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Boro v Cardiff

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Andy R
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After failing to slay a Welsh dragon on St George’s Day at the Liberty Stadium (sorry, the Swansea.com Stadium as it is now), Boro now have a second opportunity in quick succession at home to Cardiff City on Wednesday, kick-off 7.45pm.

A ponderous first half was followed by a breathless, barnstorming, end-to-end second from both sides as the chances mounted with neither able to take full advantage. Bola hit the bar, Connolly hit the post, Tavernier hit the keeper and Watmore hit row Z whilst the Championship’s stout songstress cleared her throat with greater gusto at each glorious opportunity spurned.

There’s no margin for error right now. Boro have to win on Wednesday night to keep our fading play-off hopes alive. And on Saturday. And probably the following Saturday too.

2pts from the last 15 doesn’t scream “momentum” but this is the Championship. Anything is possible and whilst recent results have been well below par, you could argue that performances haven’t been quite so poor. Boro are only a moment or two of composure away. Should we get the required points, then we would have momentum – glass half full? Glass overflowing??

First, Cardiff City. The visitors find themselves in 19th-placed no-mans land as the seasons nears its conclusion. Just two wins in their last six is more or less Boro territory in terms of current form, except that Cardiff haven’t played the division’s top three in recent weeks. Away from home, it’s also two wins in their last six, coming at Reading on 9th April and QPR on 5th March – not exactly recent returns.

Their 65 goals conceded overall is worse than bottom club Barnsley and they also haven’t scored in three of last five games.

Three Boro old boys feature for The Bluebirds, though only Jordan Hugill – who does like a goal against Boro – and joint-top scorer Aden Flint can play in this game as big Uche Ikpeazu is ineligible. Thank goodness for that!

The last encounter between the sides was the Martin Payero game where the young Argentine made his first - and possibly only - real impression since signing in the summer. The comfortable 2-0 Boro win saw Cardiff part ways with manager Mick McCarthy, with Steve Morison taking charge initially on a caretaker basis.

Morison has since managed 11 wins and 5 draws from his 29 Championship matches – a decent upturn of around 0.4pts/game on the 3 wins and 2 draws they had accrued from 14 games under McCarthy – but this has still been a season to forget for the South Wales outfit.

With no danger of relegation and no hope of the play-offs, Cardiff’s campaign is effectively over. Same as Hull a couple of weeks ago then – gulp!

Boro, on the other hand, should be fully focused, especially now that Chris Wilder has finally put an end to speculation that he might jump ship. This being our game in hand, a win would put us two points behind sixth-placed Sheffield United with two more favourable fixtures to come. Game on.

To do so, however, we’ve got to have full concentration at the back and, most importantly, find that elusive killer instinct up front. It’s an ingredient we’ve been missing not just this season but for years, frankly, but at least now we do create some chances. Unfortunately, it’s often led to us missing multiple chances a game instead of just the one but it’s a progress of sorts!

Dael Fry may be in contention to return to the heart of defence but it’s at the other end where the real conundrum lies. Josh Coburn got a rare start at the weekend but his teammates weren’t able to fashion a shooting opportunity for him and the game somewhat passed him by. Watmore ran as hard as ever but composure is not anywhere near his main asset. Sporar continues to perplex and Connolly continues to look out of touch with his surroundings. Balogun has gone missing, reasons unknown.

There’s seemingly no obvious choice for Chris Wilder but he could do worse than simply going same again. At least Watmore and Coburn will definitely be here next season and there’s no harm in seeing if there’s a partnership to be had there, even if both have looked best from the bench for the most part. There is no standout choice.

We seem to be saying this before every fixture at the moment but this is a HUGE game for Boro. The difference this time is that if we lose, it will be the last time we can say it this season.


exmil
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This may be a bit controversial but I would start Balogun and Connolly, then bring on Watmore and Sporar/Coburn around 60/70 minutes and Sporar/Coburn at 80 if we are not winning. Depending on the injury to Tavernier then I would start McGree and Payero with Howson midfield, I pick Balogun because McGree has shown he can pick a pass and I think Balogun could be the one to put them away. Defence wise it’s the same again unless Fry is fit to replace Bamba.

