Middlesbrough v Norwich Saturday March 30, 17:30 Live on Sky Sports
Middlesbrough in midst of losing streak
Three successive defeats before the international break has seen Middlesbrough drop to within striking distance of play-off chasing sides in the Championship. The Teessiders appeared to be locked-on for a top-six finish before falling to back-to-back home defeats against Brentford and Preston, as well as a resounding 3-0 reverse at Aston Villa last time out.
It's the first time Boro have suffered three consecutive losses since being relegated from the Premier League in 2017 and Tony Pulis' men have fallen 16 points adrift of the automatic promotion places. Saturday evening's hosts were well beaten at Villa Park, managing a solitary effort on-target and Pulis admitted he was "really disappointed" with the display.
Middlesbrough set-up in a 3-4-2-1 system at Aston Villa with Daniel Ayala returning to the side after seeing his red card against Preston rescinded. The Spaniard joined Dael Fry and Aden Flint in Pulis' first-choice back three, with Ryan Shotton and George Friend on the flanks although changes may be made here following that lacklustre showing.
Norwich extend their lead at the top
Norwich extended their gap at the top of the Championship to four points with a hard-fought victory at relegation-threatened Rotherham before the international break. The Canaries went ahead against the run of play through Kenny McLean on the stroke of half-time and sealed victory via centre-back Ben Godfrey after Rotherham had levelled proceedings.
In-form playmaker Emi Buendia had an effort cleared off the line as Norwich pushed for a third, but in the end they were content to see out the result. The triumph marked City's sixth success on the spin with an unchanged starting XI and moved Daniel Farke's side five points clear of third-placed Leeds as we enter the final furlong of the campaign.
Midfielders Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic are both pressing for a recall following their recent return to full fitness but look likely to be left on the bench once more. Meanwhile, Louis Thompson has stepped up his rehabilitation from a knee problem, so could be drafted back into the squad. Forward Carlton Morris continues his recovery and remains unavailable.
Canaries can avoid Riverside defeat
Middlesbrough3.05 come into this contest on their worst run of defeats at this level since March 2013. What's more, Boro have been beaten in each of their last four fixtures against Norwich across all competitions, failing to even score in any of those four encounters. The Teessiders have also tended to toil when taking on the division's leading lights.
Since Tony Pulis pitched up in December 2017, Middlesbrough have managed just W3-D2-L6 against top-four teams. The hosts' two triumphs here against the top-four this term both came back in August and Boro have bagged a solitary success in five league outings (W1-D2-L2) at the Riverside in 2019, coming against bang out-of-form QPR.
Norwich2.54 are guaranteed to end March top of the Championship - the last 10 teams to do so have won automatic promotion, whilst the Canaries head north on the back of 10 triumphs from their last 16 road trips (W10-D5-L1) since mid-September. Preston are the only side to see off City in that sample and the guests are appealing 1.82Draw No Betvalue.
Contrasting goal trends
Each of Middlesbrough's last three fixtures have crossed the Over 2.5 Goals whitewash as the Teessiders renowned defensive resilience has dropped off. Boro have silenced only five of their last 20 opponents after keeping 11 clean sheets in their opening 17 Championship outings. The hosts have also only struck more than once on five occasions at the Riverside.
Eight of Boro's 11 meetings with top-four clubs under Tony Pulis have featured fewer than three goals, as four of seven this season have produced no more than a solitary strike. The Riverside is averaging only 1.83 goals per-game as 14/18 (78%) matches paid out for Under 2.5 Goals [1.71} backers here.
Norwich are the division's top goalscorers and have only once failed to score on the road. A huge 14/19 (74%) of those games saw both sides score with 12/19 (63%) creeping above the two-goal line. Those away days averaged 2.97 Expected Goals (xG) and with such contrasting trends on display, I'm happy to swerve the goals markets on Saturday.
Norwich draw no bet @ 1.82 in Middlesbrough v Norwich