It’s a very quick turnaround from Saturday’s defeat in Buckinghamshire as Alex Neil’s men travel to the North East to face Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough side on Tuesday night.
Neil Warnock hasn’t enjoyed his last few encounters with North End or Alex Neil, going 3 games without a win against North End and never beating Alex Neil as a manager. But we haven’t managed a league double over Boro since the 1971-72 season so Warnock’s men will be looking to get revenge on the Lilywhites.
The reverse fixture at Deepdale took place back in early December where three goals in the last half an hour saw North End run out 3-0 winners. The game could’ve turned out very differently had Declan Rudd not made a couple of crucial saves when the game was goalless.
Since that game, Middlesbrough had pushed on and looked within contention of giving a real challenge for the play-offs, but recent inconsistency in their results have left them sitting 8 points off 6th placed Barnsley. A push for the top 6 is probably going to be a step too far for them now this season.
The hosts head into this encounter with just 4 wins since the beginning of February which has resulted in them slipping away from the top six, but with a convincing 3-0 over Stoke last time out, Warnock will be hoping to see his side build and end the season strong.
North End, on the other hand, come into the game off the back of one of the worst performances of the season – a sentence that I have written far too many times this year. Wycombe Wanderers, who are sat at the foot of the Championship table, embarrassed Alex Neil and his side on Saturday afternoon as they coasted to a 1-0 home win. A win that might add a bit of belief into their survival hopes.
An early header from Ryan Tafazolli was enough to secure the points for Wycombe as North End produced very little throughout the 90 minutes and came away with exactly what they deserved, nothing. This has led to more and more calls for the manager’s departure as we head into a summer that’s looking more and more likely to be a pivotal one for the club.
The first player I’ll pick out as a potential danger in the Middlesbrough side is former Sunderland man, Duncan Watmore. He only signed a short term deal back in November, but his early performances earned him a two-year deal as well as the Player of the Month for December.
Watmore has represented England at under-20 and 21 levels and can play a number of positions across the forward line. He’s featured 21 times for Boro so far this campaign and is the club’s top scorer with 6 goals.
He mainly features as a left-winger and will likely be up against young Sepp van den Berg who is still learning his trade in what is a new position for the Liverpool loanee and Watmore may well cause the Dutchman some problems on Tuesday night.
The second player is a familiar face for North End fans; Darnell Fisher. The right-back was Alex Neil’s first signing as North End manager however, he was sold in quite peculiar circumstances, at least from a fan’s point of view in January.
It was described as a ‘good offer’ for Fisher from the Teesside club but considering we failed to replace our first-choice right-back, was it really that good an offer? Our only options at right-back now are young van den Berg who is a centre back by trade, Alan Browne who is a midfielder by trade and then Joe Rafferty who the manager doesn’t seem to rate.
Fisher, in my opinion, was a massive part of the way Alex Neil wants North End to play which makes the sale even stranger. In fact, Alex was asked during his pre-match interview about Darnell Fisher and, well, you can see George from Lancs Live’s tweet below with his answer.
Neil spoke highly of Darnell again today. Asked if he was as baffled as some of the fans that he was let go.
“I don’t want to get involved in that.”— George Hodgson (@GHodgsonSport) March 15, 2021
Fisher’s Boro debut was by all accounts, very impressive, after marking Norwich City’s star-man Todd Cantwell out of the game and the Boro fans seemed very impressed. Specifically with Fisher’s mastering of the “dark arts” if you will, a trait that North End fans enjoyed over the years.
Since then, Fisher has made 7 appearances for Boro, and I think he will be very eager to face his former side on Tuesday night.
The games are coming thick and fast and for North End now. There seems to be no-confidence within the squad and the fan base is growing increasingly frustrated with a number of different aspects of the club but in particular, the manager.
Middlesbrough will be looking to try and reignite their play-off hopes and a game against an out-of-form PNE is probably just what they’d have wanted. I think a bad performance and a result similar to the weekend could well see the end for Alex Neil. It feels as though his departure from the club is increasingly becoming a case of when and not if, now.
On a personal note, I have a lot of sympathy towards Alex Neil. I believe he is a very promising young coach and will go on to have a great career and, in my opinion, will again be a success at this level.
However, I do believe due to a number of factors, the time has come for a change at North End, and with what can only be described as relegation form heading into the final few games, the last thing we need is to be dragged into a relegation scrap late on.
Realistically, I can’t see that happening, but our recent form is concerning. The game on Teesside is one I think Neil Warnock’s side will be more than up for, and with some of Alex Neil’s comments in the press, I fear we may not have enough to match Boro’s desire.
As for a starting XI, I’m going to go with: Iversen; van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Hughes; Browne, Whiteman; Barkhuizen, Molumby, Gordon; Evans.
That’s 4 changes from the team that started at Adams Park with Lindsay, Gordon, Molumby, and Barkhuizen coming in to replace Paul Huntington, Scott Sinclair, Daniel Johnson, and Sean Maguire.
I have zero confidence in us getting a result at the Riverside Stadium on Tuesday night. I’m going to go with a 2-0 win for Middlesbrough, but should we start the game in a similar manner to the Wycombe game, it could be more. I’d hope to see a change in style to that which we have approached recent games with, but whether a change will be made remains to be seen.
If you’ve not yet listened to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast, it’s available to stream now. The lads were joined by George Hodgson from Lancs Live and Kieran Maguire of the Price of Football podcast to talk all things football, North End and finances.