Middlesbrough v Aston Villa Saturday December 1, 17:30 Live on Sky Sports
Middlesbrough toil at Deepdale
Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis took responsibility for the Teessiders' lacklustre start in their 1-1 draw at Preston in midweek, a result that saw Boro slide out of the automatic promotion places. Ahead of the Deepdale encounter, Pulis made four changes to the side that beat Brentford on Saturday.
Switching from a back-four to a 3-5-2 system, Middlesbrough struggled to make the system work in the early stages and were indebted to some poor finishing and saves from Darren Randolph to only be a goal behind. But an enforced change promoted a tactical and personnel switch that allowed Boro a route back.
Middlesbrough lost Rudy Gestede to a first-half hamstring injury, and Lewis Wing to a knock to the face early in the second-half. Both will miss Saturday's match, but Pulis confirmed Stuart Downing and Mo Besic will feature having been rested on Tuesday. Goalscorer Marcus Tavernier is also pushing for a start.
Aston Villa involved in 10-goal thriller
Aston Villa followed up their 4-2 Second City derby success on Sunday by sharing the spoils in a 10-goal thriller against Nottingham Forest at Villa Park on Wednesday. Tammy Abraham scored four times for the Claret & Blue, with Anwar El Ghazi also getting on the scoresheet in a breathless 5-5 encounter.
Villa twice thought they'd scored a decisive sixth in the closing stages but both efforts were ruled out and boss Dean Smith admitted his team were frustrated with the final score having fired in 26 attempts at goal, compared to eight for the visitors. Indeed, Forest netted with all five of their on-target strikes.
The Claret & Blue remain three points adrift of the top-six coming into the weekend and they'll have to make-do without suspended defender Alan Hutton. Yannick Bolasie should keep his place following a fine midweek display, whilst Albert Adomah, Henri Lansbury, James Bree and Mile Jedinak remain doubts.
Evenly-matched encounter awaits
These two teams met on five occasions in 2017/18. As well as two regular season showdowns, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa locked horns in the Championship play-off semi-finals, as well as a League Cup contest. Boro failed to score in their four league-based duels (W0-D2-L2) with two ending goalless.
The Teessiders haven't actually beaten Villa on home soil since their Premier League days in 2004, but Pulis' posse have been marked up as 2.10 favourites to clinch top honours here. Boro have only been beaten twice this term in Championship action and boast a solid W5-D3-L1 record at the Riverside.
Aston Villa 3.50 have collected 13 points from a possible 21 since Smith (W4-D1-L2) took charge with both defeats arriving on the road. The Claret & Blue have W1-D2-L4 when travelling to teams outside the bottom-three and have tabled only 12/32 (38%) triumphs in games as guests since the start of 2017/18.
With little to choose between the two teams, the draw holds plenty of appeal at 3.30. It's proven a profitable formula in 15 (39%) of their combined 38 outings, including 6/18 (33%) of their respective home/away matches.
Contrasting goal trends
Both Middlesbrough and Aston Villa have been providing vastly different returns to the goals columns this season. Under Pulis, Boro have 15/19 (79%) matches feature fewer than three goals with just six (32%) producing winning Both Teams To Score selections.
Meanwhile, Villa have scored 12 times in their most recent three fixtures, failing to score just once with 14 (74%) of fixtures seeing both sides score. A healthy 11 (58%) also surpassed the Over 2.5 Goals 2.06 mark, including all four of their meetings with teams above them in the standings.
My hunch would be to oppose goals with Pulis' defensive-game enjoying the upper-hand, although I'm happy to leave the markets alone with such differing styles and approaches on show.
Back the draw @ 3.30 in Middlesbrough v Aston Villa