Following a euphoric victory away to Bournemouth on Wednesday, Cardiff will be seeking to extend their winning streak to seven matches as they travel to face Middlesbrough tomorrow.
Whilst the Bluebirds are enjoying a resurgent, remarkable run of form, Middlesbrough have experienced a period of deterioration as of late. Just three wins from ten has left the Teesiders in ninth position, with hopes of a play-offs quickly falling by the wayside.
Over the course of the campaign, Boro have maintained a moderate record at the Riverside, winning eight out of sixteen matches on home soil; although five of the last six outings there have yielded defeat, most notably two heavy losses against Rotherham and Brentford.
In significant contrast to this, the visitors possess an impressive record on the road.
At the time of writing, only one side in English football – Manchester United – can match Cardiff’s record 13 away triumphs.
Middlesbrough are expected to be without last season’s leading goalscorer Ashley Fletcher, who was forced off early into their defeat to Bristol City, a real blow for his side who have been without their star forward for over five months due to a hamstring injury.
Along with this, Marcus Tavernier, Yannick Bolasie and Marcus Browne still remain unavailable, giving Neil Warnock a real selection dilemma for tomorrow’s showdown.
Interestingly, former City flyer Nathaniel Mendez-Laing could be set to make his first start for the club since arriving in the North East as a free agent on Deadline Day.
All eyes will be on the forward, who was sacked by Cardiff three days before the start of the season following two bans for cocaine use, the second of which resulted in the termination of his contract.
Since handed a lifeline by his former boss, Warnock said “He’s (NML) definitely in a position now to start.
“In fact, he’s busting a gut to start. I’ve got to keep him back a little bit. I think he’s got one eye on Cardiff on Saturday and he’s been desperate to get some minutes to put himself in a position to start that.”
Midfield stalwart Joe Ralls is in line to return to action after sustaining an injury in Cardiff’s 2-1 win over Rotherham at the beginning of the month.
No fresh injury woes surfaced in the Bluebird’s South Coast triumph and head coach Mick McCarthy is widely expected to field an unchanged side.
Currently, Cardiff are reaping the rewards from keeping the same XI and changing a winning team can often prove detrimental.
Sol Bamba is unavailable owing to a long-term illness, whilst Jordi Osei-Tutu and Isaac Vassell are still sidelined.
And despite scoring in the U23’s midweek victory over Severnside rivals Bristol City, maverick midfielder Lee Tomlin has not yet reached full fitness.
Predicted Middlesbrough starting line up:
Betinelli; Dijksteel, Fry, McNair; Mendez-Laing, Howson, Morsy, Bola; Watmore, Kebano, Akpom
Predicted Cardiff starting line up:
Phillips; Flint, Morrison, Nelson; Ng, Vaulks, Pack, Bennett; Wilson, Murphy, Moore
Although neither side was able to leave October’s clash with the all-important three points, a lot has changed since then.
Middlesbrough have faced prolonged problems in finding the back of the net, which has left them frantically struggling to keep up with the play-off race.
Keeping the ball out of their net has proved to be a challenging task as of recent, too. Over the last five matches, Boro have leaked ten goals.
Cardiff have scored thirteen in this time, whilst conceding a league-best three goals to boot. As we all know, Cardiff City look a totally new outfit under the tutelage of Mick McCarthy and are sweeping aside every team in their path right now.
Since the former Wolves boss took the helm, the Welsh side are the division’s most in-form outfit- and no signs of deceleration are being displayed, either.
For me, anything other than yet another away win is a difficult sight to imagine. Cardiff are in red-hot form and Middlesbrough, at the moment, are really there for the taking..
Tomorrow’s hosts have failed to overcome the Bluebird since a 3-1 win at the Riverside back in February 2016, and there is little to suggest that could change
Score prediction: Middlesbrough 0-2 Cardiff City