A question for everyone, if Payero and McGree play well together and we win would you drop either to fit Crooks in 🤔.

Come on BORO.

Come on BORO.


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exmil
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Andy apologies, I meant to thank you for another great opener 👍.

Come on BORO.


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Original Fat Bob
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Thanks Andy for another great opener doesn’t look like we have many left to do unfortunately. I was looking forward to writing a preview about the playoffs!

Oh well there’s always next season.

Exmil

Regarding Crooks I would drop Payero. To add Crooks back into the team 

 

OFB


Liked by 4 people: Andy R, Powmill-Naemore, Malcolm and David in Cumbria
 
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Andy R
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Exmil,

I agree re the striker I think but it would be a surprise if CW does.

I’ll go out on a limb and declare that I fancy Payero to have a big season for us next year. I think the talent is there he just needed the adjustment period and unfortunately has had several disruptive injuries.

If he looks the part in whatever is left of this season, all the better.


Pedro de Espana
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Thanks for the Headliner Andy and soon a well earned rest. 

It’s like throwing the dice with the forwards choice and CW has never thrown two sixes yet. I think he will go with Connolly, he seems to like him for some unknown reason and he did hit the post. Saying that it was easier to score as the goal is bigger than the post. Alongside him, I will go for Sporar. I do not know why, but then probably CW does not know either.  🤣🤣

The rest pick themselves and that is a problem we will have to solve in the summer. 


deleriad
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Thanks for another solid opener. The match really is win or go home. I don't know how crocked Tav is but it will be asking a lot of Payero to make a full 90 as he hasn't played a full match in over 5 months. Hopefully Fry will be back because Bamba has shown that he can't last 2 full games a week. 

As ever, the usual conundrum is which of our strikers won't score from the start and which will come off the bench not to score. Cardiff seem to usually play 3 at the back and 2 or 3 up front. They're in pretty indifferent form so it seems likely they'll set up very defensively and hope to pinch a goal from a set piece. I would probably keep with Watmore and Coburn; they're the only ones likely to be here next year and have occasionally shown signs of developing an understanding with each other.

At this point, it's hard to see past a tedious 0-0 draw or Cardiff pinching a goal but football can change on a moment. It wasn't long ago that it felt like we would never lose again. If the team can rediscover that feeling and play with pace and confidence, we ought to be able to swarm Cardiff. Then, suddenly, we're looking up again.

 


K P in Spain
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Thanks Andy, nearly at seasons end!

I expect Cardiff will play very similar to Hull/Huddersfield, being well organised defensively and trying to hit us on the break. It will then be a case of can we break them down and can we put the ball in the net more than them!

It has the feel of a 0-0 but you never know if we can win then the pressure is back on Sheffield on Friday night.

Looking to next season, how about Tav at left wing back, Crooks in the holding (Howson) role with McGree and Payero in midfield.  Offer Howson another one year contract to act as a back up/sub role.

Will need to move Uche and Chuba Akpom on and look for two strikers.

BG on the bench on Saturday following a few iffy displays so we might be able to pick him up for £2/£3M out of the £20M we get for JS. 😉😎

This post was modified 4 weeks ago by K P in Spain

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Ken Smith
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It really doesn’t matter anymore now, as in my opinion we won’t overtake the Blades even if we win the last 3 matches, which I very much doubt we will as Stoke City’s away record is the 8th best in the Championship, whilst Preston have only lost 3 home games all season to Cardiff, Hull and Reading. I appreciate that on any given day any team can beat any other, but Boro’s remaining fixtures are very difficult especially on recent form.  

I’m also expecting a draw against Cardiff as these sort of winless runs are difficult to recover from especially with only 3 matches remaining.

