With the dreaded monotony of the international break finally coming to an end, the Sky Bet Championship returns on Good Friday with a full programme of matches for the Easter weekend.
Arguably the pick of the fixtures is up in the North East, where Middlesbrough host league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Riverside.
Boro will be looking to cause an upset as they try to solidify their position in the top six. On the other hand, the pressure is mounting on Nuno and his Wolves side. Only six weeks ago they had a 12-point lead on then second place Aston Villa. With the gap now cut to 6 and with Cardiff having a game in hand, Wolves will be looking to put in a solid and professional away performance as they look to strengthen their grip on the Championship trophy.
We’ll be providing live twitter updates from this fixture from 16:30 onwards. Below you can find our full match preview on this heavyweight top of the table clash.
Patrick Bamford has been in impressive form for Boro, netting 8 in his last 6 appearances (© newsamus.com)
Both sides have a number of players returning from international duty. Hosts Middlesbrough do not have an extensive list of injury worries going into the fixture. Rudy Gestede remains absent but manager Tony Pulis told the media that “Adama [Traoré], [Mo] Besic and Dael [Fry] are all OK” following international duty and should all be available. Patrick Bamford will be looking to build on his impressive form since his recall to the starting eleven.
Wolverhampton Wanderers had an impressive eight first-team players away during the break. Alfred N’Diaye, Romain Saiss, Benik Afobe, Barry Douglas, Matt Doherty, Ruben Neves, Ruben Vinagre and Morgan Gibbs-White all represented their countries over the two-week period and it remains to be seen which, if any of those players will be available.
On the injury front, Diogo Jota is a doubt with an ankle injury and Bright Enobakhare remains side-lined with a quad problem.
If he is fit, Benik Afobe will be hoping to start in an attempt to build on his impressive brace in his last outing.
Tony Pulis will be hoping to build on Boro’s excellent run of form which has included 4 wins & 2 draws in their last six games (© thewinin.com)
Hosts Middlesbrough go into the game on the back of an excellent run of form. Pulis’ men are unbeaten in their last 6 Championship outings, winning 4 and drawing 2. Furthermore, they have won their last three games at the Riverside, scoring 9 and conceding only 1, suggesting that there is cause for optimism for Boro irrespective of the quality of the opposition.
Wolves certainly aren’t in free fall, but in recent weeks they have not performed to the high standards that they have set themselves this season. Their last 6 outings have culminated in 3 wins, 3 defeats and 1 draw. The most significant of these results was probably their 4-1 defeat away at Aston Villa, which will have sent a message to the rest of the top six that with the right set-up and game plan, Wolves are by no means untouchable.
In terms of the head-to-head statistics, Middlesbrough clearly have the edge. Of the 93 meetings between the two sides since 1893, the North East club have won 45 times. Comparatively, Wolves claimed victory on only 28 occasions, with 20 of the match-ups ending in a draw.
More recent statistics also fall in Middlesbrough’s favour. In the 11 meetings since 2000, Boro have been victorious on 7 occasions compared to Wolves’ 4. Furthermore, Wolves haven’t won away at Middlesbrough in 24 attempts, with their last victory coming in April 1951.
That being said, statistics must always be treated with caution, and with the playing quality at his disposal, Nuno is undoubtedly well placed to give Wolves a fighting chance of ending this run. Equally, when the two sides met at Molineux on the first day of the season, Wolves walked away with the points as Leo Bonatini’s debut goal gave his side a 1-0 victory.
Wolves fell to a surprising 4-1 defeat at Villa Park prior to the International Break (© wolves.co.uk)
This one definitely looks like an interesting match-up as two of the strongest squads go toe-toe in this heavyweight encounter. Middlesbrough were the big-spenders in the summer and whilst they may have somewhat under-achieved this season, they undoubtedly still have the tools to cause Wolves significant problems.
On the other side, Wolverhampton Wanderers aren’t 6 points clear at the top of the table by chance. Over the 39 games they have been the strongest side and the most consistent performers, so regardless of their slight dip in form they will go into this game confident that they can get the job done.
The battle between the Championship’s strongest attacking outfit and the defensive solidity that has long been synonymous with Tony Pulis’ sides will be fascinating. It will most likely be a tight affair, which leads us believe that this one may end in stalemate. We’re going for 1-1.
Stay tuned to our Twitter feed @TGR_SkyBetChamp for kick-by-kick coverage from 16:30 onwards.
By George Roberts