PREVIEW: Middlesbrough v Luton Town

The Riverside Stadium
The Riverside Stadium

Hatters make their first ever trip to the Riverside this weekend

A poor run of form since Christmas means Middlesbrough are still somewhat nervously looking over their shoulders at the Championship relegation zone with 14 games of the season to go.

After appointing ex-England defender Jonathan Woodgate in the summer once the experienced Tony Pulis didn't have his contract extended, Boro found it tough going early.

They began with a 3-3 draw at Luton, but managed just two wins in their opening 17 league games, sitting fourth bottom after four months.

However, they weren't easy pickings in that time, managing eight draws to ensure they still picked up some precious points.

A 1-0 win over Barnsley on November 27 looked to kicked things off as December saw Boro really motoring, with four wins from six, enough for Woodgate to win the manager of the month award.

Beating Preston 2-0 on New Year's Day made it four straight victories, as a reinvigorated Boro were up to 16th, some 10 points clear of the drop zone.

However, just as they began to look up the table, Woodgate's side have started to stutter again, as although they performed well against Spurs in the FA Cup, going out 2-1 after a replay, league form has dipped.

It's now six Championship games without a win, drawing four, as Boro are without a home success since Boxing Day, meaning they sit in 18th spot, seven points above third bottom Wigan.

Boro are still tough to beat though, particularly on home soil, not losing there since October against West Bromwich Albion.

The Riverside faithful have not been overly entertained this year though, witnessing just 16 goals in 16 games, the second worst in the league, although Boro haven't been shipping many either, a mere 15 all term, easily the best in the bottom half of the table.

Woodgate did plenty of business in the transfer window to try and give his squad a boost, including one of the most eye-catching deals of January in the Championship, signing Sheffield United winger Ravel Morrison on loan until the end of the season.

The Riverside is the 26-year-old's ninth home in the past six years having been at Manchester United, West Ham, Birmingham, QPR and Cardiff before spells in Italy with Lazio, Mexico and Sweden.

Woodgate also signed Cameroon centre-back Harold Moukoudi on loan from French top-flight side Saint-Etienne, Manchester City duo Patrick Roberts and Lukas Nmecha, plus Dejan Stojanovic from Swiss side St Gallen.

There was one major outgoing though, as Irish international keeper Darren Randolph rejoined former side West Ham for a fee of £4m.

Team news: Luton welcomed Danny Hylton back to the first team squad on Wednesday night, while Sonny Bradley returned to the team as well.

It means Town are now only without Brendan Galloway (knee) and Eunan O'Kane (knee) for the foreseeable future.

For Boro, George Friend and Ryan Shotton are back in the fold, but Dani Ayala, Anfernee Dijksteel and Patrick Roberts are all out.

Top scorers: Hatters - James Collins (10). Boro - Ashley Fletcher (10).

Man in the middle: Jarred Gillett - second Luton game of the season after refereeing the 3-0 defeat at Stoke City back in December.

Has had 21 matches so far, showing 73 yellows but only two reds.

First year in the English game after spending the past four seasons in the Australian A-League.

Assistant referees are Steven Meredith and Shaun Hudson, with the fourth official Andrew Kitchen

In charge: Jonathan Woodgate – 40-year-old had a stellar playing career at some of the biggest names in football after starting out with Leeds United.

Sold to Newcastle United for £9 million in 2003, his form on Tyneside earning a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid for £13.4 million in 2004.

Returned to England and joined Middlesbrough for £7m in 2007, then heading to Spurs in for £8m in 2008, scoring the winner in the 2008 League Cup Final win over Chelsea.

Spent the 2011-12 season at Stoke and after his contract expired, re-signed for Middlesbrough, remaining there until his retirement in 2016, while he also won eight caps for England.

Had a brief spell as an international scout for Liverpool in Spain and Portugal, before Woodgate was appointed assistant coach at Middlesbrough in March 2017.

Joined the club's academy when Garry Monk took over in June 2017, before returning to his previous position once Tony Pulis replaced Monk in December of that year.

Once Pulis was sacked last summer, Woodgate was appointed as the new permanent manager in June 2019, signing a three-year contract.

View from the opposition: Jonathan Woodgate - ”They are a good team and with the budget that they've got it was always going to be difficult for them.

"They have got some really good players, Izzy Brown on loan from Chelsea is a really, really good player in that area of the pitch of pitch.

"Like I say, it will be a really difficult game."

Friendly faces: Town defender Martin Cranie joined Middlesbrough for an undisclosed fee from Huddersfield in January 2018.

Only made nine appearances including just one start, moving to Sheffield United in September of the same year.

Midfielder Jacob Butterfield joined Middlesbrough from Norwich in September 2013, as he played 32 times scoring three goals in the Championship until being snapped up by Huddersfield for an undisclosed fee in August 2014.

Played for both: Paul Wilkinson. Striker who started his career with Grimsby, as he went to Everton, Nottingham Forest and Watford for fees totalling just under £1m.

Middlesbrough then bought him in for £550k in August 1991 as he spent five years with the club, playing over 200 games, scoring 29 goals.

Had a loan spell at Luton in March 1996, with three appearances, but failed to find the net.

Went to Barnsley and Millwall afterwards, before hanging up his boots when at Northampton.

Became youth team manager at Leeds United and reserve team chief with Grimsby Town and then Cardiff City.

Had positions with Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich City, while was assistant manager at Northampton Town and then Grimsby.

Became caretaker boss with Truro City in March 2019, named Bury boss a few months later, until the club were expelled from the Football League earlier this season.

One to watch: Ashley Fletcher – 24-year-old striker is finding his form again this season after a barren run early on.

Netted the first Championship goal of the season in Boro's 3-3 draw at Kenilworth Road on the opening night, but had just two strikes in his first 16 appearances.

Since scoring in the 2-2 draw with Hull in November, Fletcher has managed eight in his last 18 to reach double figures.

Had come through the ranks at Manchester United, loaned to Barnsley and then joining West Ham in July 2016.

Boro shelled out £6.5m for him in July 2017, and although he had a loan move to Sunderland last season, is now back in the first team this term.

We've got form: Luton enjoyed a good start to their visits to Middlesbrough, after drawing a Division Two clash 0-0 in October 1899, in front of 7,000 people.

They won their second trip some 50 years later, 2-0, in 1954 as their first five away meetings led to three victories, one draw and just the one loss.

Ayresome Park used to be a favourite venue for Barry Butlin as he scored in three consecutive fixtures during the 1970s.

However, Town have now only won once in their last eight matches at Boro, that a 1-0 success in 1972, thanks to Butlin, the last five games seeing two draws and three defeats.

Overall, Luton have won four, drawn four and lost five from their 13 matches, scoring 15 but conceding just 13, keeping six clean sheets in total.

Last time out: Town fell to a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in their last visit, that a Division One contest in April 1995, in which the hosts secured promotion to the Premier League.

The match was a huge occasion for Boro, as it was their final ever game at Ayresome Park, although they made hard work it, Neil Cox seeing his first half penalty saved by Kelvin Davis,

John Hendrie opened the scoring with a deflected shot before the break, before John Taylor's thumping header made it 1-1.

Despite some heroics from Davis, it was Hendrie who won it with his second goal of the game from close range.

Hatters: Kelvin Davis, Des Linton, Julian James, Gary Waddock, Richard Harvey, Trevor Peake, Paul Telfer, Scott Oakes, John Taylor, David Preece, Dwight Marshall.

Subs used: Tony Thorpe.

Attendance: 23,903.