 


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Andy R
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Posted by: @ken

It really doesn’t matter anymore now, as in my opinion we won’t overtake the Blades even if we win the last 3 matches, which I very much doubt we will as Stoke City’s away record is the 8th best in the Championship, whilst Preston have only lost 3 home games all season to Cardiff, Hull and Reading. I appreciate that on any given day any team can beat any other, but Boro’s remaining fixtures are very difficult especially on recent form.  

I’m also expecting a draw against Cardiff as these sort of winless runs are difficult to recover from especially with only 3 matches remaining.

 

Come on Ken. Surely Boro will raise our hopes one last time just so they can be more brutally destroyed down the line?


jarkko
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Posted by: @exmil

This may be a bit controversial but I would start Balogun and Connolly, then bring on Watmore and Sporar/Coburn around 60/70 minutes and Sporar/Coburn at 80 if we are not winning. Depending on the injury to Tavernier then I would start McGree and Payero with Howson midfield, I pick Balogun because McGree has shown he can pick a pass and I think Balogun could be the one to put them away. Defence wise it’s the same again unless Fry is fit to replace Bamba.

A question for everyone, if Payero and McGree play well together and we win would you drop either to fit Crooks in 🤔.

Come on BORO.

Come on BORO.

Or drop Tavanier?

Having said that, I would like to say we need Tav's energy. He is running all day and both ways - supporting the attacks and helping out defending. He had two very good opportunities at Swansea - maybe missing them both shows his broblem.

I would like to see McGree on left and Payero on the right at least once. Or it could also be Tav on the left, Payero right and McGree in place of Howson long term.

Up the Boro! 


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werdermouth
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As Boro get ready to stage a late bid for the top six, many thanks to Andy for setting the scene on Wednesday's crucial game with another well-written article. It really is now or never if Chris Wilder's team are going to revive hopes of gate-crashing the play-off party!

There's nothing Boro can do now but win their home games and see where that takes them - though winning is going to require someone in a red shirt finding the back of the net. Scoring goals, it seems, has been a problem for Boro for a very long time and even throwing money at proven goal scorers has never solved the problem.

However, the task is made even harder by having little in the way of proven strikers to call on with 22-year old Connolly only having scored 10 league goals in his four-season career, 20-year old Folarin Balogun has no league track record of scoring before arriving on Teesside after just 2 appearances for Arsenal and has netted three times for Boro. Then there's 19-year old academy graduate Josh Coburn, who has now has four career league goals for Boro after 13 appearances. It's a very inexperienced trio still learning their trade who have yet to show any consistency or form that indicates whether they have what it takes.

That leaves 28-year old Andraz Sporar, who in reality should be the go-to striker for Boro but he hasn't really built on his early promise. A striker who had a 1-in-4 record at Sporting Lisbon has just about equaled that record in the Championship with Boro with 8 goals in 32 games - three of which were penalties and just two goals in 2022. It doesn't appear on that record he's the man who will be firing Boro to promotion.

Finally, 28-year old Duncan Watmore, who has managed 7 league goals this season in his 38 appearances this season - with 19 starts and 19 off the bench. He's an energetic presence but is unlikely to last 90 minutes, having only managed over 45 minutes six times in his last 20 appearances. Indeed, he's only played 45% of the total minutes available this season.

So it's not hard to see why Boro are not scoring many with three inexperienced strikers, one seemingly out-of-form loanee running down his time on Teesside and another 1-in-5 striker that can't last much more than 45 minutes. On top of that we really haven't seen any partnership form between any of those five strikers.

Nevertheless, Boro need to score at least three goals to win the last three - my view would be to start with Watmore and Sporar, then look to freshen things up with Coburn and Balogun, who both have a bit of swagger and happy enthusiasm that makes up for their inexperience. Sadly Connolly looks like a player bereft of confidence in front of goal and appears to be battling demons as he always looks like he's not enjoying his game. I'm tempted to say he could well be easily wearing his namesake Billy's banana boots the number of times he slips over.

Though to quote a line from the aforementioned Billy Connolly, watching Boro's strikers in recent times has made a happy man very old! Anyway, hopefully the goals will come on Wednesday evening and preferably early - otherwise it could be a long and ageing frustrating night against a team probably looking to defend in numbers.

