The Build Up: Swansea City vs Middlesbrough
Neil Warnock faces another return to South Wales on Saturday, but this time to Swansea as his Boro side take on the high-flying Swans.
On Tuesday night, Boro showed the fighting spirit that we have seen on several occasions this season, as the Reds came from behind to beat Coventry City. A first goal in Boro colours for Grant Hall and a late George Saville winner cancelled out a Max Biamou opener for the Sky Blues. For the second game in a row Boro came undone by a long throw once again and sloppy defending saw Neil Warnock’s men forced to go about their business from a goal down.
Along with the positive of coming away from Birmingham’s St. Andrews with all three points, we also saw the return to the pitch for Yannick Bolasie. Warnock will be delighted his Boro side is coming to full fitness and with a growing plethora of options in attack. Marvin Johnson will have played himself into contention with influential substitute appearances in the last couple of games, alongside the likes of Neeskans Kebano and Bolasie himself.
Marcus Tavernier made his second consecutive appearance after coming back from injury but began receiving treatment when he was withdrawn from proceedings. The attacking midfielder seemed to pick up an injury to his left foot, forcing him off the pitch. Boro fans will be hoping it was nothing serious and will be fit to face the Swans.
George Saville has found himself out of favour in recent weeks, but his winning goal may tempt Warnock into starting the midfielder on Saturday. Jonny Howson is expected to start once again, after he put in an impressive shift in Birmingham, returning to the form we have seen on plenty of occasions this season. Warnock’s trusted man-in-the-middle assisted Saville’s late winner after a direct burst to the by-line.
Boro’s opponents boast the best defensive record in the Championship, with Swansea having conceded 23 goals this term, just one less than Watford. Their youthful partnership of Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi has proven to be a formidable one, alongside the experience of either Kyle Naughton or Ryan Bennett.
A controversial, late Andre Ayew penalty in midweek saw them claim victory of Stoke City as the Ghanaian carried on his impressive season and extended his lead as top scorer for the Swans. Despite a recent run without a goal, Jamal Lowe shrugged off a slow start to life as a Swan to hit some mid-season form and his influence on Steve Cooper’s side shouldn’t be understated.
Steve Cooper has his side showing a healthy mix of youth and experience and that was demonstrated through their loan capture of Conor Hourihane in January, a man Cooper will hope to help guide them towards promotion to the Premier League.
Cooper’s Swansea City sit just one point behind second placed Brentford, with two games in hand over the Bees.
Despite the obvious contrast in seasons, with Swansea being 12 points better off than Boro, it was the Teessiders who came out with all three points when the two sides met at The Riverside in early December. Duncan Watmore scored his first goals for the club, and his brace was enough to see out a late Yan Dhanda consolation goal to hand Boro a 2-1 win.
Boro’s victory against the Swans in December extended their lead over the South Wales outfit, as far as the head-to-head record is concerned.
Boro wins: 20
Swansea wins: 18