Middlesbrough will be hoping to record their fourth consecutive Championship victory tomorrow afternoon, as they welcome Lee Bowyer’s Birmingham City to the Riverside Stadium.
Scoring six and conceding no goals in their last three league matches, Neil Warnock’s men have been in fine form since the international break and with this, have climbed into sixth position all of a sudden.
It wasn’t so long ago that things looked bleak on Teesside, losing 2-0 to strugglers Hull City at the MKM Stadium at the start of last month and falling down to a very underwhelming 15th place, a position that wasn’t acceptable considering the fact Boro had recruited 12 new players during the previous window.
Quiz: Do you know what club these 28 ex-Middlesbrough players are playing at now?
Despite winning just three of their opening 11 games though, the second-tier side’s hierarchy decided to keep faith in 72-year-old Warnock who has multiple promotions on his CV – and this has paid off in recent games with some stellar performances.
Many people will be quick to point out that their three recent victories have come against struggling sides in Peterborough United, Barnsley and Cardiff City, with the latter opting to part company with Mick McCarthy after last Saturday’s lunchtime clash with Boro.
But you can only beat what’s in front of you and their three recent clean sheets will give their backline great confidence going into what could be a tough tie against Birmingham.
What lineup will Warnock go with tomorrow afternoon though? We have had a go at selecting our predicted starting 11 ahead of this Saturday afternoon showdown.
It has to be an unchanged lineup from last week, with Neil Warnock saying all previously injured players are likely to be out injured until after the international break, although Sol Bamba might be touch and go after only being scheduled to return to training today ahead of tomorrow’s tie.
Joe Lumley starts in goal after establishing himself as Boro’s first-choice goalkeeper since his arrival at the Riverside in the summer window, with the central defensive trio of Lee Peltier, Sol Bamba and Paddy McNair in front of him.
This wide central defensive role seems to suit Peltier, a man who isn’t known for going forward often but is as solid as a rock at the back.
Speaking of rocks at the back, Warnock has little choice but to risk Bamba amid their current injury crisis – and as a key figure at the back – him starting could be a game-changer in what looks set to be a close tie.
Keeping the likes of Troy Deeney and Tahith Chong will be key – and the 36-year-old has the ability to do this.
On either wing, the positive Onel Hernandez and the experienced Jonny Howson start once again, with the latter looking good in his new role despite right wing-back not being his natural position.
This leaves Marcus Tavernier in the centre again alongside Matt Crooks who has done well in a deeper role, setting Argentine Martin Payero free in a more advanced position. After enduring a difficult start to life in England, he now seems to have found his feet under Warnock.
The choice between Uche Ikpeazu, Andraz Sporar and Duncan Watmore is probably the most interesting one in this selection dilemma. It was the former two that started against Cardiff last weekend, but Watmore is also in with a shout of starting.
Sporar definitely keeps his place after scoring in the Welsh capital last weekend, but to provide a tall presence up top against a back three, Ikpeazu keeps his place. You can bet on Watmore to come on and make an impact at some point though, making this a good headache for manager Warnock to have.