This post was modified 3 weeks ago by werdermouth

Andy R
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Posted by: @jarkko
Posted by: @exmil

This may be a bit controversial but I would start Balogun and Connolly, then bring on Watmore and Sporar/Coburn around 60/70 minutes and Sporar/Coburn at 80 if we are not winning. Depending on the injury to Tavernier then I would start McGree and Payero with Howson midfield, I pick Balogun because McGree has shown he can pick a pass and I think Balogun could be the one to put them away. Defence wise it’s the same again unless Fry is fit to replace Bamba.

A question for everyone, if Payero and McGree play well together and we win would you drop either to fit Crooks in 🤔.

Come on BORO.

Come on BORO.

Or drop Tavanier?

Having said that, I would like to say we need Tav's energy. He is running all day and both ways - supporting the attacks and helping out defending. He had two very good opportunities at Swansea - maybe missing them both shows his broblem.

I would like to see McGree on left and Payero on the right at least once. Or it could also be Tav on the left, Payero right and McGree in place of Howson long term.

Up the Boro! 

Or Tav at left wingback, McGree and Payero in the middle? One for next season maybe.


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Andy R
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Does anyone think Crooks could be tried up front? Maybe if he had a strike partner with real pace alongside him?

He’s a presence, got decent feet, a knack for finding goalscoring positions and can score goals. It might also stop him picking up a yellow card every other game or so.

Would it be worse than what we’ve had for much of the season?


John Richardson
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Andy R,

Crooks a new version John Hickton? We can but dream and it would really be a bonus.

UTB,

John


deleriad
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Posted by: @andy-r

Does anyone think Crooks could be tried up front? Maybe if he had a strike partner with real pace alongside him?

Warnock tried it with indifferent results. Crooks doesn't really show the instincts to play as a striker; like a very tall Connolly with better hair. He has an excellent eye for arriving in the box behind a striker.

I'm in the camp that thinks Tav's best position is probably left wing-back and McGree looks like he is a better left attacking midfielder than Tav. I reckon Crooks' best position is centre midfield playing Howson's role. I think a lot of Crooks' bookings have come through tiredness as he is trying to cover too much ground too quickly. He has a real eye for a pass and how to switch play. If Payero does come good then he's ideal for the right attacking midfielder in Wilderball.

Potentially my ideal midfield is already in place

RWB: Jones, McNair, Gibson

RM: Payero, McNair, Gibson

CM: Crooks, Howson, McNair

LM: McGree, Tav, Boyd-Munce

LWB: Tav, Bola, Bilongo

This does depend on Payero making the grade, which is something still to be determined. If I were the manager and my job depended on Payero coming good then maybe I would look to buy someone such as a right-footed McGree.

I also feel that although McNair has done well at LCB, the fact that he always has to cut-in onto his right-foot has made us really imbalanced as a team. I think if we can get a 1st choice LCB that McNair may also be a really good option for Howson's role.


lenmasterman
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Agree with that Andy.

Crooks was pushed up front in the second half at Reading.  He had run himself into the ground doing his defensive covering duties in the first half, but still caused problems for Reading as an emergency striker.

As you say, he was a definite presence, strong both in the air and in holding the ball up, and our biggest goal threat. Unfortunately he was sent off (later rescinded) after a poor decision by the assistant referee.

This was a game in which Reading fielded emergency centre-backs and which cried out for the selection of Uche to ruffle a few feathers, but unfortunately that didn't happen and our strikers were completely ineffective, hence Crooks' switch later in the game.

For my money he would be our best bet alongside Watmore for our final push.


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werdermouth
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I suppose playing big Crooks up front instead of one of our other four strikers probabaly wouldn't be any less effective but that may sound like it was an admission that maybe Wilder should have kept Ikpeazu. Though, I'm sure Crooks would find new ways of getting a yellow card on that front!


