnock fuming over the hospitality the club received on their visit to the Bet365 Stadium with the manager fuming over their lack of sustainable facilities.
It is the 100th meeting between the two sides this weekend, with it being a mixed bag of results. However, it is Boro who just edge the head-to-head standings between the two sides.
Boro wins: 41
Stoke wins: 36