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Jun 27, 2020 at 3pm UK
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Wing (83')

Preview: Stoke City vs. Middlesbrough - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Stoke City vs. Middlesbrough - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Saturday's Championship clash between Stoke City and Middlesbrough, including team news and predicted lineups.

Middlesbrough begin another new era on Saturday when they travel to fellow strugglers Stoke City as Neil Warnock takes charge for the first time.

Warnock has his work cut out to keep Boro in the division as they are one place above the dropzone, though just two points behind 18th-place opponents Stoke.

Match preview

Seven months after leaving his position as Cardiff City manager, Warnock has once again come out of retirement to steer Middlesbrough clear of the relegation zone.

Achieve that aim and Warnock will surely go for a record-breaking fifth promotion to the top flight, something that he last achieved with Cardiff in 2018.

There is no doubt that the Yorkshireman is the perfect manager for the Smoggies, but there is every chance that he has been given too much to do by predecessor Woodgate.

A disastrous first campaign in management for Woodgate was brought to an end on Tuesday, though he could easily have been sacked well before the three-month hiatus.

Boro were on a 12-match winless run prior to beating Charlton Athletic 1-0 in their last match before lockdown, a result that perhaps explains the board's decision to stick with Woodgate for a little while longer.

It is now one win in 14 games and the Smoggies are only out of the bottom three on goal difference, level on points as they are with Hull City.

Given the incredibly tight nature of the bottom three, though, a win this weekend would see them leapfrog opponents Stoke and climb as high as 17th.

Stoke have themselves struggled this season, though they have at least become tough to beat either side of the coronavirus-enforced break.

The Potters, who had aspirations of challenging for promotion this term, are unbeaten in five games and showed their fighting spirit in last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Reading.

Trailing to a Lucas Joao goal for almost the entire match, Nick Powell popped up in the second minute of added time to earn his side a previous point at the Madejski Stadium.

Stoke have also lost just one of their last nine home Championship matches, winning six of those, and three more points on Saturday will give them a healthy five-point margin on the relegation zone.

Michael O'Neill's men lost 2-1 in December's reverse fixture, though, and Boro are aiming to complete a league double over their opponents for the first time since 1960.

Stoke City's Championship form: LWDDWD

Middlesbrough's Championship form: LLLDWL

Team News

Stoke have lost Ryan Shawcross to a muscle injury sustained against Reading, so Danny Batth is expected to partner James Chester at centre-back.

Joe Allen, Jordan Cousins and Thibaud Verlinden are all still absent, meanwhile, and are each in a race to play again over the remaining month of the campaign.

O'Neill is unlikely to make mass changes to his side, but Sam Vokes returning up top is a possible option for the visit of low-scoring Middlesbrough.

Indeed, no team in the division has scored fewer goals than the 37 Boro have managed, putting the pressure on Britt Assombalonga to end his scoring drought.

Assombalonga was left out for what proved to be Woodgate's final match - a 3-0 home loss to Swansea City - but both he and Ashley Fletcher are in line for recalls this weekend.

Daniel Ayala will play no further part this season, however, as he is out of contract next week and does not intend to sign a short-term extension.

Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Butland; Smith, Chester, Batth, Martins Indi; Powell, Clucas, Thompson; Ince, Vokes, Campbell

Middlesbrough possible starting lineup:
Stojanovic; Howson, Fry, Shotton, Friend; Wing, Clayton, McNair; Fletcher, Assombalonga, Coulson

We say: Stoke City 0-0 Middlesbrough

Both teams remain at serious risk of relegation heading into the final straight of the elongated campaign. Stoke have only lost one of their last 15 home league meetings with Middlesbrough, that coming in 1998, and we are tipping them to extend that run this weekend with a stalemate that will help neither side.

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