Match Preview: Cardiff City vs Middlesbrough

This will be the 63rd competitive fixture between Middlesbrough and Cardiff City. 

Middlesbrough lay 9th in the Championship following the win against last season’s playoff finalists Reading last Saturday. Cardiff are 4th following the midweek victory against Bolton Wanderers, thanks to goals from Armand Traore and Sean Morrison.

Stats

 

  • Cardiff have lost three home league games at the Cardiff City Stadium against Middlesbrough – against no side have they lost more (also three against Hull and Newcastle).
  • None of the last 23 league meetings between these sides has ended as a draw (12 wins for Cardiff, 11 wins for Middlesbrough).
  • Neil Warnock has won all seven of his home league matches (including playoffs) against Middlesbrough – Cardiff could be the seventh different club with whom he has won home games against Boro (also Notts County, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, QPR, Leeds, Rotherham).
  • Tony Pulis and Warnock haven’t faced since November 2011, when Warnock’s QPR won 3-2 at Stoke in the Premier League.

Head-to-head: Middlesbrough wins: 21, Draws: 11, Cardiff wins: 30. Highest Boro win: 3-0 (2011). Highest Cardiff City win: 6-1 (1965)

Pre-Match Thoughts

There is a lot of frustration on Teesside at the moment. The underachievement in the league, the style of play, the strikers, the January signings and ‘not having a number 10’.

In my opinion, the only frustrations Boro fans should have is the league position the club currently find themselves in. Being in 9th place in the league at this stage is not what any of us expected this season. Not the players, not the board or the fans. We wanted to comfortably win the league and it’s clear we are nowhere near that.

However, in terms of style, strikers and signings, I feel as though some fans need to realise we aren’t a top Premier League side. When I listen to BBC Tees phone in, I often think ‘how does Maddo even keep it together with some of the suggestions that get thrown at him?’. Style doesn’t always need to be beautiful in football – it needs to be effective.

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Under Pulis, I can see the direction we are going and it will be effective going forward. In terms of strikers, Assombalonga and Gestede are having a difficult period at the moment but all strikers go through it. It wasn’t long ago we were all singing their names and saying how great they were!

Finally, the transfer window may have been slightly underwhelming for most fans but if they give everything in a Boro shirt it doesn’t matter, they should be supported.

On that note, I thought Martin Crainie was excellent in his small cameo last week. You can tell he’s a very experienced defender and will be good cover for our defence.

Boro Predictions

Tony Pulis is set to name the same squad which beat Reading last week. Rudy Gestede missed a couple of days of training this week with a back problem, but he is set to make the trip to Wales.

Additonally, Jack Harrison could be handed his first start in a Middlesbrough shirt following his move from Manchester City.

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The winger’s fitness has been a slight issue due to finishing his season in October, but Pulis may opt to play Harrison to have two wingers on the field. If Gestede is fit, Boro have a clean bill of health for the trip to the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Cardiff Predictions

Neil Warnock has revealed he may be without a number of key players for the game on Saturday.

Aron Gunnarsson is still out with an ankle injury and is set to return the end of March. In addition, January recruit Gary Madine is out with a broken nose which he sustained in the 1-1 draw with Millwall. The forward missed the Bluebirds’ 2-0 win over his former employers Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night too.

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Furthermore, the game could come too early for Matt Connolly, Craig Bryson and Kadeem Harris who all featured for the Under-23s against Coventry City on Thursday.

However, Yanic Wildschut is set to start on Saturday due to the injury to Jamie Ward. The loanee Dutchman will be looking to make his mark in Wales following a disruptive stay at Norwich.

Players to Watch: Junior Hoilett, Marko Grujic and Callum Paterson

Tactics

Neil Warnock will look to set the Bluebirds up in the 4-3-3 formation and to try and dominate the early stages against Boro. Cardiff like to press high and will look to steal the ball from our midfielders in our own half.

In possession, Cardiff like to play the long ball over the top of the wing backs which allows the wingers to run in behind.

Furthermore, they are pose a threat from set plays. Every club Neil Warnock has gone to he has created a tough side to play against and made his teams excellent in dead ball situations.

However, if they score in open play on Saturday expect it to come from the left-hand side of play with Junior Hoilett being the catalyst. The Canadian has been instrumental this season for the Bluebirds registering 8 goals and 7 assists.

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As for Boro, I expect Pulis to stick with the same squad and formation of recent weeks. The adjustment of Shotton in at right-back will help Boro with aerial duels on set plays and make it more difficult for Cardiff to break Boro down.

It’s vital we can’t allow Cardiff to dictate the play in and around our box and force ourselves to be pinned back because we would be playing into their hands. Boro may opt to sit deeper than usual away from home and let Traore be the outlet going forward but there is a risk of the Spaniard attempting to take players on in the wrong areas and getting caught. Traore is brilliant, but if he makes a mistake it could be costly.

My XI (4-2-3-1) 

Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Howson, Downing, Harrison, Adama, Assombalonga

If I was the manager I’d like Boro to play with two actual wingers rather than playing a forward on the left. A lot has been said about Boro not having a ‘Number 10’ at the moment but I believe we do in Downing.

For me, the problem is with the left midfield. As we don’t have a natural left midfielder, Downing is forced to come to the left and this creates a gap between the midfield and the forward. If Boro can play with two natural wingers the gap will be closed and allow Downing to have freedom in the ‘Number 10’ role.

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Furthermore, I would start Assombalonga over Gestede. Our top scorer has a lack of confidence at the moment and I would show trust in the striker and let him play out of his rut.

Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend. Leadbitter, Howson. Bamford, Downing, Adama Traore, Gestede.

Same again…

I can see Pulis sticking to the side which beat Reading last week. I feel as though Pulis has found his team until Harrison gets fitter. Although the performance was not great last week, we still got the three points and It will give the team confidence going into the game this weekend.

Score Prediction

I expect this to be a really tough game for Boro but it will give Pulis an exact indication as to where the team is at the moment. I think Boro will get something in Wales on Saturday, but only a point.

Cardiff 1-1 Boro

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