With Saturday’s 3-3 draw against Bristol City came an end to North End’s 100% start to the season at home. The way in which they achieved the result, however, was impressive given that they were 2-0 down inside the first 20 minutes.
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, have had a challenging start to life under new boss Jonathan Woodgate. They currently sit in 19th position in the table, having won just one of their last five including a 4-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Alex Neil and North End will go into this one with plenty of confidence given their own successes recently, but this one is sure to be a hard-fought encounter against a Boro team that, form aside, has some exceptional players in its ranks.
As mentioned, Middlesbrough are heading into tonight’s clash with just one win in five. Having replaced Tony Pulis in the summer, Jonathan Woodgate joined Boro with the aim of playing a more attacking style of play to the one the Riverside was used to seeing under Pulis.
Their first game of the season was an example of how far Woodgate had come to achieving that aim already – they drew 3-3 at Luton in a game that in reality could have seen even more goals scored.
The goals haven’t flowed as much as Boro would have liked since then, though, Woodgate’s side having only scored two in one of their eight league games since. Those came in a highly credible 2-2 draw at Bristol City at the end of August, followed by a second home win for Woodgate against Reading and a narrow 1-0 defeat at Neil Warnock’s Cardiff.
Former Real Madrid centre back Woodgate has experimented with different systems this season, switching away from his usual back four to field a back three against Cardiff. He reverted back to a four against Wednesday on Saturday in a game where Boro suffered their worst defeat of the season.
They were 2-0 down inside six minutes and although Paddy McNair halved the deficit on 19 minutes, they lost the game 4-1. It is worth noting though that before Saturday, Boro had not had a win or suffered a defeat by more than one goal, either way, this season.
North End, meanwhile, had more success on Saturday.
They too went 2-0 down earlier on against Bristol City but recovered to draw the game 3-3 to extend their unbeaten run to six in the league. Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson netted penalties whilst Patrick Bauer headed in his first league goal for PNE after getting his first goal for the club in a pre-season friendly against Accrington Stanley.
That result halted a run of two consecutive wins – over Birmingham and Brentford – and North End will hope they can pick up another three points tonight at the Riverside.
Out of form they may be, but Boro have some experienced Championship talent in their ranks.
Britt Assombalonga, Middlesbrough’s top scorer this season with three goals, has seen his side achieve a result every time he has netted so far this campaign. The DR Congo international, signed by Boro for a club-record fee of £15m in 2017, is known for his electric pace and intelligent movement. A real thorn in the side for any centre half, it should be an interesting battle between Assombalonga and the North End defensive pairing tonight.
Another key player for Middlesbrough is goalkeeper Darren Randolph. Signed by Boro in 2017 following their relegation, Irish international Randolph has been a picture of consistency for the club, having been ever-present over the last two seasons.
He was named in the EFL Championship Team of the Season last campaign and makes valuable saves at key times. If North End can break down Middlesbrough’s defence, they will face another big hurdle in Randolph.
The third opposition player to watch tonight is Lewis Wing. The Boro youth academy graduate was introduced into the first team by Tony Pulis last season, having impressed for the under 23s.
The 24-year-old made 28 appearances for the club last season in the league, scoring on three occasions. He only has one goal to his name this season, that coming in the opening day 3-3 draw at Luton, but he has an eye for goal and plenty of ability in shooting from distance. A key member of Woodgate’s three man midfield, expect Wing to cause a few problems tonight if he gets time on the ball.
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s no ‘Opposition View’ this week. We left it too late to find a Boro fan unfortunately but here are our predictions. North End had an enjoyable visit to the Riverside last season, Jayden Stockley’s late strike giving them a 2-1 victory over Tony Pulis’s men.
Boro will be motivated to bounce back following Saturday’s big defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, and I expect them to come out of the blocks quickly tonight.
If North End can weather the early storm – and perhaps pick up a goal themselves, given that nearly a quarter of their goals this season have come in the first 15 minutes of games – I would be confident of a positive result.
I’m going for a repeat of last season’s 2-1 scoreline to North End again. In terms of the starting XI, I would go for the following: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Browne; Maguire.