Middlesbrough return to Championship action this weekend against strugglers Peterborough United, desperate to get three points on the board after a disappointing start to the campaign.
After seemingly getting their season back on track with a 2-0 victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s Sheffield United, they suffered a disappointing 2-0 loss to Hull City in their last match before the international break, ending an underwhelming run of games on an even worse note.
A loss at the Riverside Stadium tomorrow afternoon would leave them hovering dangerously above the relegation zone, a totally unexpected predicament to be in for the Teesside outfit, who brought in 12 players during the summer and are currently under the stewardship of a promotion-winning manager in Neil Warnock.
Have Middlesbrough had a higher or lower average attendance compared to these 23 sides this season?
They have a golden chance to win three points this weekend though with opponents Peterborough United losing all five of their away matches in the Championship so far this season, as they struggle to adapt to the demands of the second tier following their promotion from League One.
Boro’s home form may not be the most impressive, but it’s certainly better than Darren Ferguson’s men’s away form and because of this, you have to say Warnock is in danger of losing his job if he fails to take all three points from this one.
With this, his team selection will be crucial and ahead of this tie, we have selected the starting 11 he could potentially field at 3pm tomorrow.
In goal, Joe Lumley has to start again as Neil Warnock’s established starter, and he will be hoping to bounce back from his own goal against Hull City in the last match to ensure Boro keep a clean sheet.
Sol Bamba is another man who keeps his place after putting in some impressive performances, particularly against Sheffield United in their 2-0 win, with Marc Bola and Paddy McNair dropping back into central defence.
The former would probably prefer to stay at left wing-back and the latter would want to remain in central midfield, but injuries to the likes of Dael Fry and Grant Hall have made that impossible. You could almost compare Bola to West Brom’s Conor Townsend, with the Baggies’ man dropping back into the back three in the absence of Matt Clarke and Dara O’Shea.
With Bola switching to centre-back, Isaiah Jones comes in on the left-hand side with Marcus Tavernier operating on the right, providing much of the wide threat Middlesbrough will possess on Saturday. But they will also have to defend, making them the two most important players for Neil Warnock on the pitch.
Another man who drops back slightly is Matt Crooks, who has already become accustomed to playing deeper in the past. He starts alongside captain Jonny Howson.
Now for the exciting part. Some Middlesbrough supporters may want Uche Ikpeazu to start up top at the target man next to Andraz Sporar, but the only way that’s going to be possible is by breaking up the latter’s relationship with Duncan Watmore.
There could potentially be room for all three though if Watmore drops behind the striking duo.
Some would argue this is too attacking, especially with two orthodox wingers as wing-backs, but they should be taking the game to Peterborough United and some compromises need to be made in the midst of an injury crisis.