BlogMJW WritesLet's talk about...Middlesbrough

Let’s talk about…Middlesbrough

Swansea have suffered two frustrating draws in the last eight days. After being held 1-1 at home to Barnsley, they threw away a three-goal lead in dramatic fashion against Reading, drawing 4-4 and condemning Derby to relegation. The four dropped points have surely ended any faint hopes of a late play-off push.

Middlesbrough are next up for Swansea. Russell Martin’s men host Boro who find themselves on the fringes of the play-offs despite a run of four games without a win. Boro lost 2-0 at home to Huddersfield on Monday.

Notable First team transfers

Boro’s only permanent senior signing was Riley McGree, who arrived from MLS new-boys Charlotte FC for an undisclosed fee. McGree spent the first half of the campaign at Birmingham after joining on loan in October 2020. He has played seven times for Boro since his January arrival.

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They also bolstered their squad with two loan deals from Premier League clubs. First, they brought in Aaron Connolly from Brighton before adding Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun 10 days later. Connolly has scored two in 16 while Balogun has three in the same number of games.

Meanwhile, Boro let several players leave on loans and permanent deals. This included Uche Ikpeazu and Lewis Wing who joined Cardiff and Wycombe on loan respectively.

Their captain

Since joining from Norwich City in 2017, Jonny Howson has been an integral part of the Middlesbrough team. The 33-year-old midfielder’s list of clubs is short, having played for just three in his entire career.

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He began his playing career at Leeds, first joining the youth system in 1997, aged just nine. He made his senior debut in September 2006 in a League Cup clash with Barnet. Three months later, he was handed his league debut. They drew 0-0 with Hull City, with Howson receiving the Man of the Match award. However, this proved to be a disappointing season for his boyhood club as they were relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history.

Leeds spent three years in League One before winning promotion in 2009-10. Howson was a key figure in that side, missing just one league game. His first season back in the Championship proved to be the most productive of his entire career; he featured in all 46 league games, scoring a career-high 10 league goals.

He departed Leeds midway through the 2011-12 season, joining Norwich City who had been promoted to the Premier League in the previous season, alongside Swansea City. Norwich enjoyed back-to-back mid-table finishes in his first two seasons but were relegated with Cardiff in 2013-14.

However, Norwich immediately bounced back to the top flight, winning promotion via the play-offs in 2014-15. Howson scored the opener in their 1-1 draw at Ipswich in the first leg. Norwich’s return to the Premier League was short-lived, as they were once again relegated. Howson missed just two Premier League games in their single season back.

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He remained at Norwich for one more season, before joining Middlesbrough for an estimated £6 million in 2017. Boro had just been relegated from the Premier League after a one-year stint.

Since arriving at Boro, Howson has played at least 40 Championship games in every season. In 2018-19, he featured in all 46 league outings. He was named captain by Neil Warnock in February 2021, taking over from Britt Assombalonga.

Howson has featured in all-but-one of Boro’s league games this season.

Their top scorer(s)

For the first time since I started writing this section, Swansea face a side with joint-top scorers. They are Matt Crooks and Andraz Sporar, who have both bagged eight league goals this season.

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Starting with Crooks, who joined from Rotherham in the summer. The 28-year-old English defensive-midfielder began his career at Huddersfield, although he spent almost his entire time out on loan at various lower-league clubs. He started the 2014-15 season at Accrington Stanley before joining on a permanent deal during the campaign. He spent one more season with them before joining SPL giants Rangers in 2016.

After struggling to find a place in the team, Crooks was loaned to Scunthorpe, then in League One. He scored three goals in 12 games, earning him a permanent move to Northampton Town. He made 30 appearances for the club as they were relegated to League Two.

Crooks remained at Northampton until midway through the 2018-19 campaign, when he joined then-Championship outfit Rotherham for an undisclosed fee. He faced yet another relegation in his debut season, although his nine goals in 33 League One games in 2019-20 helped fire them immediately back to the Championship.

Following Rotherham’s relegation back to League One last season, Crooks joined Middlesbrough. He has played 38 Championship games, scoring eight and assisting two. However, discipline has been an issue for him; he has received 15 yellow cards and one red card.

Onto Sporar, who has settled into the Championship fairly comfortably. The 28-year-old Slovenian international arrived on loan from Sporting CP in the summer.

Sporar began his career in his native Slovenia, scoring 10 in 21 second tier games for Interblock. This earnt him a move to top-tier side Olimpija Ljubljana. There, he enjoyed four prolific seasons, finishing his tenure with 46 in 95 games. He also won the golden boot in 2015-16.

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His phenomenal record of 17 goals in 18 outings earnt him a move to Basel in January 2016. However, it didn’t quite work out for him at the Swiss giants. He scored just once in his 19 league appearances, although Basel did win two league titles and one Swiss Cup. He was loaned out to Arminia Bielefeld in the German second tier in 2017.

During the 2017-18 campaign, Sporar moved to Slovan Bratislava in the Slovakian Super Liga. They won the cup in his first season and the league in his second, with Sporar once again claiming the golden boot with a record of 29 goals in 30 games.

Sporar joined Sporting CP for around £5.4 million in January 2020, making him the most expensive sale in Slovakian league history. After scoring 6 in 16 games in 2019-20, Sporar was part of the Sporting side that won the league and league cup double in 2020-21, although he spent the second half of that season at Braga on loan.

