MATCH PREVIEW: Blues V Middlesbrough

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A bumper crowd is expected on Saturday as we host Monk’s old club Middlesbrough F.C who look to reignite their form to stay in the play-off mix.

The Teesside club have lost only twice on the road this season and typically do well against the Blues, unbeaten in the last nine matches played between the clubs. With Tony Pulis in charge, a test of patience can be expected as notoriously the problems at the back are fixed in his sides. And this is no exception.

Pulis has made the defence a priority resulting in his team conceding just 18 times this season giving them by far the best defensive record. On the flip side of that, there is room for improvement at the other end as they have only managed 28 goals for themselves so far.

As usual their threat comes from Britt Assombolanga who’s scored the most of any of their players this season with eight goals. The established Championship striker scored a brace against Blues late in November 2017 in there 2-0 home victory over us as well as scoring against Blues in both matches in the 2014/2015 season – this time for Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, Jordan Hugill has contributed to six of Boro’s goals this season, second to Assombolanga.

Birmingham are in an exciting time for scoring though and are not shy in front of goal this season. Che Adams grabbed a point against Sheffield Wednesday and has surpassed Lukas Jutkiewicz as top scorer with the front pairing tallying 10 and 12 goals respectively. Over the Christmas period, Jacques Magma picked up three goals and is looking a goal threat in his current form.

In addition, the long-awaited return of Isaac Vassell seems to have finally arrived, at least for match time. His first competitive match in over 14 months saw him score two goals in the 3-0 win for the u23 side against Barnsley and at last it looks like the injury struck striker can be selected for the first team. If not put into the starting eleven, he makes a good option for fresh legs upfront on the bench.

Garry Monk has praised his side for continuing to create chance late on in the 3rd round FA Cup loss to West Ham last Saturday. Taking the positives from such a spirited performance is a must if Blues are to continue there high morale and bounce back well, as they have done this campaign.

Middlesbrough may occupy 5th place in the table but there tally of 46 points is joint with derby in 6th and there shaky form of late should be capitalised on. The two wins from their last five games have been against the divisions bottom two teams, Reading and Ipswich. The play-off hopefuls managed a slender 1-0 away win at Reading whilst there other victory at home to bottom side Ipswich finished 2-0.

If Blues get the win they will be only a point off their opponents and could sit just one place outside the play-offs, should other results go their way.

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