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middlesbrough 1000x500Having recently gone through a run of four successive away games, we’re back on the road for the next two games, firstly at Middlesbrough tomorrow and then at Everton next week.

That run, plus the defeat at Watford and home games against the top two in the league had seen us go on a run of seven games without a win. Although we’ve had longer winless runs in each of our two previous seasons in this league, this has been the longest this season.

It had left some staring to get concerned but the win on Tuesday night has eased some nerves and we now go into the last seven games of the season with a seven point lead over third from bottom Hull while we have a big advantage over the bottom two, tomorrow’s opponents Middlesbrough and bottom of the league Sunderland.

Our last away game was at Sunderland where we earned a point in a 0-0 draw three weeks ago. I know many of us are hoping we are going to break that duck and get our first away win soon but a draw wouldn’t be a bad result to take us one point closer to whatever the total is going to be for safety.

Ahead of Tuesday’s game came news that right-back Matt Lowton had decided to extend his stay at Turf Moor. Initially signed in the summer of 2015 on a three year deal from Aston Villa, he’ll now be with us for a further two years to the end of the 2019/20 season.

Manager Sean Dyche said of him: “He’s got stronger and stronger as the season has gone on. I think he’s grown with the side this season. He’s worked well as a team player, as well as for himself, and that’s an important factor of how the players operate here.”

He’s missed just two league games this season. Jon Flanagan was preferred to him at Stoke back in November and then stood in for the suspended Lowton on Boxing Day when we beat tomorrow’s opponents.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s game, Lowton considered what a win would achieve. “Psychologically it would be massive for us and damning for them for their safety hopes,” he said. It wouldn’t be mathematically done, but it would put a big foot down onto the bottom three if we could get another three points on Saturday.

“They are always tough away games, wherever you go in this league, but we will go there full of confidence and hopefully get three points. They will be fighting for their lives. They need the points but we will be up for it, as always, and hopefully it’s the first away win.”

Steven Defour returned to the starting line up against Stoke, but injury forced him off in the 57th minute and Dyche admitted yesterday that he wasn’t training and would be assessed ahead of the game.

The news coming out of Turf Moor is that the Belgian won’t make it and will be replaced by Robbie Brady who has been used as a substitute only in the last three games, while we can expect another change up front with Ashley Barnes, a substitute on Tuesday, coming back at the expense of Sam Vokes.

The team should be: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Robbie Brady, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs from: Paul Robinson, Nick Pope, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Dan Agyei.

Middlesbrough won automatic promotion alongside us last season, ending the season in second place with four points fewer and getting that second place ahead of Brighton on goal difference.

They made some key signings but it has been a struggle under the management of Aitor Karanka who seemed at times to have lost the plot completely. He nearly cost them last season with his strange behaviour but this time they’ve acted and recently got rid of him, replacing him with Steve Agnew for the remainder of the season.

Their problem has been goalscoring. No side have scored less goals but, on the positive side for them, they do have one of the better records defensively. New man Agnew opted to try and improve their goalscoring output at Hull on Tuesday by playing with a more attacking formation. They scored twice for just the fifth time this season, but their new approach left them more vulnerable defensively with Hull scoring four times.

Agnew said the balance was wrong so it will be interesting to see what sort of formation he goes with tomorrow. Will they attack us or will they adopt the more cautious approach they have become so used to under Karanka?

One thing that we do know is they will be without some of their defenders. Fabio must sit this one out, as he did at Hull, having suffered concussion at Swansea last Saturday and they are also without both George Friend (calf) and Calum Chambers (foot). The positive news for them is a likely return for Gaston Ramirez who missed the Hull game with an ankle injury.

Their leading scorer, with seven of their goals, is Spaniard Alvaro Negredo who is on a season long loan from Valencia. If they do opt for a more attacking style, he’s likely to be partnered by Rudy Gestede, the former Blackburn striker who was signed from Aston Villa in January along with Patrick Bamford to replace the departed David Nugent and Jordan Rhodes.

Middlesbrough’s team on Tuesday at Hull was: Victor Valdes, Antonio Barragan, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson, James Husband, Adama Traore, Adam Clayton, Marten De Roon, Stewart Downing, Rudy Gestede, Alvaro Negredo. Subs: Brad Guzan, Espinosa Bernardo, Grant Leadbitter, Adam Forshaw, Adlene Guedioura, Cristhian Stuani, Patrick Bamford.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

It’s hard to believe now, given what followed, but when we turned up at the Riverside last season on a December Tuesday night we were on a run of five games without a win. We did return a few weeks later in the FA Cup but this one, in the league, was one of our more disappointing performances all season with the 1-0 defeat taking that run to six games.

Dean Marney was back in the starting line up

Dean Marney was back in the starting line up

This evening, Brighton have beaten QPR 2-1 at Loftus Road. On the evening of this game last season they were, like tonight, 2-0 up at QPR but two Charlie Austin  goals gave the home side a point and that result allowed Middlesbrough to go top of the league with Emilio Nsue scoring the only goal nine minutes into the second half.

They were the most sound team defensively in the league. This game gave them their 12th clean sheet of the season and their seventh in eight games with only Hull having scored against them in that period.

They hadn’t conceded a goal at home in three months when Brentford, the only team to score there, got two. Frankly, we never looked as though we might disturb that achievement.

Sean Dyche made a surprise change to the side, bringing in Dean Marney for his first start since suffering his cruciate ligament injury. He replaced Sam Vokes as we went 4-5-1. His last two away starts in the league had come at Newcastle and Sunderland too, making it a North East treble. The only other change saw Conor Mitchell replace the unwell Matt Gilks on the bench.

We made a poor start, albeit with Middlesbrough not really creating much, but as the first half went on we came more and more into the game with both David Jones and George Boyd coming close. It left hope that we would have a better second half all round but that never materialised.

Middlesbrough were the better side after the break and once in front never looked as though they would do anything other than win the game 1-0 which they duly did.

The teams were;

Middlesbrough: Dimi Konstantopoulos, Tomas Kalas, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson, George Friend, Emilio Nsue, Adam Forshaw (Albert Adomah 89), Adam Clayton, Diego Fabbrini (Grant Leadbitter 65), Stewart Downing, Kike (Cristhian Stuani 76). Subs not used: Tomas Mejias, Fernando Amorebieta, Carlos De Pena, Bruno Zuculini.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Tendayi Darikwa (Rouwen Hennings 85), Michael Duff, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, George Boyd (Michael Kightly 77), Dean Marney, Joey Barton, David Jones (Sam Vokes 71), Scott Arfield, Andre Gray. Subs not used: Conor Mitchell, Matt Lowton, Stephen Ward, Matt Taylor.

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