'Boro v Preston North End - Opposition Preview'
Middlesbrough FC host Preston North End at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, looking to bounce back from defeat against Nottingham Forest.
When asked about the summer break, James said "it’s an interesting one really, that’s the best way to describe it! Given how the summer started with Simon Grayson leaving and going to Sunderland, many fans were fearing the worst. Since then however, it has been a good summer."
"We have brought in players such as Josh Harrop from Manchester United and Sean Maguire from Cork who both look to be fantastic signings and have given us some real quality up top."
"We have recently had planning applications approved for a new state of the art training ground which had previously been blocked by the council which is fantastic for the club as we aspire to reach the Premier League."
"The start to the season has been fairly good as well with two good home wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Reading, followed up in-between with a draw at Leeds. The only hiccup so far has been the defeat to Derby in which we never really got going. Apart from that though it’s been very promising."
"We have yet to concede a goal from open play which is all the more pleasing considering our need for a new centre back to replace injured club captain Tom Clarke, however I expect that to change this weekend with the amount of attacking talent that Boro have at their disposal!"
We asked James what their hopes are for the season, with him saying "our first two seasons back in the championship have been good and the aim is always to improve especially as we have aspirations of challenging for promotion. This season will be interesting as it is Alex Neil’s first season in change and it will take a while for him to stamp his authority on the team."
"With the way we have started though and from speaking to people within the club, all the signs for this season are positive. Neil seems to be well liked within the dressing room and the players seem to have bought into his ideology and philosophies."
"Challenging for the play offs this season is the aim after coming up short in our first two years back by just running out of steam come may, ultimately finishing 11th both seasons. If you were to ask me now I would say we are a player or two short but the play offs is definitely the aim!"
When speaking about which players Boro should look out for, James said "goal scoring wise, local lad Jordan Hugill will be looking to carry on from where he left off last weekend against Reading by scoring against his boyhood club. He is a physical presence up top and provides a good hold up option to bring our wide players into the game as well as providing us with someone who knows how to put the ball in the back of the net."
"The other player to keep an eye on would be Sean Maguire. The ex Cork City man is slowly finding his feet with us after making the switch from the league of Ireland and joining up with us less than a month ago, and there were signs against Reading that he’s starting to gel well with Hugill. He is another player who knows where the goal is and provides us with skill and pace in behind."
Predicted Line Up and Formation
"Apart from the unfortunate injury to stand in captain Greg Cunningham at Derby, we have had a fairly settled squad this season and I don’t think that will change this weekend. I would expect us to line up in Alex Neil’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with plenty of pace and width in the attacking third of the pitch. Add to the Ben Pearson’s tenacity in the middle of the park and it’s easy to see why we have had such a positive start."
Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Earl
Maguire, Harrop, Barkhuizen
"Strangely over the last few seasons I have been more confident going into away games than I have home games. This weekend however, will provide arguably our toughest test of the season so far. Whilst we go into the game as underdogs and with nothing to lose it will certainly be interesting to see how our young squad handle the pressure. I think the attacking quality of Middlesbrough should on paper be too much for us to handle, however football isn’t won on paper."
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"The key to us getting a result on Saturday will be decided by how well our midfield can play and combat the experience in the Boro side. Ben Pearson will need to be on top of his game and so will Daniel Johnson. While I do think Boro will most likely win, I think it’ll be a lot closer than many people think."
Score prediction: 2-1 Middlesbrough
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