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Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa preview: can Villa bend steel?

Villa’s tough run of fixtures steels up - as Villa head to do battle with Tony Pulis once more

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Five goals without three points? Tough. Five goals against without losing? A Pyrrhic victory to say the least. Aston Villa played out a 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest that nobody at all could have saw coming.

After facing Nottingham Forest, Villa now head into a meaningful clash against another strong opponent - Tony Pulis and his Middlesbrough side.

How about that Villa?

Ugh. We can be nothing but positive about Villa right now and that feels so wrong. That 5-5 with Forest was agonising, and exciting. It had it all. Villa, unfortunately, could not prevent Nottingham Forest scoring low-quality efforts - including one lightning fast Joe Lolley effort that nobody stopped. Certainly, that’s a trend that will need to stop, because Middlesbrough aren’t far away from finding their shooting boots at all. Boro can create high-quality shots, but can’t score them all that often. If they can keep their xG tally high, the law of averages says that they should come good eventually. Villa will need to be on their game - and the first lesson they can learn from the Forest match needs to be learnt before the weekend.

Villa will have worries about Conor Hourihane heading into the weekend. Frankly, he’s undroppable - but as half-back against Forest, he was targeted to great success. Forest’s pace ripped Villa to shreds and gave them too many chances to score. If Boro are smart, they’ll try that again - as James Chester at centre-back seems to still be carrying an injury that is affecting his game right now. Hourihane and Chester are undroppable, and for good reason - but their context enforced weaknesses are an issue for Villa.

Albert Adomah will miss out against his former side, and that’s ok. Yannick Bolasie was exciting against Forest, but Anwar El-Ghazi seems to be ready to compete for a place in this side. Rotation is a good idea and unfortunately for Adomah, there’s an opportunity for a winger to step up. Alan Hutton is suspended, so expect the reliable Ahmed Elmohamady to step in at right-back.

Boro

Formerly managed by Villa’s midweek foe - Aitor Karanka, Middlesbrough are somewhat steady under Tony Pulis. They started off the season well, but their goals have started to level out. They are getting a bit wasteful up front, despite having a fair focus on attacking the opposition.

It takes Boro around 26 shots to concede one goal. Their goalkeeper would have to wait around 26 times to concede once. That is impressively ridiculous. Other sides are seeing ten shots hit them before a goal, which makes Pulis’ Boro almost three times better in defense than other teams. If they can start finishing the chances they are making - they will go far. That’s a big if, though. Defensive discipline is the name of the game, and high-flying

Pulis’ lads have lost two games all season, and honestly don’t look like losing much more. Aden Flint is a rock amongst Daniel Ayala at the back and Darren Randolph is a fantastic goalkeeper. They just aren’t finding enough room to support Britt Assombalonga nor Rudy Gestede up front - and while Marcus Tavernier has potential, he’s not Adama Traore.

The record

Once more, over the past six games between the sides, Villa have won 2, Boro have won 2, and two have been split. Villa’s victories have all come in league competition, while Boro have’t bested Villa in the league. The bragging rights in this matchup in the context of the Championship are all Villas. Certainly, under Pulis - Middlesbrough have yet to get the better of the Villa.

Prediction

If Villa sit back, they’ll make it hard for a stodgy Boro team to get going. However, they won’t sit back. They’ll try their game and if that comes off, they should win. Boro will be ready to take advantage of a high Villa line, though. 2-1 to the Villa.