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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Match Preview - Middlesbrough vs. QPR

Middlesbrough vs. Queens Park Rangers
Saturday February 26, 15:00, Riverside

Two of the Championship's pre season favourites meet in the North East this weekend with both teams looking for points to aid their respective quests at either end of the division.

While table topping Queens Park Rangers have lived up to their billing though, it's been a hugely disappointing season for Middlesbrough - who still find themselves battling to avoid the drop.

Boro had been expected to challenge for the Premier League after a summer of heavy spending, but a poor start to the campaign saw them struggling near the foot of the table - leading to boss Gordon Strachan resigning.

While his successor, Teesside legend Tony Mowbray, has managed to improve fortunes at the Riverside, they still lie just five points above the drop zone in 20th.

Unsurprisingly, Middlesbrough have struggled badly to find any kind of consistency, although they did manage to construct a six match unbeaten run at the turn of the New Year.

That erratic form is no better illustrated than by their 3-2 comeback win at Millwall last weekend following on from throwing away a 3-1 lead at home to Swansea to lose 4-3.

The loss to the Swans is one of five games at the Riverside they've lost this term, with Millwall, Bristol City, Leeds, and Ipswich also returning with maximum spoils.

Half a dozen wins have been collected though, with Boro seeing off Scunthorpe, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Reading, Burnley, and Sheffield United.

Key men in Mowbray's side include striker Leroy Lita, who is the leading scorer on eight, as well as Australian forward Scott McDonald who seems to be finally finding his feet at the club.

Tony Mowbray is fighting to keep underachieving Middlesbrough in the Championship

In stark contrast, it's been relatively plain sailing for QPR, who have led from the front all season and currently sit five points clear at the Championship's summit.

With the experienced Neil Warnock at the helm, Rangers have finally begun to show their potential after flattering to deceive under a succession of short-lived managers.

Just three games have been lost all season, two of them coming on the road at fellow top six sides Leeds and Norwich during a sticky spell over Christmas and the New Year.

Since then, they've recovered and are currently on a nine-match unbeaten streak and, with 26 points from their 17 matches, boast the best away record in the second tier.

Victories for the Rs have been secured at Reading, Coventry, Ipswich, Leicester, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United, although they recently slipped up only drawing 1-1 at bottom club Preston.

Without doubt, the outstanding player for the Hoops this term has been ingenious midfielder Adel Taarabt whose creativity and guile, as well as his 14 goals, have made him arguably the division's player of the season.

Warnock can also call upon the services of experienced forwards Heidar Helguson and Tommy Smith, as well as the Championship's tightest back line with just 20 goals conceded all season.

This is a more difficult game to call than simply a side at the top against one at the bottom owing to Middlesbrough's unpredictable nature. They have genuine quality and will be fighting hard for the points to move further away from trouble.

Add in the fact that, unlike QPR, they had the midweek off, and that Rangers are away draw specialists, and I'll go for another stalemate at the Riverside.

Nobes' Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Queens Park Rangers 1

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