Middlesbrough booked their play-off spot after the win over Hull City last week, and are now also certain to finish in the top four of the Championship. Despite losing 2-1 against Luton Town on Monday night, Michael Carrick’s sights will be set on play-off fixtures, making the outing against Rotherham United of meagre importance.
But the word important might just be an understatement in the case of Rotherham, who have the opportunity to confirm their Championship survival with a win. But knowing the importance of the game and actually going into it and coming on the other side with all three points are two very different things. Matt Taylor’s men haven’t won a game since their early April triumph over West Bromwich, and have dropped a point through a late goal in each of their last two games.
Last 5 games
Rotherham United: 20th
Loss: 1-2 vs Cardiff City
Loss: 1-2 vs Bristol City
Draw: 2-2 vs Burnley
Loss: 0-2 vs Luton Town
Draw: 0-0 vs Norwich City
Loss: 1-2 vs Luton Town
Win: 3-1 vs Hull City
Win: 5-1 vs Norwich City
Draw: 2-2 vs Bristol City
Loss: 1-2 vs Burnley
Head to Head
Middlesbrough should be heavy favourites going into the game considering both – their recent form and their result against the opposition in recent years. The reverse fixture was a goalless affair in September. But before that, Boro took the cake three times out of four opportunities.
Michael Carrick wasn’t at the helm in their earlier clash. Under his management, Middlesbrough have been brilliant going forward, and Rotherham will have to do a lot to keep a clean sheet in their last home game of the season.
Ollie Rathbone was hooked off late in the game against Cardiff because of groin issues. As such, he’s unlikely to feature, but Domingos Quina is expected to return and take his place in the middle of the park.
Not many changes are expected in Carrick’s starting XI from the Luton defeat. But Chuba Akpom, the Championship’s Player of the Season, could make a return after rest.
Rotherham United: 4-3-3
Johansson (GK), Harding, Wood, Humphreys, Bramall, Quina, Lindsay, Coventry, Ogbene, Hugill, Fosu-Henry
Steffen (GK), Dijksteel, Lenihan, Bola, Giles, Mowatt, Hackney, Jones, Barlaser, Muniz, Akpom
Players to Watch
The Swedish goalkeeper has been Rotherham’s highest-rated player this season (WhoScored). Taylor’s backline are unlikely to be able to keep Boro’s attack at bay for large parts of the game, and will once again depend on Johannson’s shot-stopping skills to keep a second clean sheet against Middlesbrough this season.
Akpom, who trained with the U21s during Chris Wilder’s time at the club, has been transformed under Carrick’s tutelage, becoming the league’s top goalscorer with 28 strikes. His absence was felt in the defeat against Luton. The former Arsenal talent should be amongst the goal once again after returning to the starting lineup.
If Akpom is rested once again, keeping the play-off fixtures in mind, Cameron Archer could be equally devastating for the Rotherham backline. The 21-year-old has 10 goals and six assists in his 18 appearances this campaign and four in his last three.
Where Will The Game Be Decided?
Carrick’s 4-2-3-1 formation shifts to 3-5-2 in possession, allowing Ryan Giles the freedom to bomb forward and make up a five-man attack. His cut-backs, in particular, have led to numerous goals for Middlesbrough. Whether Akpom starts or Archer, Rotherham won’t be able to stop Middlesbrough from scoring if they don’t keep Giles quiet.
Wes Harding will need support from right-sided midfielder Chiedozie Ogbene (or Oliver Rathbone, if he’s deemed fit to play) to push Giles away from Rotherham’s final third. In case Giles manages to make penalty-box entries, Harding will have to team up with Richard Wood to outnumber the flying full-back.
Because if Carrick’s men, who have scored nine times in the last three outings, are allowed to play their preferred football, where Giles usually has a lot of time and space in possession, Rotherham could find themselves on the wrong end of a big scoreline.
Having lost three of their last six games, Middlesbrough cannot afford more blunders heading into the most important part of the season. Expecting them to get back on the winning ways and regain their confidence with a comfortable win over the 20th-placed side. Rotherham United 0-3 Middlesbrough.
The kickoff is at noon GMT Monday at the New York Stadium.