Middlesbrough and Fulham started the season as two of the favourites to clinch promotion to the Premier League. However it’s fair to say that neither side has really lived up to their billing. The pair find themselves in 8th and 10th positions with Boro 2 points and 2 places better off than Fulham heading into this game. However there have been signs in recent weeks that both teams are now starting to find some form and this should be a really good contest.
After losing his first game in charge at the Riverside, Tony Pulis has seen his Middlesbrough side see off Preston in the league and Sunderland in the FA Cup since then and would probably have really benefited from finally having a full week to work with his new players on the training ground after a hectic start to his reign.
He’s not had an easy run of fixtures in the league by any means to kick things off and this will be a real test of his side’s metal. Fulham enjoyed a good Christmas with 10 points from 4 games to fire themselves up the table and suddenly they look like very genuine play-off contenders.
Their fairly open style should make this a good contest. Some visitors to the Riverside have had success by employing a cautious approach but that’s not really the way Fulham like to play and fans on Teesside ought to be treated to a good game of football and there should be goals in it for the hosts.
Middlesbrough have managed to score twice or more in 4 of their last 5 matches and their front-line does seem to be clicking into place a bit better now. They’d been a bit too reliant on Britt Assombalonga for goals but some other players are chipping in now. Summer signing Martin Braithwaite has netted in 3 of his last 6 appearances and could get some joy here with Fulham a team that really pushes their full-backs forward, at times leaving themselves over-exposed in wide areas. Backing Braithwaite to score anytime could be worth considering.
Fulham have conceded 1.62 goals per game away from home this season. Their overall defensive record is only the joint 12th best in the Championship so they are a team that the stronger sides in the league will feel as though they can get at. Even during a decent run over Christmas they’ve gone 6 matches without a clean sheet heading into this and backing Middlesbrough to score over 1.5 goals looks good here.