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Burnley have dropped to second place since we last played at home. That’d due to results elsewhere with Middlesbrough winning their game in hand last week against Reading, and it is the new leaders who will be in opposition tonight.

There are only four games to go and only the most optimistic of Hull fans would consider it to be anything other than a three horse race between Middlesbrough, us and Brighton for those two automatic promotion places.

With all three of us winning out weekend games it is as it was on Friday morning with Boro two points above us and us two points ahead of Brighton who face QPR tonight.

Our record is incredibly almost identical to two years ago after 42 games. We’d won, drawn and lost the same number of games and even scored the same number of goals. This year, however, we’ve conceded one less.

The fans were unbelievable on Saturday

The fans were unbelievable on Saturday

That counts for little. The only thing that does count is that two point gap either side of us. Two years ago we were also second but were seven points behind leaders Leicester while holding an eight point lead over Derby. It was all over then, bar the shouting. We weren’t going to catch Leicester and we weren’t going to be caught by anyone else.

Lloyd Dyer made his debut for the Clarets at Birmingham on Saturday and certainly made an impact during his half an hour plus stoppage time on the pitch. “How did he play?” I was asked. I mentioned his excellent attacking work down the left, the quality of his balls into the box but also of his willingness to get back and do a shift defensively when required.  It was his first competitive first team action since last May when he was in the Birmingham side that won 1-0 at Bolton.

Yesterday, ahead of tonight’s game, which could bring him a home debut, he said: “It’s a big game and I’ve played against Middlesbrough a few times. They’re a side with great quality throughout so it will be a test. But we know what we’ve got in our dressing room so hopefully we can come through.

“I see it as another game. There is no extra pressure on us and we’re all just looking for another three points because it won’t be won or lost tomorrow.”

He added: “Since I’ve been here the atmosphere has been electric, especially away from home. The fans were unbelievable on Saturday and if they can transfer that at home and get behind us it could be the difference.”

Dyer, I suspect, will be on the bench again tonight when, once more, we could be without Sam Vokes. Joey Barton is also rated as touch and go. Vokes came off in the win against Leeds with a groin problem and Barton was withdrawn at half time at Birmingham with a tight calf.

If Barton misses out it will be the first time since he got into the side at Rotherham at the beginning of October but there is no doubt that neither he nor Vokes will be risked if they are not fully fit. Ashley Barnes will stand in should Vokes not make it with fit again David Jones coming in for Barton.

Hopefully they won’t miss the game and if both are fit I expect us to line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Andre Gray. Subs from: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Fredrik Ulvestad, David Jones, Matt Taylor, Michael Kightly, Lloyd Dyer, Ashley Barnes, Rouwen Hennings.

Middlesbrough were always one of the favourites for promotion and have never been outside of the top six all season. But then came the hiccup with successive away defeats at Blackburn, Rotherham and Charlton during which time manager (or head coach) Aitor Karanka cleared off. Clearly popular with the fans, he did return and since they have won six consecutive games, three of them courtesy of stoppage time goals.

That’s taken them to 85 points, the same total with which they ended last season before losing to Norwich in the play-off final having beaten Brentford in the semi-finals, ties that saw goals from both Jelle Vossen and Andre Gray.

There is no doubt that they will provide really tough opposition tonight. They beat us 1-0 in the reverse fixture at the Riverside in December but we went back up there in January and knocked them out of the FA Cup.

Karanka does like to shuffle his squad so we can expect them to have some changes from the side that came from behind to win 2-1 at Bolton on Saturday with two Jordan Rhodes goals. Their team then was: Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, Ritchie De Laet, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson, George Friend, Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw, Emilio Nsue, Stewart Downing, Albert Adomah, Jordan Rhodes. Subs: Tomas Kalas, Grant Leadbitter, Carlos De Pena, Tomas Mejias, Julien De Sart, Gaston Ramirez, David Nugent.

 

LAST TIME THEY WERE HERE

 

We were almost there when Middlesbrough last played at Turf Moor and, had results gone our way, could have won promotion with a win. But it was one of those days for us and we were left with a 1-0 defeat courtesy of a Jacob Butterfield goal early in the second half with Derby also not following the script and beating Huddersfield.

It really was one of those days. We dominated the game almost from start to finish. We created enough chances to have won the league let alone the game but came up against an inspired goalkeeper as well as our one big mistake costing us.

Sean Dyche made one change to the side that had won at Barnsley. Dyche changing a winning side I hear you ask. Well, it was a return for fit against Kieran Trippier for Chris Baird and for Danny Ings it was a second game back following his injury.

The Clarets appeal but it's no penalty

The Clarets appeal but it’s no penalty

Ings worked his socks off throughout the game but I can recall a message board post after the game on the player ratings. It read: “Ings has come back with a really cocky attitude. He gets involved in anything and everything. The last two games has seen a major change in attitude. He’s very cocky with nothing to back it up.”

I suppose you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Michael Kightly hit the bar and Nathaniel Chalobah blocked an Ings shot but it was still 0-0 at half time with no real concerns.

Early in the second half, as news came in that Derby, who had gone one behind, were now 3-1 up and playing against nine men, we also fell behind. It came from a corner, a Burnley corner. Kightly’s corner was hacked away by a defender but only as far as Scott Arfield. Unfortunately he mis-kicked and that allowed Lee Tomlin to break through. Even then the ball ran loose but Butterfield, who had made a run from his own box, scored from the edge of our box.

Having nearly conceded a second, we then laid siege on the Middlesbrough goal. They pushed, shoved and grabbed shirts. They were told about it time and time again by referee Dean Whitestone who did nothing about it.

But the real hero for Middlesbrough was goalkeeper Konstantopoulos who stopped everything we could throw at him. By the time the final whistle blew we’d had 27 shots at goal and still hadn’t beaten him.

Daniel Ayala was sent off at the end after receiving two yellow cards but it ended 1-0 and we still needed more points.

Some of the comments after the game were incredible. One fan, who I know well, said: “We’ve blown it. I said we weren’t good enough and we’ve blown it.” We were eight points clear of third with four games to go.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, Michael Kightly (Ross Wallace 80), Dean Marney, David Jones, Scott Arfield (Junior Stanislas 80), Danny Ings, Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Alex Cisak, Chris Baird, Kevin Long, David Edgar, Keith Treacy.

Middlesbrough: Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, Jonathan Woodgate, Nathaniel Chalobah, Daniel Ayala, Grant Leadbitter, Dean Whitehead, Albert Adomah, Jacob Butterfield (Jozsef Varga 72), Lee Tomlin (Luke Williams 82), Emmanuel Ledesma, Danny Graham (Curtis Main 90), Subs not used: Jason Steele, Bryn Morris, David Atkinson, Adam Jackson.

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