Middlesbrough will be looking to get back to winning ways when they welcome Nottingham Forest to the Riverside Stadium this afternoon.
Aitor Karanka’s Boro suffered a shock 1-0 defeat last time out to Sky Bet Championship strugglers Bristol City, but victory over a resurgent Forest side today could open a nine point gap to third place Derby County.
After going out of the FA Cup against Burnley, Boro will have a fortnight on the training pitch immediately after Forest’s visit, meaning a win would be the perfect way to round off a busy festive programme.
Dougie Freedman’s Forest come into a game with an impressive record, but will have worries about their lack of goal threat away from home. They have only managed nine goals in their away games this season – the second worst in the division.
Their player absence list grew ever more this week as they will be without David Vaughan, who sits out the second of his three-match ban, following his controversial sending off against Birmingham City.
They will also be without Henri Lansbury, with Gary Gardner expected to step in, looking to keep Grant Leadbitter quiet in the middle of the park.
The Boro midfielder has made himself one of the most respected all round midfielders outside of the Premier League, mixing defensive solidity with real goal threat.
This is a must-win game for Boro who risk putting added pressure on themselves with a defeat today. A loss for Forest could see them drop to 15th.
FootballLeagueWorld writer Ashley Williams identifies three things to look out for in this afternoon’s game…
1) Boro without Gibson again
Boro will again be without defender Ben Gibson as the defender continues to struggle with a hip injury.
The 22-year-old has missed Boro’s last three matches, after picking up the knock during the warm-up before their FA Cup third round defeat to Burnley.
That means Fernando Amorebieta or Tomas Kalas are in line to deputise.
Gibson has been a rock at the back for Middlesbrough this season and their unbreakable defence is starting to crack due to the defender’s absence.
2) Kike Sola debut
Former Spain Under-21 striker Kike Sola, a loan signing from Athletic Bilbao, could make his debut in today’s clash.
He joins Boro for the rest of the season, having scored three goals for the Spanish La Liga side this season.
He will provide added competition for their forwards Cristhian Stuani, David Nugent and Diego Fabbrini in their bid to sustain their Championship title challenge.
Karanka believes that the Spanish forward will bring something different to the squad, and he has all the attributes to be a great signing for the club.
3) Can Forest continue their unbeaten record?
Forest have been on a tremendous run of late – 11 games undefeated.
Freedman has really got his side organised, but face a Boro side today that have one of the best home records in all four divisions.
Yet, they will undoubtedly feel confident that they can take advantage of the Boro’s slip up to Bristol City, and their average showing in their FA Cup defeat with Burnley last weekend.
A win today would put them in the hunt for a late play-off push, if other sides around them slip up.
Boro and Forest fans… Are you going to the game today? Can Forest carry on their run? Will Boro get back to winning ways? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!