K P in Spain
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I think Tav at wingback has to be a consideration as whilst we berate the strikers for not scoring our midfielders contribution have been paltry to say the least (Crooks) apart.

Tav’s energy and enthusiasm are not in doubt but his contribution as a midfield provider/scorer have not improved year on year, with on average 3 goals and 5 assists.

He is 23 years old the same as McGree and on my brief observations of McGree I would say he is the better of the two.  

When in midfield and particularly in front of goal Tav, at times, lacks composure and that does not seem to have improved since his introduction into the team.  

His energy in getting up and down the pitch, ability to cross a ball coupled with his ability to defend would to my mind be better employed at left wingback.  

Bola has struggled since his return from injury, particularly against the top sides and I wonder if Tav’s overall abilities would be better suited to that position and that he would be a more capable option than Bola. 😎

 

 

 

 


werdermouth
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I originally thought it looked like Tav had done his hamstring against Swansea but Chris Wilder has since said that he only rolled his ankle and will be good to go on Wednesday. I think that means it will be the same midfield as Swansea with Payero on the bench as he's going to struggle to be match fit after his long absence.

I think Tav is not alone in lacking composure when getting sight of goal - you could add almost anyone to that list - though I've still got hopes for McGree before he settles down and begins his career as a non-scoring midfielder at Boro.


Original Fat Bob
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Up next Cardiff for a “season defining game” in the words of Chris Wilder.

I agree with Werder that the midfield will probably remain the same as Saturdays team.

Hopefully Fry will return but if not Boro may revert to three at the back with Bola, Paddy and Dijksteel which matches up the Cardiff team format.

The big question is which two strikers will start the game? Coburn didn’t get any service on Saturday against Swansea but I think that he’s work persevering with him and Watmore as they did press high in the first half.

Although Crooks wasn’t at his best thanks few games, his suspension has cost the team points as Jones doesn’t seem to be getting forward and into the game without the “big fella” in the middle.

One thing I know is I won’t win the Exmil challenge. My heart ruled my head and I wanted the Boro to win every game! Hopefully they will win the next three?

I’m going for a 2 0 win…..

 

OFB


Pedro de Espana
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Whilst I can agree with most of the postings above the one where I have a different view is the centre defensive midfield slot. Personally I don’t think any of our current players have total attributes to be a “Leadbitter.

None tackle as good or quite as quick as Grant in his prime. A big ask, but that is the player we need. 


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Andy R
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Some excellent posts above as ever.

On McNair, I agree that he’s done well at left centre-back but at the same time I think he’s fairly obviously our weakest link in that back three. That perhaps goes to show how good the other two are and I don’t think upgrading McNair is a priority given the forwards and keeper but still it’s a position that can definitely be improved.

Unfortunately, I’ve very rarely been convinced by Paddy in midfield but that was before Wilder and we play a different game now

On Tav, I’ve become a bit of a cheerleader  for him on here but the truth is that’s only because I thought he received too much criticism earlier in the season and a counter argument was needed. I think that’s because all the things that he’s best at too easily go unnoticed or are taken for granted, whilst the things he’s worst at - especially finishing - are the memorable moments.

On the very small sample we’ve seen so far, I’d agree with KP and others that McGree looks the better player for that left-central midfield role. He looks a quality passer with more consistent execution and we don’t lose much in terms of energy. An excellent purchase so far.

Now I’m going to shock you…. If Boro had to sell a regular first team player this summer to raise funds, I think it ought to be Tav.

Why? Because I fancy he’s one of three (Fry, Jones) who would get the highest fee and because we already have McGree, with Boyd-Munce as the next cab off the rank. We’d more easily replace him with what we already have and get a decent fee.

I wouldn’t  want to lose him at all and don’t believe we will, but if someone had to go and we needed the millions….

I think he can be a revelation at left wingback though.

This post was modified 3 weeks ago by Andy R

Pedro de Espana
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A good post and agree with it in general.

I did not want to pick up on McNair as he has been fairly consistent in his performances and seems to give his all and his games played is good based on injuries and cards. 

