Date:Friday December 29 2006
30th December 2006
Rovers play host for the second time in a week, a role that they need to begin excelling in.
Saturday`s visitors are Gareth Southgate`s Middlesbrough, who travels to Ewood Park on the back of an unbeaten run of two games and in buoyant mood.
Rovers recovered well from the unfortunate mauling at the hands of Arsenal by overturning a dominant Liverpool side on Boxing Day. However, they will need to batter Southgate`s side in order to demonstrate their strength. It`s a tall order to break down Boro these days, who seem tougher to break down and threatening on the break.
Mark Hughes will be hoping his players show a similar grit and determination as shown against Liverpool from the kick off on Saturday. First half displays have been the downfall for Rovers over the past two or three months and the opening forty-five will be imperative here.
Shabani Nonda on confidence: "Now our confidence is a little bit higher after beating Liverpool on Boxing Day, and we now must try to do everything to get another win. We are at home and it is most important for us to win on Saturday.'
Robbie Savage on form: "We`ve to perform like we did from now until the end of the season. It is no good beating Liverpool and then losing to Middlesbrough, we`ve now got to get back to back victories."
Friedel on form: "We`ve got a massive game against Middlesbrough, and then another equally big one against Wigan. We are in a critical stage of the season at the moment, but we don`t want the good work against Liverpool to come undone, we want to go out and get another huge result against Middlesbrough."
Stuart Downing on Boro`s form: "We've got to take our form forward from the draw against Everton on Boxing Day into the Blackburn game because if we lose we're right back in it. It's four points from our last two games so if we can get three points it will start bringing us up towards the top of the table.
"We can't rely on our home form, we have some good sides coming to visit and it's impossible to win every one."
Mark Hughes is expected to start with an unchanged side despite Brad Friedel picking up a dead leg against Liverpool. The giant American hero is confident of shaking off the injury before kick off.
Zurab Khizanishvili is pushing for a return to the starting line-up but Hughes is likely to favour Andy Todd who impressed against Liverpool.
Francis Jeffers is back in contention after struggling in recent weeks with a hamstring complaint.
Rovers from: Friedel, Brown, Neill, Todd, Ooijer, Gray, Emerton, Savage, Kerimoglu, Pedersen, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Brown, Derbyshire, Mokoena, Henchoz, Peter, Khizanishvili.
The Congo international has generally struggled to make an impact this season but did score the winner against Boro in the corresponding fixture earlier in the season and bagged a morale boosting brace against Arsenal.
His partnership and understanding with Benni McCarthy hasn`t always inspired confidence however, his effort and commitment cannot be questioned. He does have power and pace and generally a sound positional knowledge. The Boro defence have performed admirably in recent outings but that has been against blunt attacks. This time they will come up against two strikers brimming with confidence due to recent successes in front of goal.
James Morrison will return to the Boro side after missing the fixture against Everton with a calf injury. The question mark for Southgate to consider is over the fitness of Julio Arca who picked up a knock in the draw with Everton.
Summer Rovers target, Robert Huth is still absent for Boro, but Jason Euell and Abel Xavier return.
Boro from: Schwarzer, Davies, Taylor, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Boateng, Cattermole, Morrison, Downing, Viduka, Yakubu, Jones, Parnaby, Xavier, Mendieta, Rochemback, Christie, Euell, Maccarone, Johnson.
Despite his tender age, James Morrison already has an important part to play in this current Middlesbrough set-up. His exuberance from midfield gives the Boro side something extra. He has an excellent ability to burst from midfield into the area. He will have to be watched.
Rovers go into this game having won the previous four meetings between the sides in league and cup.
The last player to score a hat-trick in this fixture is Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who bagged one when Boro beat Rovers 4-0 at Ewood Park two years ago.
Martin Atkinson is the man in the middle on Saturday. He has refereed a single Rovers match this season, the pulsating 4-2 victory against Man City. He has issued 2 red cards and 32 yellows in 12 matches.
This is a must win game for Rovers and half of the squad have been vocal in ensuring that everyone is aware of this. However, despite the importance of the game I can see the Rovers side bottling it. The last time Rovers met Boro was the last time back to back victories were recorded for the Ewood Park outfit. This game will prove to be stifling for the home side. They are expected to win, purely through home advantage, and for that reason the game will end as a draw. Boro will take the lead as Rovers put in another derisory first half display but a rallying performance in the second half will produce an equaliser and nothing more.
Wigan on New Years Day at the JJB Stadium, 15:00 kick off.
Date:Friday December 29 2006
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