Middlesbrough 1 Wolves 2

They’ve been shoved, kicked and assaulted.

They’ve been accused of cheating while the great injustices have continually been at their expense.

They’ve been told they’ll freeze in the winter and fold down the home straight.

They’ve been condemned for over celebrating while the opposition leap around at the merest hint of success.

They’ve been challenged, doubted, expected, disrespected and let’s be honest, downright cheated at times.

Yet still, still they produce when it truly matters.

There can be no debating that Wolves have benefited from their unique situation off the field, but on it, they’ve continually been fighting the odds.

This was 96 minutes to crystallize an entire season with all of the above neatly and predictably checked off the list as promotion moved another giant step closer.

The referee will steal the headlines for losing the plot as he ultimately shaped the narrative of the game.

Disregarding the expected heavy treatment Wolves received in the first half when greater action should have been taken, Stuart Atwell made vaguely logical decisions up until the moment Helder Costa was upended on route to goal.

Was it a deliberate trip from George Friend? Perhaps not. But it’s a foul and a straight red all the same. Nobody would have bothered disputing.

And if he gets the game’s pivotal decision correct, all that followed is avoided.

Yes, Wolves should have dealt with that injustice better and several late tackles were correctly punished with yellow in the immediate aftermath.

But the phantom card for Neves and the suggested elbow from Doherty turned theatre into pantomime and it didn’t need to be that way.

The man in the middle simply did nothing to calm the situation which is exactly what any good official would have done.

Had Boro got the equaliser their meagre efforts against nine men barely warranted the sense of injustice would have been intolerable.

Mercifully, with a two goal head start and the best defender the Championship may have ever seen in Willy Boly, not even that considerable handicap could deny the league leaders.

A well worked opener, the notable feather in the cap of a set piece goal against a Tony Pulis side, and that defiant rearguard action all bore the hallmarks of champions.

Should that come to fruition, nobody can say it isn’t richly deserved.

Middlesbrough Vs Wolves Preview

Here’s one for you: When was the last time Wolves won at the Riverside?

The answer is never.

Admittedly I may have trotted that little gem out once or twice before.

This has actually been a home banker since the days of Ayresome Park, with Boro undefeated since April 11th 1951.

We were a good team in the 50s I’m told and we’re good team now, so an opportunity if ever there was one, to break the curse and force me into coming up with some original material next time around.

Middlsbrough

When we kicked off on the opening day of the season I don’t think many people expected Wolves to be 20 points ahead of their opponents come the end of March.

But it could have been worse. They spent a chunk of the season languishing just above midtable despite spending millions in the summer and that mediocrity was enough to cost Garry Monk his job.

Tony Pulis has since lifted them into the top six, but it’s hard to see Bristol City, Sheff Utd and Preston all going quietly into the night. In fact, lose this game and they’ll almost certainly drop out of the play-off places.

The goals of Patrick Bamford and the supply line from Adama Traore have been paramount in their recent surge and they present the most obvious danger.

Wolves

Assuming no international duty disasters, team selection should be automatic.

Hopefully the pace of Benik Afobe can give us the attacking edge the team lacked in recent defeats at Fulham and Villa.

The Saiss and Neves combination in midfield could also be pivotal. We didn’t have them playing together in either game and their ability to retain and circulate possession will be imperative in what will likely be a tight contest.

The odds

Wolves are 9/5 to get the win, with Boro priced at 83/41. The draw is 11/5. All the latest bookies offers from the best betting sites can be found at that site to maximise your returns.

Predictions

Although we have far easier fixtures (on paper at least) to obtain the points necessary for promotion, it would be nice to make a statement.

We could easily win if everything clicks, but I suspect Middlesbrough will be well organised and uncompromising.

I’d take a point and I think that’s the most likely outcome.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

View From The Home End With OneBoro

I contacted the lads at OneBoro to get the lowdown on what’s happening at the Riverside, their aspirations for the remainder of the season and their take on Friday’s game. Big thanks to Boro fan Matt Strachan for answering my questions.

Boro have really come good lately and are looking a strong bet for the play-offs. What’s triggered the upturn in form?

The main factor, pure and simply has been the fact Tony Pulis is beginning to get his methods across to the team.

When he first arrived, you could tell he wasn’t sure who he could fit into his system, but he’s made some subtle but effective tweaks to the team. Pulis is renowned for preferring a larger back four, so Fabio has been swapped for Ryan Shotton and former Wanderer’s fullback Friend is back in and playing like his old self.

The last six games or so we’ve looked a lot more solid at the back and we’ve actually been scoring a fair few goals, especially (as you’d expect from a Pulis team) from set plays.

Bristol City, Sheffield Utd and Preston are also pushing hard for the top six with Derby continuing to wobble. Do you think you’ll make the play-offs and would you fancy your chances against the likes of Fulham or Villa if they miss out on the top two?

