Middlesbrough wins: 29 / Draws: 11 / Fulham wins: 24
Boro come into the game on the back of back to back wins against Preston North End and Sunderland. Fulham, on the other side, continued their good scoring form by netting four goals past Ipswich Town in a 4-1 triumph last week. The West London side, however, bowed out of the FA Cup after a 1-0 loss to Southampton.
The two sides faced off earlier in the season at Craven Cottage where they played out a 1-1 draw. The last meeting at the Riverside Stadium also finished in a 0-0 stalemate.
- Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their last 13 home league meetings with Fulham (W9 D4), since a 2-0 defeat in March 1984.
- Fulham have failed to score in each of their last four away league visits to the Riverside Stadium, since a Simon Davies goal in a 3-1 defeat in May 2007.
- This will be Tony Pulis’ first league meeting against Fulham outside of the top-flight since February 2000 when he was Portsmouth manager – they lost 1-0 to a goal from Bjarne Goldbaek.
- Fulham have kept just two clean sheets in their last 21 league matches.
- Pulis is currently winless in six home league matches as a manager (D3 L3), his worst run since August 2016 with West Brom.
- No Championship side have scored more away goals than Fulham this season (22, level with Wolves).
Tony Pulis is set to make one/two changes to the Boro team following the victory against Sunderland with Britt Assombalonga replacing Rudy Gestede in attack. Boro were excellent in the first half against Sunderland. Boro played with tempo, kept composed on the ball and scored an excellent first goal with Gestede getting his first goal since August.
Pulis explained he may be enforced into a further change George Friend does not recover from his injury he sustained last weekend in the Tees-Wear Derby.
Other than that, Boro have a clean bill of health and Pulis will be looking at his players to see if they fit his mould. Pulis has been critical of the size of the squad and It’s no surprise that Daniel Ayala, Adam Clayton and Adam Forshaw have been linked with new Nottingham Forrest Boss Aitor Karanka.
Slaviša Jokanović is hoping to have captain Tom Cairney available for his side’s trip to the Riverside on Saturday. Cairney missed last weekends defeat against Southampton and is ‘touch and go’ to make the trip.
However, Winger Floyd Ayite is out of the fixture with a hamstring problem and Aboubakar Kamara is set to replace him up front.
The 22-year-old Frenchman impressed last week in the cup and will be looking to catch up with Ryan Sessegnon for the leading goal scorer crown.
Marcus Bettinelli should return in goal after David Button got a run-out against Saints.
Furthermore, Boro will be facing two former players tomorrow, Ryan Fredericks and Tomas Kalas. The defensive duo have been the heart of Fulham’s defence and they will look to prove a point to the Boro faithful on Saturday.
Players to Watch: Ryan Sessegnon, Aboubakar Kamara, Shey Ojo
Slaviša Jokanović likes to set up his Fulham side in a 4-3-3 and attack using the wings. Fulham’s full-backs Ryan Sessegnon and former Boro boy Ryan Fredericks will push forward and overlap the centre midfielders regularly trying to create a 2v1 against a team’s fullback.
To create space, expect Fulham to play short passes, the 1-2 will be used all afternoon to get around the Boro defence, as they look to stretch the Boro backline. If stretched, Fulham will look to bring the ball back towards the centre of the goal.
Fulham have pace all over the pitch and it was made them successful last season, however, this season they have been quite inconsistent this especially away from home as teams allow Fulham to have the ball, soak up the pressure and counter with pace.
As for Boro, I expect Tony Pulis to set Boro up in the 4-2-3-1 formation with Britt spearheading the attack. I expect Pulis to try and stop Fulham playing by cutting out the wing backs. Adama Traore is expected to have a big part to play on Saturday, he will be told to stay up the pitch and try to keep Fulham’s top goal scorer Ryan Sessegnon back in his position.
Furthermore, he will be asked to run with ball quite a lot on Saturday to try and win a set piece for Boro in a dangerous area. Fulham’s big weakness this season is set pieces and with Pulis now in charge, I expect Boro to have a few tricks up their sleeves for Saturday’s game.
Randolph, Christie, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter, Howson, Downing, Braithwaite, Adama, Assombalonga. (4-3-3)
If I was the manager on Saturday, I would like Boro to match Fulham in the 4-3-3 formation with Downing dropping deeper into the CM role. I think Downing is in the stage of his career where he needs to be more central. He has the ability to cut open a defence with his exquisite passing and I think he would be more beneficial to the team if he was behind the striker or in the centre midfield role.
With Downing dropping deeper it would allow Braithwaite and Adama to push up onto the wing-backs, try to force them back and give the Boro midfield more time on the ball.
Furthermore, I would re-introduce Christie to the fold. Cyrus is my kind of wing back. When coaching, I like my full backs to push forward and link up with the wingers and cause a 2v1 and I believe Cyrus can do that. However, it must be said Shotton has been excellent so far since Pulis has come to the club and it would be quite harsh if he was replaced by Christie.
Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend. Leadbitter, Howson, Braithwaite, Downing, Adama Traore, Assombalonga. (4-2-3-1)
Tony Pulis may be tempted to keep 10 players who started against Sunderland in the squad to face Fulham. Pulis praised the first half display against Sunderland and will be asking his players for more of the same.
The Boro manager was hoping to have a look at first-team players in an U23 fixture against Sunderland but due to the postponement, he organised a game behind closed doors to see more of his squad.
Pulis will make changes as he tries to find his best eleven and he may be tempted to start with Clayton, Forshaw, Guedioura or even Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker in midfield.
Boro have options and Pulis is aware of it. It’s going to be a long process but Pulis will get it right.
It’s going to be an entertaining game for the neutral with both sides desperate to pick up points and move closer to the playoff places. Fulhams expansive style of play will naturally make the game entertaining and it will be interesting to see how Boro cope with the pressure. However, do Fulham’s inconsistent away form, I can see Boro picking up the 3 points.
Middlesbrough 2-0 Fulham