AFC Bournemouth will be looking to maintain their promotion push when they host Championship rivals Middlesbrough on Good Friday (3pm kick-off).
Neil Warnock’s team head to Vitality Stadium sitting ninth in the table, three points behind seventh-placed Cherries having played a game more.
Marcus Browne’s late leveller cancelled out Dominic Solanke’s opener when the teams battled out a 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium in September.
Boro have won six, drawn two and lost eight of their past 16 games in the Championship as they bid for a return to the Premier League after suffering relegation in 2016/17.
MIDDLESBROUGH IN PROFILE
Manager: Neil Warnock (appointed June 2020)
Club captain: Britt Assombalonga
Last game: Millwall 1-0 Middlesbrough (Championship)
Leading league goalscorer 2020/21: Duncan Watmore (six, pictured above)
League position: Ninth
Past six league results: DWLWWL
afcb.co.uk: How would you sum up Neil Warnock’s first season in charge so far?
MD: He’s made a real impact. There’s been a big improvement from where they were when he walked in last season which is obvious when you look at the respective league tables.
Right now though, there’s a tinge of disappointment at them not being in the play-off places and not achieving what they looked like they might at certain points this season.
afcb.co.uk: What’s Boro’s run-in like?
MD: It’s a mixed bag. They’ve got what would be classed on paper as a run of tougher games now.
It starts with Bournemouth on Good Friday and continues with Watford at home on Easter Monday and Barnsley away the following Saturday.
With the games remaining and the points situation, they are probably going to need to beat Bournemouth and Barnsley to stand any chance of finishing in the top six.
After that, there’s a run of games against teams either with nothing to play for or in the relegation battle. It’s extremes and there’s not much in the middle.
afcb.co.uk: Why has Ashley Fletcher’s game time been limited this season?
MD: Ashley Fletcher (pictured above) has had bad injuries. He started the season as first choice and then injured his hamstring in September and was out for four months.
When he came back, he played a few games and then had another little setback. He came off the bench in their last game against Millwall and could feature against Bournemouth.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Boro’s rising star?
MD: Marcus Tavernier (pictured below).
He’s established himself in Neil Warnock’s thinking and, generally speaking, if he’s fit, he plays.
He can play as part of a front three but, more often than not, he’s played as part of a middle three if Warnock plays that system.
He offers something different, he’s got decent pace, he carries the ball well and he can certainly finish.
There’s an argument that he’s actually the best finisher at the club but his number of goals don’t reflect that. But he offers something that nobody else in the squad does.
afcb.co.uk: Can you give us a funny anecdote from a Neil Warnock press conference?
MD: This one happened ahead of their last game against Millwall. Boro had played on the Tuesday and Millwall had played QPR on the Wednesday. They were 2-0 up at Loftus Road and ended up losing 3-2.
Neil Warnock said he had watched the first half and they were cruising so he turned over to watch something else. He said he was watching football and not Coronation Street.
I said it was okay to watch Corrie and he outed himself as a huge Corrie fan, going back through the ages and liking himself to Roy Cropper as he always leaves the training ground with all his stuff in a shopping bag.
It went viral because, at first, he couldn’t remember Roy’s name so had to go through all the old characters with people suggesting names before he finally got to Roy Cropper.
He finished by saying “Up the Roy Cropper!” and Corrie replied with a GIF of Roy waving at him!
afcb.co.uk: Who is Boro’s one to watch?
MD: Paddy McNair (pictured below) has been brilliant all season. He’s played mainly in defence but has been in midfield lately.
They don’t really have any fancy players but if you appreciate class defending and all-round excellence then Paddy takes some beating.
afcb.co.uk: Are any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
MD: They are in relatively good health, although Marcus Brown has been out for a while with a knee injury.
George Saville and Paddy McNair have both been away with Northern Ireland so it depends how they come back.
If McNair returns fit, I suspect he will play because he’s that important.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
MD: I reckon Boro will win 2-1 because it’s the typical Boro thing to do. Nobody will really expect them to win, it’s a tough one and these are the ones they often go and win
You can follow Mark on Twitter – @MarkosDiSantos
Officials: Simon Hooper (referee), Timothy Wood (assistant), Robert Hyde (assistant), James Linington (fourth official).