Both Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough need a boost to their survival chances when the two teams go head-to-head at Selhurst Park this weekend (3pm Saturday).
Sam Allardyce (pictured) has not yet had the expected impact since being appointed Palace boss two months ago, with the capital club two points adrift of safety with 13 matches left to play. A 2-0 victory over Bournemouth at the end of January hinted at a corner having been turned, but Palace proceeded to lose 4-0 to Sunderland and 1-0 to Stoke City in their two subsequent encounters.
They now have only one win to their name in their last 11 top tier outings and two in their last 19. The Eagles’ principal problem under Alan Pardew was their defensive record, but they have failed to improve their solidity under Allardyce while also becoming less clinical at the other end of the field.
Middlesbrough are also on a bad run, with Aitor Karanka’s charges having amassed only four points from the last 24 available. The promoted outfit remain on the right side of the dotted line, though, with two points separating them from Hull City in 18th place. Boro are a dogged and determined team who focus on keeping things tight at the back, which means they could frustrate a more expansive Palace side when the duo lock horns. Karanka’s concern is that his players do not score many goals – just 19 in their 25 matches this term, which is comfortably the worst tally in the division – but he will at least take solace in the fact Boro have conceded only 27 in 2016/17.
Palace will have to make do without Pape Souare (broken leg), Steve Mandanda (knee), Connor Wickham (knee), Jonathan Benteke and Bakary Sako (hamstring), while club captain Scott Dann is a doubt with a hamstring problem.
Allardyce has employed 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 formations during his first couple of months in charge of the Eagles but will probably opt for four at the back here, with Liverpool loanee Mamadou Sakho in line for his first start since joining the club in January. Wilfried Zaha and the revitalised Andros Townsend will be Palace’s key men when it comes to creating chances for lone striker Christian Benteke, while Jason Puncheon’s poor run of form could see him replaced in the centre of midfield by Yohan Cabaye.
Middlesbrough will be missing full-backs George Friend (calf) and Antonio Barragan (hamstring) for their trip to south London, but Karanka has no fresh injury concerns. The former Real Madrid assistant boss has generally stuck with his favoured 4-3-3 setup this term and will see no reason to change it here, with Ben Gibson and Bernardo Espinosa set to be vital in the heart of the backline. A three-man midfield of Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw and Marten de Roon will look to contribute in both phases of the game, while the speed of Adama Traore means the former Barcelona winger will be Middlesbrough’s primary outlet on the break.
Palace have had an extra week of rest and will hope that their fortnight-long break will serve them well this weekend, but their awful home record means it could be worth backing Middlesbrough to come out on top in this relegation six-pointer at Selhurst Park.
So now this match preview comes to thinking about its betting tips. Goals are likely to be at a premium between two teams who have struggled to find the net in the last few weeks, which is why a narrow triumph for the visitors Middlesborough looks like the way to go on Saturday (3/1 with Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfred) .