A spot in the EFL Championship promotion playoff final will be up for grabs when Middlesbrough and Coventry City clash at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday.
The 2022/23 season will end in a few weeks, with the tables across leagues taking their final shapes. As far as the EFL Championship is concerned, we already know the two clubs to clinch the automatic promotion to the Premier League. And Middlesbrough and Coventry City will vie for the remaining berth on Wednesday.
We are currently in the semi-finals of the promotion playoffs, with Luton Town and Sunderland clashing in the other tie. And Middlesbrough and Coventry City will play their second-leg fixture at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday before we get to the final next week.
Middlesbrough had an uphill task a quarter of the way through 2022/23 in the bid to return to the Premier League. Chris Wilder’s stint with Boro ended in October, with the 55-year-old leaving them in the relegation zone. Michael Carrick replaced Wilder at the helm before gradually taking Middlesbrough up the table. And while they stumbled a little towards the end of the regular season, they finished fourth.
On the other hand, the Coventry City story should inspire one and all. A club with meagre resources has bounced back from financial woes and getting kicked out of their stadium to nearly reach the Premier League. But their 2022/23 campaign began poorly as they sat in the drop zone until November. But a run of just one defeat in 17 games helped the Sky Blues finish in the top six.
Middlesbrough and Coventry City have played each other twice in the last ten days. Both games have finished all square, with the first leg of the promotion playoff semi-final ending goalless. And The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.
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See you on Wednesday, #Boro fans 🙌 #UTB pic.twitter.com/T4tl2ClbHT
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) May 14, 2023
Michael Carrick barely has any injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Coventry City on Wednesday, the Middlesbrough manager should have a full-strength squad at his disposal.
Aaron Ramsey and Jonny Howson are the only players whose availability will pose a problem on Wednesday. But both players should be fit enough to make the matchday squad this midweek against Coventry City.
Zack Steffen, on loan from Manchester City, has enjoyed a solid campaign with Middlesbrough. And there is no looking past the 28-year-old between the sticks, with the hosts lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him. Meanwhile, Paddy McNair and Darragh Lenihan will be the two central defenders, with Tommy Smith and Ryan Giles starting on the flanks.
Alex Mowatt and Hayden Hackney should pair up in the double pivot in the middle of the park. And the duo will aim to keep things tight in the midfield battle, keeping Jamie Allen quiet. Meanwhile, Chuba Akpom should be the most advanced midfielder for the hosts.
The 29-year-old has been in inspired form since Michael Carrick took over as the Middlesbrough boss. And Akpom’s output will hold the key for the home side against Coventry City. Finally, Marcus Forss, Cameron Archer, and Riley McGree should complete the numbers in the final third.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Steffen; Smith, McNair, Lenihan, Giles; Mowatt, Hackney; Forss, Akpom, McGree; Archer
Unlike his counterpart in the Middlesbrough dugout, Mark Robins has a few issues to deal with ahead of the trip to the Riverside Stadium. The Coventry City manager might be without four first-team players on Wednesday.
Callum O’Hare (ACL), Fabio Tavares (Achilles), and Kasey Palmer (hamstring) are already on the sidelines, with none of the three players likely to return anytime soon. In addition, Robins is sweating over the fitness of Gustavo Hamer.
The 25-year-old is recovering from a minor knee injury he sustained in the first leg last weekend. And Hamer might not be fit enough to make the starting eleven on Wednesday. So Ben Sheaf should return to the side.
Next stop: Middlesbrough 🚏 pic.twitter.com/RwrDkTbT6n
— Coventry City (@Coventry_City) May 15, 2023
The English midfielder will deputise for Hamer, sitting at the base of the midfield unit. And his presence in the middle of the park will enable Jamie Allen and Liam Kelly to express themselves better when they look to push Coventry forward.
Meanwhile, Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Jake Bidwell will be the two wing-backs. The duo will aim to provide the width in the final third, with the Coventry attack remaining in the central areas for the most part. Speaking of the frontline, Matt Godden and the in-demand Viktor Gyokeres should be the two strikers.
Meanwhile, Luke McNally, Callum Doyle, and Kyle McFazdean should form the central defensive unit. The trio will look to remain compact at the back, killing off the half spaces for Middlesbrough to exploit. Finally, Ben Wilson is an automatic pick between the sticks for the visitors.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Wilson; McNally, Doyle, McFazdean; Norton-Cuffy, Kelly, Sheaf, Allen, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres
- Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their last 13 home games against Coventry City (W9 D4) since a 2-0 defeat at Ayresome Park in February 1993. Since Middlesbrough moved to the Riverside Stadium in 1995/96, the Sky Blues are the only team to have played more than five times there without winning a single match in all competitions (D4 L9).
- Middlesbrough have scored in all 15 of their home games in all competitions under Michael Carrick (37 goals in total), last failing to find the net at the Riverside Stadium in a goalless draw with Huddersfield in October.
- Coventry City are unbeaten in their most recent nine away games (W4 D5), conceding just four goals and keeping five clean sheets in that run. They last had a longer run without defeat on the road as a second-tier or higher side between January and May 1998 (10 games).
- Middlesbrough have failed to score in their last four EFL playoff matches (D2 L2) since beating Brentford 3-0 in the 2014/15 semi-final second leg.
- Viktor Gyokeres scored more away goals than any other player in the Championship this season (11).
Player to Watch
With a single goal enough to seal a spot in the EFL Championship promotion playoff final, the form players will need to step up. As for Middlesbrough, the hosts have depended on Chuba Akpom’s impressive tally to clinch a top-six finish.
The former Arsenal attacker has 29 goals in all competitions this term. The last Middlesbrough player to hit 30 in a single campaign was Fabrizio Ravanelli in 1996/97 (31). And if Akpom manages to breach the 30-goal mark, Middlesbrough might be in a strong position to reach the final. Expect another impressive display by the 27-year-old.
Middlesbrough 2-1 Coventry City
With the first leg ending in a goalless stalemate, Middlesbrough and Coventry City will have it all to do on Wednesday. Both teams will push forward looking to break the deadlock and grab a crucial advantage for much of the proceedings. But the stats paint an interesting picture ahead of the clash.
Coventry City’s away form is promising, whereas Middlesbrough will always score in a home game under Michael Carrick. But the hosts have not scored in their last four EFL playoff matches, although that record should end on Wednesday.
Expect a closely-contested affair with very little room for error. But Chuba Akpom should produce an inspirational performance to guide Middlesbrough to the final. Coventry City will not go down without a fight but will not find the back of the net twice. So The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Michael Carrick and his charges.
We will see