This game between two sides hardly in the best of league form is sure to be haunted by the spectre of another side that will be nowhere near the riverside on Saturday. The fixture, coming as it does, sandwiched between two ties against Arsenal, if not a must-win is definitely a must-perform for both sides. Boro will looking to recover from their 7-0 drubbing whilst Latics will need to build on the form shown at Eland Road to pick up momentum ahead of next Wednesday’s semi-final at Highbury.
Whilst the not available list is still rivaling Newcastle’s, the squad will be bolstered by the returning Scharner and Henchoz and the addition of new signings Thompson and Mellor will guarantee that we should at least be able to name a full bench for this trip to the North East. Whilst McCulloch will go down as a doubt for the game I’m expecting him to travel with the squad, although Johansson’s showing at Leeds will probably see him take a starting berth ahead of the Scot. Apparently things are looking up on the injury front with Alan Mahon returning to training. How ready he is I’m not sure, but as a left sided option he’s more attractive than Jimmy Bullard.
Eyes will undoubtedly be on how Jewell deploys his new signings, but having played few (if any) games recently. I’d expect both to be on the bench, Thompson getting a run out regardless with Mellor joining him either if we take a reasonable lead or are chasing goals. There’s a possibility that the other new(ish) boy, Scharner, will get a run in his preferred position, at centre half, but his performances in midfield might go against him on that count. As if it matters I think the team will be Pollit, Chimbonda, De Zeuuw, Baines, Henchoz, Teale, Kavanagh, Scharner, Bullard, Johansson, Roberts.
As for Boro, they’ve had injury problems of their own but two of the main absentees will be available to play some part. Southgate’s experience will probably be a welcome addition to a defence that last time out shipped seven goals and one time Latics target Stuart Downing will be a definite boost to their attack. There’s no doubt that both players are needed, only time will tell if their fit enough for the 90 minutes.
Despite their form of late and relative position in the league, Boro still have a good team (they’re in the latter stages of the EUFA cup after all) and one that many were saying we should look to emulate at the start of the season. An early goal for either side will probably decide the outcome. I can see the game mid week and the new signings providing the boost we need to get just that, we are one of only 3 teams to not be beaten after scoring the first goal and I can’t see that run ending in this game. Prediction time? Well I’m going to pass on that one; it’s just as likely to be 1-1 as it is 3-0 (to us of course).
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