The Middle Way – Boro preview

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Well that was horrible, but at least it’s over and done with. No, I’m not talking about playing against a team whose modus operadum is to wait for the other team to make a mistake, no matter how dull it makes it for the fans. What I’m talking about is that, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’ve missed two home games on the bounce.

It’s all very grown-up and everything, letting things take priority over going to the game, but if truth be told, I barely made it through to kick off with my sanity, for either, so not that grown-up after all. In the end it’s left me a whole month without live football and gagging the visit of West Ham on Saturday, but before then there’s a visit to the North East as Latics take on Boro.If I was going to write up Latics’ chances of survival come May, Boro would probably feature highly. Basically they’re the next rung on our ladder and if we can get, and stay, past them then I reckon we’ve got another year of top flight football in the bag.

We could, or maybe should, already be there. Boro’s slender 2 point lead can be traced back to two surprise wins against Arsenal and Portsmouth. Without them, they’d be sat comfortably in the bottom three and wondering just how they were going to turn things around.
The timing of those results is significant for Latics, on the same day Boro beat Arsenal Latics were bottling the six-point derby, at the Reebok. The Pompey result came just as Latics were failing to hold onto a result against Villa.

Of course, all that proves is just how finely balanced the bottom of the table is. With less than a win covering 13th to 19th places, a good run from any of those six teams could all but eradicate relegation fears but, as yet, none of us look like making the break.

The home team will be without Woodgate, shipped out to Spurs on Monday and whilst the local lad may never have lived up to his promise, losing such an experienced head is bound to have an effect on their defence. The money raised through this sale has gone into the signing of Alonso Alves. The Brasilian striker has agreed terms, but will not feature until his work permit comes through.

Latics on the other hand, welcome Marlon King into the fold. He’s only been at the club since Friday so a place on the bench seems most likely, if the striker starts then it may give a big hint to the future of either Bent or Heskey who have both been linked with a note away this week.

The left, as always, presents Steve Bruce with his biggest problem. With Figueroa looking like one for the future, a lot will depend on the extent of Edman’s injury. If he’s fit to start then expect him to with Kilbane moving forward, if not then Taylor and Koumas will battle for a place on the left side of midfield.

Both these teams will see the game as winnable and Latics especially will be looking at the fixtures coming up and thinking that this could be the start of their claim out of the mire.

The fixture back in August was a fairly tepid affair with only Latics looking like they were trying to win it. It’s unlikely to be the same tonight, if only on the virtue that Boro are at home and more likely to participate. Whether it will live up to the rollercoaster ride of last season’s visit to the riverside is another matter.

There’s little doubt that Boro have the quality to win this one but they’ve also a fair bit of inexperience. Like Latics, they’ve not really fired this season and s draw seems most likely. However, the loss of Woodgate and Stuart Downing’s dispute with the club may give Latics the edge and if they can make the most of it then this may well be the start of a positive end to what looked like a disappointing season, if not then we start all over again on Saturday.

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