Crystal Palace v Middlesbrough
Saturday 16th February, 15:00 GMT
Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough visit Selhurst Park this weekend for a potentially crucial promotion clash.
Following their relegation in 2009 many expected the Wearsiders to make an immediate return to the top tier but this has not been the case. However, a recurring pattern has emerged over the last few seasons that also looks to have continued into this season.
Boro have usually been quick out of the blocks before falling away in the New Year, and this season has been no exception to the rule. After occupying the top three spots until December, Mowbray’s side then went on to lose their first five fixtures of 2013.
This run came to an end in midweek after a narrow victory over Leeds saw them
boost hopes of a play off place.
Jonathan Woodgate was a major addition for Boro when he decided to join his boyhood club in the summer following his release from Stoke. He has had some well-documented injury troubles throughout his career but has featured prominently this season and provides invaluable experience at the back.
However, their problems have stemmed from conceding too many goals at home. A strange occurrence given that most of their defence boast Premier League experience, such as the likes of Justin Hoyte and Andre Bikey.
Midfield dynamo Rhys Williams was reportedly subject to a late deadline day bid from Fulham that failed to materialize. Keeping him could provide the difference this season along with the performances of Josh McEachran.
The youngster, who is on a season-long loan from Chelsea, has been hailed as one for the future and it has been easy to see why. A technically gifted, modern day midfielder who can dribble, shoot and has a wonderful passing ability.
The northeastclub certainly have a strong front line although last campaign’s standout performer, Marvin Emnes, has failed to hit those heights this term. Instead Scott McDonald and Lukas Jutkiewicz have taken on the mantle.
Mowbray will not be able to count on Curtis Main, the match winner against Leeds. He was sent off late on for a second bookable offence that could see top scorer McDonald or Jutkiewicz take his place.
New signing Kieron Dyer could also be given his second start for the club.
The next two fixtures also represent a major opportunity for Palace to put together a run of form that could see them claim the automatic promotion places.
After their comeback from two goals down against Watford, the Eagles remain in fifth, but winless on the road in 12 games.
Their home form has been strong and after a patch period over January they beat Charlton and will be hoping for a similar result against Middlesborough.
Last week against the Hornets, an excellent second half followed a dismal first half where Wilfried Zaha and Johnny Williams particularly impressed.
Zaha has been much talked about and lived up to his billing. He was a constant thorn in the home sides’ defence and eventually had a hand in the equalizer. It looks as though the end of the speculation has freed him up and he looks to be rekindling his early season form.
Williams was denied a start against Watford due to sore calves, but his arrival immediately created more movement and technical ability on the ball. With Moritz absent through injury, the young Welshman looks a logical option to fill that ‘number 10’ void.
Loan signing Stephen Dobbie has been effective since his arrival but may drop to the bench at the expense of Williams or be handed a start in place of the jetlagged Kagisho Dikgacoi.
Veteran striker Kevin Phillips scored after coming on against Watford and boss Ian Holloway may opt to hand him his first start since joining the club, whilst Mile Jedinak could also play with a mask due to a facial injury.
Top scorer Glenn Murray is enduring a barren run but his partnership with Phillips against Charlton left many Eagles fans calling for two up front and Holloway may oblige given his attacking nature as well as the added importance of the fixture.
Joel Ward is the only long-term absentee for Crystal Palace.
Written By Djordje Jajcanin