Middlesbrough v Stoke: Few goals fancied in basement battle
Both Middlesbrough and Stoke are struggling at the wrong end of the Championship table as we approach Christmas and Mark O'Haire expects their Friday night meeting to be a tight and tense affair...
Middlesbrough v Stoke
Friday December 20, 19:45
Friday December 20, 19:45
Middlesbrough fall apart at Swansea
Middlesbrough remain entrenched in the Championship relegation battle following Saturday's frustrating 3-1 defeat at Swansea. The Teessiders were all-square after an hour at the Liberty Stadium but saw both Marcus Browne and Paddy McNair sent off in the final half hour allowing their hosts to take advantage of the numerical advantage.
Jonathan Woodgate moved away from his recent 5-1-2-2 system in favour of a four-man defence but Boro failed to impose themselves, sitting deep. Ashley Fletcher was hopelessly exposed until a half-time tweak appeared to do the trick; Marcus Tavernier equalised with a powerful effort, but just as Boro were gathering momentum, Browne was dismissed.
Woodgate refused to defend his player post-match, saying, "When we got back into it at 1-1 there was only one team that was going to go on and win the game. At 1-1 we were looking good, but then there is the decision from Marcus Browne to make a horrific tackle. I absolutely can't condone that. The ill-discipline from Marcus Browne has cost us the game."
Stoke play out dour goalless draw
Stoke played out the dullest of dull 0-0 draws against Reading last weekend to remain rooted inside the Championship's bottom-three. The forgettable fixture failed to feature a single shot on-target with Potters winger Tom Ince coming closest to breaking the deadlock when he sent a speculative 25-yard effort just wide before the half-time interval.
Ince did have a first-half goal ruled out for offside and curled a late attempt wide but that was the best Michael O'Neill's men could muster in a dour encounter. In truth, Stoke had neither the speed nor strength to truly trouble Reading with direct football, nor the cunning to outwit their visitors during their attempt at more subtle possession-based attacks.
O'Neill agreed post-match, saying, "I don't think it was a game we looked in danger of losing, but unfortunately we possibly didn't show enough quality to win it." Stoke have now bagged back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this term, whilst previously under-fire Joe Allen was arguably City's standout operator for the second game in succession.
Improving Potters favourites on Teesside
Middlesbrough and Stoke have not been regular adversaries in recent years. The Teessiders took four points off the Potters last season but Friday night's match-up will only be the sixth meeting between the pair at the Riverside since 1993, with Boro pocketing W3-D1-L1 in that five-game sample. Britt Assombalonga's second-minute strike settled matters here in April.
There's no doubt Middlesbrough 3.05 have underwhelmed under Jonathan Woodgate's leadership. Boro have won just four Championship games and head into the weekend's encounter having registered only two triumphs in 15 since mid-September (W2-D6-L7). Only three teams have a worse goal difference and no divisional rival have scored fewer goals.
Stoke 2.54 have earned more points (10) in Michael O'Neill's first seven games (W3-D1-L3) than they did in their opening 15 fixtures (8), whilst simultaneously scoring 46% (11) of their season-long goal tally (24). Nevertheless, inconsistencies continue to blight the Potters' progress with the new City boss still searching for the right balance and shape in his system.
Few goals fancied
Last season's two tussles between Middlesbrough and Stoke produced a grand total of one goal and a similarly uninspiring showdown could play out again on Friday considering games at the Riverside average fewer goals than at any other Championship venue in 2019/20.
Indeed, Boro's home matches have seen 9/11 (82%) Under 2.5 Goals 1.76 winners with contests delivering just 1.73 goals per-game. Seven of those 11 encounters produced no more than a solitary strike with both sides obliging on only four occasions.
Stoke haven't proven anywhere near as reliable when opposing goals with five of their seven showdowns under Michael O'Neill beating the Over 2.5 Goals 2.22 barrier. However, gradual improvements have been made at the back with the Northern Irish coach keen to find overdue solidity in defence, potentially leading us towards another lacklustre contest.
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