Boro have won seven on the spin at home
Stoke hold a poor record at top-10 teams
Carrick's free-scorers difficult to dismiss
Boro close gap on the top-two
Middlesbrough came from behind at Swansea on Saturday to narrow the gap on the Championship's promotion leaders with a 3-1 triumph. Joel Piroe gave the hosts a surprise lead early in the first half of an entertaining contest but Aaron Ramsey and Cameron Archer scored in the space of three second-half minutes to turn the game on its head.
Top-goalscorer Chuba Akpom then netted from the penalty spot to seal a rousing win with Michael Carrick's men moving to within four points of second-placed Sheffield United. Boro have now taken top honours in seven of their last eight outings, and were boosted before kick-off by the return of key defender Paddy McNair from a head injury.
Carrick was full of praise for his players post-match. He said, "I'm really pleased. We showed different sides to our game, showed control and were dangerous throughout. I thought the first half was actually our better half in terms of the football that we played and control we had. The boys showed their togetherness, their belief and spirit to turn the game around."
Boro were without Dael Fry for the game as the defender missed out through illness and remains a doubt for the midweek match. Meanwhile, Sonny Finch made his league debut for the club after replacing Isaiah Jones on the bench.
Stoke survive late scare
Stoke chief Alex Neil was eager to focus on the first 80 minutes of Friday night's 3-2 victory over Blackburn as the Potters claimed back-to-back wins for only the second time this season. City raced into a 3-0 lead courtesy of a brace from Ki-Jana Hoever and Tyrese Campbell strike, and the hosts' might have been ahead even more convincingly.
But Blackburn scored twice in the closing stages with their first two shots on-target, with the Stoke boss annoyed that crosses were not prevented as Rovers set up a grandstand finish. Still, the Potters held out to claim three points and move up to 14th in the standings, their highest position so far since Neil took charge in August, with four wins in their last six.
Neil said: "It was a very disappointing finish as, up until the 80th minute, we had been very comfortable. But it was then suddenly 'game on' for the last few minutes and it had no right to be. But that shouldn't take away from the first-half performance. We could have been more goals ahead - and should have been too. We've a lot of positives to take from this."
Ben WIlmot failed a fitness test pre-match, whilst Phil Jagielka was ruled out due to illness. With goalkeeper Matija Sarkic out with a potentially season-ending injury, Neil was forced to draft in Morgan Fox at centre-back next to Man Utd loanee Axel Tuanzebe, who made his first league start since joining Stoke on deadline. Jack Bonham replaced Sarkic.
Middlesbrough come into this clash having won each of their last four home league matches against Stoke, including a 3-1 success here last season. Boro have now bagged W5-D3-L1 across their last nine head-to-head encounters since 2018/19 and have suffered a solitary defeat in nine home matches with the Potters since 1994 (W7-D1-L1).
Middlesbrough 1.865/6 are the second-best performing side in the Championship since Michael Carrick took charge with Boro posting W15-D1-L3 since the start of November. The Teessiders have proven particularly prolific at The Riverside, returning W7-D2-L0 in league action here, winning each of their last seven matches as hosts in league action.
Stoke 4.77/2 arrive having bagged successive away triumphs, scoring eight goals in the process - one more than the Potters had notched in their previous eight encounters combined. City haven't picked up three consecutive wins on the road since 2005 and have managed only W1-D1-L5 when travelling to top-10 opposition this term.
Goals have proven a profitable formula in Middlesbrough matches under Carrick. The Teessiders have seen the Over 2.5 Goals 2.0621/20 barrier beaten in 15 of their past 20 Championship contests, with 13 of those fixtures delivering Both Teams To Score (20/23) pay-outs. Boro have netted in 18 of those encounters, keeping five clean sheets.
Stoke have seen nine of their 14 Championship games since the World Cup break feature three goals or more with the Potters silencing just three of their opponents. Neil's troops have found their goalscoring boots lately but have been nilled six times during that same 14-match sample and have scored just four goals in seven trips to the top-10.
With Boro in fine form, and looking every inch an automatic promotion player, I'm happy to support the hosts here by backing Middlesbrough to win and Over 1.5 Goals at 6/5 on the Sportsbook. Fifteen of the Teessiders' last 16 Championship triumphs have seen the hosts score twice or more and Stoke come into this clash understrength at centre-back.