Tav is the conundrum. Full of promise two seasons ago along with Wing. The latter did not acheive what we thought he would and Tav pushed on.

Then Tav has hit a brick wall in terms of jumping to the next level of Premiership interest. He has energy, commitment and then let’s himself down with lack of composure (as you said Andy) and generally poor passing and finishing.

How much interest will there be in him and at what price. The same goes for Fry. I will be surprised if we get much real interest in both and not at the fees talked about on here by some. As I said previously a left side CB would be a good addition in the summer.


deleriad
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Posted by: @pedro

A good post and agree with it in general.

I did not want to pick up on McNair as he has been fairly consistent in his performances and seems to give his all and his games played is good based on injuries and cards. 

I think McNair is our best left-sided centre back but he is hampered by playing on his wrong foot. He *may* be a better right-sided centre-back than Dijksteel. He is a perfectly good right wing-back (plays there often for NI) and may be a better right-sided midfielder than Crooks or Payero. He may also be a good option to play in Howson's role because he does have a decent range of passing and good defensive awareness. This is why I think we could get a new first choice LCB or a first choice centre midfielder but I don't think we need both; I think McNair either stays at LCB or moves into midfield and covers LCB.

Thing about the centre midfield role is that you need a Leadbitter style midfield general there rather than a Clayton style defensive midfielder. The player needs to be defensively sound but more importantly they need to run the game and drive the team forwards. Not sure McNair has the right mentality for that; I think Crooks might do. 


David in Cumbria
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Thanks Andy for your starter which did again raise my hopes but I think it is safer to be my usual pessimistic self. Cardiff's 2 wins in the last 6 away games suggests to me that they have a good chance of getting a third away win against typical Boro. It's the little bit of hope that tortures me. 

Unless there has been a falling out with Balogun I will be surprised if he does not start against Cardiff as it seems unlikely that Wilder will change his usual practice and play Watmore and Coburn in consecutive games and surely Connolly and Sporar haven't shown any signs that they should have priority. Other than that I expect no changes unless due to injuries. 

I have been disappointed that Tav hasn't made the progress I was looking for but perhaps with McGree and Jones (if back on form) also helping to create chances for themselves and the chosen strikers more goals will come. It will be good if we are still in the mix on Saturday night.  


werdermouth
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While it may not seem like good news that Blackburn won 4-1 last night to move above Boro and go into seventh place - the fact that it was at Deepdale where Boro play their final game against Preston does offer hope that Chris Wilder's team could win their last three matches.


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Powmill-Naemore
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Posted by: @werdermouth

While it may not seem like good news that Blackburn won 4-1 last night to move above Boro and go into seventh place - the fact that it was at Deepdale where Boro play their final game against Preston does offer hope that Chris Wilder's team could win their last three matches.

I saw the result last night and have been trying very hard not to allow myself to think the same thing...


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jarkko
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Thank you, Andy for your starter. Brilliant as ever, me thinks.

I saw the Cardiff match wil be live on Sky and ViaPlay, for example. 

As we must win this match now, I hope it won't be a big dissappointment like some time ago in the FA Cup. We were in the PL and they were in the Championship.  A home banker but you all know what happened. Typical ...

I will be watching the match on TV. I am hoping for a win - any win will do - but it won't be easy. We have now lost three matches at home. That is as bad as FC Barcelona has done in their last three home matches!

We are no Barca and before we won eight or nine matches at the Riverside in a row. So a win is possible. So I will predict a narrow 1-0 win for the Mighty Reds.

Слава Україні! Slava Ukraini and up the Boro! 

 

 

 

This post was modified 3 weeks ago by jarkko

Martin Bellamy
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We’re up in the Highlands and have foolishly booked a meal at a restaurant tomorrow night for 6.30pm. Do I slurp the Cullen Skink, wolf down the Venison steak and stuff myself with Cranachan, in the hope of maybe getting to see the game, or relax and catch up on the result later? 

It’s a tough decision and, frankly, one that is liable to be made for me 😉


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