Middlesbrough v West Ham United

We've finally thought of a way to get rid of Preview Percy. After his last effort in which he predicted the Derby result, named their scorer as "danger man" and threw in a Bristol City victory over Southampton for good measure, we reported him for witchcraft. Unfortunately the council told us that they didn't have a department that issued permits for burning people at the stake. When we asked exactly what we pay our council tax for they hung up. Unbelievable. Here's Percy's look at Tuesday night's visit to the North East, with added history from John Northcutt to arrive by carrier pigeon shortly.

Our second match in four days sees us make the long trip up to the North East where we visit the Riverside Stadium for a 7.45pm kick off against Middlesbrough. Thanks fixtures guy. You spoil us again. Not.

Our hosts currently lie in 4th spot, one place lower than when they went into Saturday’s fixture at Peterborough, thanks to an 81st minute equaliser from the home side. Boro’ currently have 32 points from their 18 matches. Five points behind ourselves, and two points behind Cardiff in 3rd place, over whom they (like us) have a game in hand.

Their current form has seen them win and lose three of their last eight, the other two drawn matches coming in their last two matches at home to Blackpool and away to Peterborough. At home, although unbeaten this season they’ve drawn six of the nine played, their last victory coming on Guy Fawkes day courtesy of a 1-0 win over Watford. The other two home victories came back in August against Birmingham (2-1) and Derby (2-0) whilst they’ve drawn with Portsmouth (2-2), Coventry (1-1), Ipswich & Leicester (both 0-0), Millwall (1-1) and Blackpool (2-2).

The boss is Tony Mowbray, who has recently celebrated his second anniversary in the job following the resignation of Gordon Strachan in October 2010. The former Celtic boss is credited, when a Celtic player, with coming up with the pre-match “huddle” that Celtic players still perform before matches, something that I recall Paolo Di Canio trying to get off the ground at the Boleyn years ago.

In goal is likely to be Jason Steele. Steele has been first choice in recent weeks following the return to Wolves of loan signing Carl Ikeme at the end of October. Ikeme was with the club for three months as cover at the start of the season for the injured Steele who, in a nice coincidence of timing, returned to fitness just as Ikeme picked up a knock of his own. Steele played for England U19 in the 2009 European U19 championships, captaining the team in one match.

At right back they have ex-Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte, a player who, from time to time we’ve been linked with. Hoyte’s transfer to the Riverside in 2008 represented a return to the North East for the player, a season in 2005-06 with Sunderland not putting him off the weather and the grub up there.

In the middle of defence is the skipper Matthew Bates. Part of Boro’s 2003/04 Youth Cup winning side, last season saw the player finally managing to put a proper run of games together, his earlier career being blighted by number of knee injuries that saw him have no fewer than four operations in three years. Until recently he may have been better known for his, er, photographic skills. A number of what you might refer to as “self-portraits” somehow made their way onto the internet a few years ago, the Sun, with their usual subtlety, coming up with the side-splitting headline “what a tackle”.

A former holder of the armband (for a few matches back in 2008 anyway) is Julio Arca who signed from Sunderland back in 2006. Where does the time go? Arca signed a new two-year deal at the start of the season though he has been on the bench in recent weeks – six of his twelve appearances thus far have been as substitute. Surprisingly he never made the full Argentina side, though he did skipper the U20 side to World Cup victory at that age group.

Top scorer at the moment is Marvin Emnes. In the league he has 7 from his 18 appearances thus far this term. Although he has been with Boro’ since 2008 it is only fairly recently that he has been in favour at the Riverside. The Strachan reign saw him employed largely as a heating device for the substitutes’ bench. A trial with Fortuna Dusseldorf ensued but nothing came of it. A one month loan at Swansea in 2010 saw him earn himself free beer for life in that particular city, the Dutchman netting the only goal in a 1-0 win over Cardiff. He’d probably best be careful about where he drinks in the Welsh capital though. Mowbray clearly thinks more of the player than his predecessor – Strachan though him a waste of a squad number – and he signed a new three-year contract at the start of this season.

Arca’s usual strike partner is Scott McDonald. The diminutive (5’7”) striker was born in Melbourne and has been capped by the Aussies, though his lack of goals at international level saw him omitted from the 2010 World Cup squad. His bio helpfully points out that he is of Scottish extraction – like we wouldn’t have worked that one out. After an early career down under he came to the UK and, following an uninspiring career at Southampton, Huddersfield (loan), Bournemouth (loan) and Wimbledon he finally ended up in the country of his ancestors. He made a name for himself with both Motherwell and Celtic in the six years in the land of the deep-fried Mars bar, netting over a century of goals in the SPL. McDonald was just one of a number of ex-Celtic players that made the trip across the border at the behest of Gordon Strachan, though the culture shock of a move from the third to the first world was tempered by the fact that the move was only to Middlesbrough.

