With fewer goals than points and not enough points to secure safety, Middlesbrough are in for a nervous end to the season but only if they can find that elusive first win of the year. Having collected only seven points from seven draws, it has not been a lucky time for their fans who have watched their team sink through the table with the Championship waiting to break their fall. There’s a feeling that Agnew has encouraged better performances from his team in the last couple of weeks though and with the other teams just above them unable to widen the gap, this could be the first of two games to prove that a week is a long time in football.
Bournemouth have already found some of those much-needed wins this year to increase their chances of survival. After a string of terrible results that provided them with a solitary point from six games, their previous two defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Tottenham respectively have been the only speed-bump on their current stretch of smooth road, albeit they gained nothing from a situation where they had little to lose and everything to gain. Eddie Howe’s men will go into this match knowing they could slip to within four points of relegation with a defeat, however, their final five games are all against teams in the bottom half of the table and on paper at least, sees them with the easiest run-in of all teams currently stuck in the mire.
LAST TIME OUT
Tottenham 4 - 0 BOURNEMOUTH
It was another imperious display from Tottenham which left Bournemouth reeling in their wake as the battle at the top intensified. The game saw Spurs pressing for a goal from the first few seconds onwards and their pressure eventually paid off in the 16th minute when Mousa Dembele found the net with his second shot on target. Three minutes later and Son Heung-Min had doubled the lead following a loose pass from Wilshere, which Kane laid off for the South Korean to finish.
Bournemouth refused to accept defeat and continued to threaten throughout the remaining half with Stanislas looking lively upon his return to the team, however, Harry Kane marked his return with a goal at the very start of the second half and Spurs turned on the style with a second half display capped by an injury-time goal for Vincent Janssen, his first from open-play in the Premier League since joining in the summer. For all of their endeavours, the Cherries may consider themselves unfortunate victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as, while the score reflected Tottenham’s brilliance, it by no means represents an area of concern for the South coast club.
MIDDLESBROUGH 1 - 2 Arsenal
It was an improved performance by Middlesbrough but more significantly, it was another defeat which leaves them floundering in the relegation zone with games running out. There was a feeling prior to kick-off that it was the perfect time to welcome Arsenal to the Riverside stadium but the London side failed to present the soft target that many had hoped for and despite a disallowed goal from de Roon in the 23rd minute, Middlesbrough were failing to get their shots on target. As the Gunners quality started to come to the fore Sanchez had the game’s first shot on target in the 30th minute before he placed a free-kick into the corner of the net just before half-time.
Negredo equalised only five minutes into the second half when he met a delightful cross from Downing and volleyed beyond Petr Cech and with the game opening up it was Ozil who produced the winning moment as he finished a well-worked goal in the 71st minute. For all of Boro’s spent energy and enthusiasm, the win evaded them due to a lack of creativity in producing clear-cut chances in what has become a familiar tale for the North-East side.
Jack Wilshere is unavailable after fracturing his leg while knee injuries will keep Andrew Surman and Callum Wilson out of the action although Dan Gosling is still a doubt to start this match.
A late decision will be made over Victor Valdes after a rib injury has had him recently sidelined with Grant Leadbitter and Fabio both facing fitness tests following knocks in the Arsenal game although Callum Chambers is expected to be available for the game.
A Wilshere-shaped hole
With a small fracture to his fibula, it looks like the Arsenal midfielder has played his final game for the Cherries. Bournemouth could also be missing both Surman and Gosling from central midfield which lays the way for Lewis Cook to step into the breach and prove he’s worth the £7m his club paid Leeds for him last summer. The 20-year old has so far been limited to only one start for his new club in the season's opening fixture, but the Middlesbrough match could be an ideal platform for him to show he is ready for the step up and possibly force his way into Howe’s plans for next season.
Pretty vs effective
With both teams not yet guaranteed their safety for next season, it is wildly different philosophies which has lead them to this similar point. Eddie Howe’s unwavering belief in playing an expansive style of football has seen his team opened up on numerous occasions, leaking the league’s third highest amount of goals. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough’s policy of safety first has ironically lead to them being even less safe and now has them desperately throwing all hands to the pump as they look to rekindle the goal scoring form which brought them up into the Premier League to begin with.
Boro’s troubled star
After being reinstalled in the team last week and following Agnew’s praise of the Uruguayan as a “massively important” figure in the club’s hopes for survival, Gastón Ramírez has been handed an opportunity to shine in the season’s final throes. The attacking midfielder made his intentions clear when he requested a transfer in the January window and has struck an unhappy figure ever since after spending the majority of this year away from the starting line-up, although he could just prove to be Middlesbrough’s ace in the hole, especially considering the incredible solo goal he scored against Bournemouth in the teams' previous fixture earlier this season.
PREDICTION: Bournemouth 2 - 1 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough will view this game as the last chance to save their season which should provide them with enough motivation to continue their recent improvement and make this game very interesting. Bournemouth however have looked far better than some of their results this year implies and genuinely seem to have turned a corner recently, with confidence being restored as important as any other factor. Having rescued many points so far this season from losing positions, the Cherries have a strong mentality that should see them well through this game despite some nervous moments.
Can Bournemouth secure another season in the Premier League? Give us your prediction in the comments section below.