In my mind, a play-off place this season would be a massive bonus considering there’s been a lot change around the club over the last season and a bit. Relegation, Karanka leaving, Monk coming and going, 40m spent on a lot of players that have already moved on in January and the arrival of Pulis.

Personally, I feel as if it’s a season too early for us. Next year under Pulis I could see us really having a go for an automatic place, but considering our record against teams in the top 8 I’d be skeptical of us navigating through the lottery of the play-offs.

Villa are a strange outfit, comfortably beating Wolves then going on to lose to QPR and Bolton, but on their day they’re a good outfit under Bruce who knows how to get the job done in this league. Fulham in my mind are the best team outside the top 2 so I definitely wouldn’t want to play them! Mitrovic is on fire and with talents like Sessongon and Cairney, you’d back them to go up.

Your chairman usually gives managers time, so why do you think Garry Monk was so hastily discarded?

I think over the last decade Gibson has sometimes given managers too much time when it clearly isn’t working and after last season’s disappointment he knew he needed to act. I think Pulis becoming available also was a factor, knowing an experienced Premier League manager could be tempted to Teesside.

I wasn’t thrilled about the appointment myself, but on a wider scale, Monk never seemed to create a rapport with the fans. His pre and post-match press conferences became alarming robotic, he couldn’t seem to find his best system or XI and what was the best defence in the Championship last time around, looked very shaky under him.

Tony Pulis has a reputation for negative, anti-football. Were you happy with the appointment and what has the style been like so far?

I was very happy with the appointment, I think Tony is the sort of manager the team needed at this moment in time. We’d had Karanka then Monk who were two gambles because of their limited managerial experience, so an old head has certainly given the players a clearer picture of what’s needed.

One of the things I like about Pulis is that there are no grey areas, he’s very vocal and firm in press conferences, he seems to give you credit if he sees you’re working hard but he’s also rigorous on the training field.

In terms of the style, I wouldn’t describe it as boring anti-football it’s actually been pretty good to watch. Yes, there are some Pulism’s like set-pieces and long throws but he’s surprised a lot of Boro fans I think, I think people easily forget the way his Palace side played.

It’s been Patrick Bamford and Adama Traore grabbing the headlines. Are those the two players we should be fearing most in this game?

It’s remarkable to think under Monk, Bamford could barely get in the squad let alone the bench and Adama was largely starting here and there.

Adama over the last few months has been nothing short of a revelation and I’d be very surprised if he was wearing a Boro shirt next season. When we first signed Adama you could see his blistering pace was a huge weapon but his crossing and shooting was pretty appalling. Slowly but surely Pulis has transformed his game, overall his crossing and decision making is much better and he’s even adding some great goals to his repertoire.

For Boro fans, it’s great to see Bamford playing well again and with a smile on his face. He’s still thought of very fondly from his first time on Teeside, but when he returned from various loans he looked a shadow of his former self.

Strangely enough, until Gustede got injured he’d been playing wide left but after being moved up front he’s really taken the No9 shirt now. Not the strongest player, but he’s pacey and technically gifted, should keep the Wolves centre halves busy.

Another player who deserves a lot of credit since his loan move in January is Mo Besic, a very agile box-to- box player.

What’s been your general take on Wolves this season? Have you been surprised by their success?

By and large very impressed, there’s a nice balance to the side and obviously the Portuguese influx makes Wolves very good on the eye. From a neutral point of view, I’ve really enjoyed watching the likes of Neves, Jota, Bonatini, and Costa when he’s on song.

I haven’t been too surprised with Wolves, you’ve been putting in some great building blocks season after season. What surprised me more was to see Cardiff slowly eat up what looked like an unassailable lead but I still back you to go up as champions.

We’ve got a horrendous record in this fixture and I don’t think we’ve ever won at The Riverside. What do you see as Boro’s weaknesses and how can Wolves exploit them?

Well if it gives you any hope we had a similar Riverside record against Derby and they came up and thumped us 3-0!

We were under Monk at that point and we’re a much more solid outfit. In terms of weaknesses perhaps fullback, Friend, and Shotton aren’t the fastest so that could give your wide players some joy.

How do you think you’ll line up (formation and personnel)?

We’ll start most likely with Randolph in goal, back four of Shotton, Gibson, Ayala, Friend, three central midfield players in Besic, Howson and either Clayton/Leadbitter, out wide Downing and Adama then up front Bamford.

How do you see the game panning out and what are your predictions on the outcome?

If we’d played this fixture end of last year when we were under Monk and Wolves were flying I’d be very worried (lucky we played you first game of the season before you hit your stride!).

We have a pretty poor record against high flying teams this season so I think this maybe a bridge too far, I’d be delighted with a draw but I’m going 2-0 Wolves.

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Thanks again to Matt and the boys at One Boro Middlesbrough FC Forum for helping line this up and good luck for the remainder of the season (after Friday).