Another possible partner for Emnes is Estonian Tarmo Kink. Kink has mainly been on the bench this season and has but one appearance to his name. Why mention him? Well despite the lack of entertainment here at the Avram Grant Rest Home for The Bewildered I have manfully resisted all temptation to comment on a squad containing the surnames Arca and Bates. However, once we added Kink into the mix I’m afraid we were overcome by the giggles which got even more uncontrollable when someone pointed out that they have a Smallwood in the squad – something I understand Pele can help with. As I say we don't get out much around here.

Having calmed down a little I suppose I ought to turn my attention to us. Team news suggests that Sam Baldock won't be available having limped off with a hamstring problem in the first half of Saturday's match. Even if, as hoped, it's only minor damage it'll be a while before it's sensible to even think about a return to action. Other than that it's a case of round up the usual (fit) suspects. Taylor's run out from the bench sees him available for a start.

This being an away fixture – and one of the tougher ones at that on paper – I'd expect us to go with just the one (or three) up front as is the manager's wont on these occasions. If so Carlton Cole can expect to get through a few more miles to add to the hard work he's put in in recent matches. Diop might come in to provide a bit of sturdiness to the midfield whilst Demel, having finally made the bench on Saturday, can probably expect some more of the same on Tuesday night.

The second half on Saturday included some decent passing spells, albeit against a pretty out of sorts Derby. That makes three on the trot for the first time since I started getting my pension at the higher rate and it has to be said our results on the road have been jolly impressive of late – even if we've had to win the matches one half at a time. We were much better in the second halves at both Hull and Coventry but Boro' might be a different proposition so we'll to see a better first 45 from this one.

Which brings us on to my prediction. I'd like to apologise for Saturday's prediction which, in terms of the score, the opposition danger man and the side comment on Bristol City v Southampton was 100% correct. I really don't know what came over me and I'm sure it won't happen again. For this one we, who tend to play things tight on the road, will be up against what is (alongside ours) statistically the joint meanest defence in the division. This says “draw” to me – and probably not a high scoring one. I'll plump for a 1-1 as we learn to love the point once more.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met: We met on four occasions in the 2008/09 season. In November '08 we drew 1-1 up there, Hayden Mullins getting ours, their late equaliser coming from a dubiously-awarded free-kick from some bloke called Mido.

On Valentine's day 2009 we then drew 1-1 in the 5th round of the Cup. Ilunga's late header cancelled out Downing's first half effort to give a replay nobody really wanted. Savio played.

Ten days later Downing's free-kick and an effort from Sanli were enough to see Boro' to the quarters.

The series concluded at the Boleyn in the final match of the season. The visitors arrived in need of a big win and a hideously complex series of other results to go their way to avoid relegation. In the end we turned them over 2-1. Cole and Stanislas were our scorers whilst Gary O'Neill (bless him) was on the score sheet for the visitors.

Referee: Tony Bates – Oh come on I was struggling enough to get through the Boro' squad list without resorting to schoolboy humour. Then they send this guy along. Refereed our home match against the other Boro' (of Peter) and awarded the penalty from which Noble scored the only goal of the game. Did their 0-0 draw over Leicester a few days later and has yet to issue a red card this season.

Danger Man: Scott McDonald – Missed out against Peterborough but picked up a brace against Blackpool as well as the winner against Watford that ended a dry spell for the player. A possible absentee through illness though. Top scorer Emnes is also one to keep an eye on, though he too is an injury doubt.

Daft fact of the week: I honestly research these and, when there is nothing interesting of note to share, I may (occasionally) make stuff up. However, sometimes one discovers something that really defies description. I am therefore indebted to a website called the bestofbritish.tribe.net from which the following is genuinely taken:

Fact: Middlesbrough is located in the North East of England. More interesting facts about Middlesbrough next week.

I can hardly wait.

Stat man John: Northcutt's corner


Shaka Hislop (a) 1999-2000
Tomas Repka (a) 2001-02

They Played For Both

Sam Jennings, Jeremie Aliadiere and Gary O’Neil. Malcolm Allison was also the Middlesborough manager between 1982 and 1984.

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