Blackburn are set to welcome top of the table Middlesbrough to Ewood Park on Boxing Day as Boro look to extned their lead at the top of the Championship.
Eighteen points currently separate the two sides, with the visiting team having won more than twice as many games as their hosts in the Championship this season and look well set for promotion to the Premier League.
The visitors were able to pull of an impressive 3-0 away win against Brighton recently, and Blackburn are a far easier proposition. However, the hosts cannot be written off entirely, with the Rovers suffering only one defeat in their last ten home Championship matches.
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If Blackburn are in fact able to pull off the upset, they could end up as high as eleventh in the Championship, if other results work out in their favor.
Middlesbrough know that anything other than victory is likely to see the Boro surrender their prime Championship position to second place Derby.
Blackburn’s prospects have been boosted by the likely return of Hope Akpan to the side. The hosts’ bench has been strengthened by the likely return of Chris Brown.
A stalemate at Ewood Park seems entirely possible, as Blackburn have posted back to back home clean sheets in the Championship, in no small part to the stalwart defending of Shane Duffy and Grant Hanley. The visit of Middlesbrough is an ideal time for attacking midfielder Bangaly-Fode Koita to step up and make a difference.
Koite has been disappointing this season, providing only two assists in total. Koite finding his form would take the attacking burden off of Jordan Rhodes, who has been Blackburn’s most potent threat so far, with nine goals to his name.
Middlesbrough have no new absences to contend with.
Their only notable missing player will be David Nugent who is set to serve the final game of a three match suspension.
Boss Aitor Karanka is likely to name an unchanged XI from that which was able to recently annihilate Brighton. Boro’s recent climb to the top of the table is even more impressive considering their long-term injury woes, including Damia Abella, Alex Baptiste and Rhys Williams.
At this point, it’s more than possible Aitor Karanka will be managing in the Premiership before former mentor Jose Mourinho.
Although a Middlesbrough victory is the widely predicted outcome, it’s more than possible that Blackburn’s notoriously hard to break down back four will salvage a point on Boxing Day.
A home victory for the Ewood Park faithful to savour seems unlikely – but anything is possible during the festive fixtures and Paul Lambert could well have a Chritmas trick up his sleeve in time for the Championship pace setters.