Here's our big match preview ahead of the Reds trip to Middlesbrough.
Barnsley contest their fourth successive away game this weekend as we make the journey to the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough.
Jose Morais’ team have put in some encouraging displays on the road in recent weeks, with our last match at promotion-chasing Cardiff City in midweek seeing the Reds edged out 2-1 despite dominating large spells.
Tony Pulis’ Boro currently sit sixth in the Sky Bet Championship having taken 10 points from their last possible 12. The men from Teesside grabbed a 1-0 win at Birmingham City in the week, after a 3-0 beating of Leeds United and a thrilling 3-3 draw in a North-East clash with Sunderland.
Middlesbrough are one of the six new clubs in the Championship for this season, having suffered Premier League relegation last May following a campaign which saw them win just five league matches. Their promotion to the top flight came after an absence of seven years, whilst they adapted to life in the second tier.
Boro reached their last peak in the mid-2000s under Steve McClaren, when they achieved surprise League Cup success in 2004 with a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at the Millennium Stadium. Having also eliminated Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur along the way, Boro’s triumph qualified the club for the UEFA Cup, reaching the last 16 stage the following season alongside their record Premier League finish of seventh. Another year of European football beckoned, and the Teessiders defied the odds once more as they reached the UEFA Cup final of 2006. They eventually lost out in a 4-0 defeat to Sevilla in Eindhoven after knocking out the likes of Roma and Basel en route.
Middlesbrough have a solid history of success, having been promoted from the Championship and its equivalent seven times, including four titles – the most recent of those in 1995. Alongside their famous 2006 European run and their League Cup win 14 years ago, Boro were also League Cup runners-up in two successive seasons, 1996/97 and 97/98, the former of which they also reached the FA Cup final.
Boro have a relatively small squad, but carry plenty of experience at both Premier League and Championship level. Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph has been their only ever-present this season, with backup from veteran Greek, Dimi Konstantopoulos. Former Stoke man Ryan Shotton and George Friend could slot in as the full-backs, though Martin Cranie is also available. Highly-rated Ben Gibson could partner former Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala at centre-half, with local youngster Dael Fry able to operate in defence or midfield. Brazilian full-back Fabio, once of Manchester United, has not featured since Boxing Day.
Muhamed Besic, on loan from Everton, could work as the engine room midfielder, with Jonny Howson and Adam Clayton providing reliability either side. Grant Leadbitter however is in line to return from suspension after missing last Tuesday’s win. Marvin Johnson and the much-lauded Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker have also been involved of late. Pulis could again start with a front three, with livewire Adama Traore and Boro stalwart Stewart Downing able to support a centre-forward which could give the manager a real choice. Top scorer Britt Assombalonga had to settle for the bench last time out, though Patrick Bamford has been on fire recently with a hat-trick against Leeds and the winner at Birmingham and will most likely continue from the start. A blow for Boro is Rudy Gestede’s ankle fracture, which has seen him ruled out for the season, picked up in last month’s win over Hull City in which he had scored two goals.
In The Dugout
Former AFC Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers defender Tony Pulis is another of the Championship’s high-profile clutch of managers.
The 60-year-old Welshman earned his UEFA ‘A’ Licence at just 21, and took his first coaching job in 1992 as a player-coach with Bournemouth. After becoming manager following the departure of Harry Redknapp, Pulis went on to manage several league clubs, his most notable managerial spell coming during seven years at Stoke City. He guided the Potters to the Premier League in 2008 where the club have since remained, and reached the FA Cup final in 2011 where they faced Manchester City at Wembley in a 1-0 defeat.
Pulis moved on and took charge of recently-promoted Crystal Palace, where he won the Premier League Manager of the Season award for 2013/14 after achieving an 11th-place finish. A stint at West Bromwich Albion followed, before he arrived at the Riverside Stadium on Boxing Day this season in search of returning Boro to the big-time.
Middlesbrough and Barnsley have faced one another 58 times, with the Reds winning 16 of those clashes to Boro’s 30. We came close to improving that record at Oakwell earlier this season, after we took a 2-1 lead inside eight minutes before eventually settling for a 2-2 draw.
The Reds did the double over Boro in 2012/13, with a 1-0 Oakwell victory followed by a 3-2 win at the Riverside, coming from behind with a late Jason Scotland winner. This was followed up the season after with another 3-2 win, this time on home soil as a three-goal half-time lead was enough to earn the points.
With Jose’s men hovering above the relegation places and Pulis’ side looking to cement a play-off place, the stakes are certainly high for Saturday afternoon.