He arrived at Middlesbrough in August and has scored eight in 31 games so far. Elsewhere, Sporar has also made 35 appearances for the Slovenian national team, scoring five goals.

Their manager

Following Neil Warnock’s departure in November, Boro appointed Chris Wilder. Wilder was a high-profile appointment for the club, given his experience managing in the Premier League.

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Wilder’s experience in the top flight also extends to his playing career. The former right-back started his senior career at Sheffield United in 1986, playing in the second tier. They were relegated to the third tier in 1988, but back-to-back promotions in 1989 and 1990 saw Wilder receive his first taste of First Division football. He made 20 appearances in the top tier between 1990 and 1992 before departing Rotherham United.

This move saw him drop down to the Second Division (now League One). However, this meant he received more regular football. He made 132 appearances in a four-year spell with the club. He followed this spell with two seasons at Notts County in the same division.

Late on in the 1996-97 season, Wilder moved up to the First Division (now the Championship). He made 42 appearances in just over a year at Bradford City before making his return to Sheffield United.

Once again, his playing time at Sheffield United became limited. He made just 12 league outings in two years, with loan spells at Northampton Town and Lincoln City in 1998-99.

He had a brief spell at fourth-tier side Brighton, before finishing his career at fellow Third Division (now League Two) side Halifax Town.

He retired in 2001, becoming the Halifax Town manager a year later. This came after a brief yet incredibly successful stint at Alfreton Town. He won four trophies in less than seven months at the lower league club before returning to Halifax in July 2002.

He managed Halifax for six years but was forced to depart as the club went into liquidation in June 2008. He was in charge for over 300 games for the side. Wilder became the assistant manager at Bury but left within six months to make his return to management.

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Wilder became the Oxford United manager in December 2008. At the time, Oxford were in the National League. They won promotion via the play-offs in his first season, beating York City in the final. Oxford came 12th upon their return to the Football League. They followed that with a ninth-place finish, narrowly missing out on the play-offs after a poor end to the season.

In January 2014, after just over five years at the club, Wilder resigned as Oxford boss. He took over at fellow League Two side Northampton Town. He steered his new side to safety in 2013-14 before winning the League Two title the following season.

However, Wilder departed Northampton shortly after winning promotion. He returned to Sheffield United following Nigel Adkins’ departure. The Blades found themselves in League One. Despite a poor start, Wilder guided his boyhood club to the League One title in his first season, securing a club-record 100 points.

Sheffield United finished mid-table upon their return to the Championship. They spent much of the season in and around the play-offs, but a run of just three wins from their final 12 games saw them drop from sixth to 10th.

The next season proved to be far more successful. Despite losing to Swansea at home on the opening day, Wilder led Sheffield United back to the Premier League by finishing second. They spent the majority entire season in the top six.

With the likes of Oli McBurnie joining the club, Sheffield United defied expectations by finishing ninth in their first season back in the top-flight in over a decade. They also reached the FA Cup quarter-finals, losing 2-1 to Arsenal thanks to an injury-time goal from Dani Ceballos.

Unfortunately for Wilder, his second season in the top tier proved to be far less successful. He was sacked in March 2021 with his side sat firmly in 20th place. They failed to win any of their first 17 games, picking up just two points from a possible 51 in that spell. A brief resurgence in January and February saw them beat Newcastle, Manchester United and West Brom, but Wilder was sacked after a run of five losses in six games. Sheffield United went on to win three of their remaining 10 games but still finished 20th.

Despite being linked with various clubs, Wilder remained without a job until November. He replaced Neil Warnock. They spent several weeks in the playoffs but have dropped to ninth after a poor run of form.

Previous meeting

4th December 2021

The two sides last met in early December, both with ambitions of closing the gap on the play-offs. It was Boro who opened the scoring after an uneventful 25 minutes, beating the offside trap to slot past Ben Hamer. It was assisted by ex-Cardiff defender Sol Bamba.

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Swansea felt they should have been awarded a penalty shortly before half-time when Jamie Paterson was brought down in the box. However, the referee instead booked Paterson for diving. After the break, Joel Piroe came close to equalising but Paddy McNair cleared his shot off the line. Swansea continued to push for an equaliser but Boro held strong to pick up all three points.

Final score – Middlesbrough 1-0 Swansea City

Match Preview

Last Monday’s capitulation all-but-confirmed that Swansea will be spending another season in the Championship. They sit in 13th, seven points off the play-offs with just 12 to play for. Joel Piroe continued to add to his tally, bagging a brace. Hannes Wolf also scored a wondergoal, continuing his impressive form while Michael Obafemi hit double-figures for the season.

Kyle Naughton officially signed an extension this week which will be a boost to Swansea after two disappointing results.

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Expect a tough game against a Boro side who still have a chance of making the play-offs. They will be keen to put an end to their winless run at Swansea’s expense.

After this weekend’s game, Swansea are back in action on Tuesday. They host Bournemouth.

Matt Williams
My name is Matt Williams. I am a 24-year-old journalism graduate and aspiring sports journalist from South Wales. I am a fan of Swansea City, and regularly write about the team on my own personal blog. I also support the Carolina Panthers, and I am an avid follower of the Welsh national teams in football and rugby.

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