Middlesbrough will be desperate to build on their unbeaten run as they face Blackpool away from home on Wednesday night – and will go into this match as the clear favourites.
Chris Wilder’s men already look like a side that are adapting well to the 54-year-old’s methods and style of play, a potential indicator of the possible success that could be about to come for the club under the promotion-winning manager after managing to pull off some exceptional results recently.
Not only have they managed to get past a very capable Swansea City side and automatic promotion contenders AFC Bournemouth in recent games, but also Nottingham Forest who had gone unbeaten in all but one of their first 15 matches under Steve Cooper prior to their match at the Riverside last weekend.
Quiz: Can you name which club Middlesbrough sold these 26 players to?
Arguably, this was their most impressive result of the season thus far and because of this, they will be full of confidence coming into this tie against a team that have won just one of their last nine league matches.
Considering they were thriving in the early stages of the season, this run of form will be a real source of concern for the Seasiders and they may not even have a great opportunity to improve their current record as the underdogs in this second-tier clash.
But Boro will need to be fully focused throughout the 90 minutes if they are to come out of this one victorious, something Reading learnt the hard way earlier in the season as a second-half comeback from Neil Critchley’s men consigned the Royals to a defeat at the Select Car Leasing Stadium back in October.
But who will be tasked with taking all three points away from Lancashire? We have predicted the starting lineup Wilder is likely to go with as they make the trip to Bloomfield Road.
After keeping yet another clean sheet last weekend, Joe Lumley had to retain his starting spot ahead of Luke Daniels and in the former’s current form, Wilder’s decision on who to place between the sticks has been made reasonably easy.
In the absence of Marc Bola, Neil Taylor has been doing a great job at left wing-back, looking just as lively going forward now as he did back in Euro 2016 for Wales. It’s time to get a contract extension over the line for him.
Isaiah Jones lines up on the right-hand side – and is continuing to play superbly. The fact he’s giving Boro a real dilemma as to whether to recall the in-form Djed Spence or not just goes to show how well he’s performing, and has become one of the Teesside outfit’s main men all of a sudden. Even under Neil Warnock, he played extremely well.
Anfernee Dijksteel is the man behind him in a more central role, performing admirably against Forest last weekend and looking as though he’s played as a centre-back for years.
Paddy McNair and Dael Fry join him in the middle, with all three playing their part in keeping four consecutive clean sheets. Keeping both will be a real challenge considering the top-tier interest they are likely to generate in January and beyond.
Sitting in a deeper position in midfield is skipper Jonny Howson, who must have played a big part in helping Wilder to implement his system as a real leader on the pitch and in the dressing room. He will play a big part in any promotion part.
So will Matt Crooks and Marcus Tavernier, with the former proving to be an excellent summer signing from ex-boss Warnock in the summer.
With his goal contributions and stature, he could become Boro’s version of Bournemouth’s Philip Billing – and you certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him playing in the top tier in the future – potentially with his current side.
Up top, it was a slight surprise to see Duncan Watmore drop out for Onel Hernandez considering how big a role Watmore plays in his current manager’s system – but he potentially may come back in tomorrow night.
And Andraz Sporar has to keep his place after becoming a goalscoring machine recently, proving to be an excellent signing. The only drawback? The second-tier side have only taken him on a loan deal – and their ability to make that a permanent move will depend on which league they are in next term.