Preview | Middlesbrough v Swansea City
After a three-month wait, Middlesbrough and Swansea City will lock horns at the Riverside Stadium as football makes its return following the suspension of activity amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Swans head to Teesside looking to finish strongly in the battle for a play-off place, having last played in March in a draw with West Brom.
That display against the then leaders was the latest in a string of positive performances that potentially deserved more than the final outcome delivered, and saw the Swans move to within tantalising reach of the top six.
But it’s not just the Swans with so much on the line this weekend and in the weeks to come.
Middlesbrough are themselves in a battle, having managed to haul themselves out of the relegation zone with victory at Charlton back in March.
That ended a 10-match winless run, and Jonathan Woodgate’s side will be desperate to take another stride towards safety on their own turf.
Swansea had been set to be without Wayne Routledge and George Byers when this fixture was originally scheduled back in March.
But the lengthy stoppage of football activities means the pair are fit and in contention, with Byers having overcome the high-ankle sprain that had been set to end his 2019-20 campaign prematurely.
Mike van der Hoorn remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a knee injury, but head coach Steve Cooper otherwise has a fully-fit squad to choose from.
Steve Cooper: “There’s everything to play for. If any of the players are not motivated by what can be achieved over these nine game, then that isn’t going to be for me.
“We’re three points off the top six, that gap can quickly be closed and it can get bigger, we know that.
“If the first few games go well, and you get a good start, it can change, we’re going to give it a go.
“It is a step into the unknown, but our approach is just to focus on ourselves and everything we’re doing in preparation is about us being at our best.
Jonathan Woodgate: "We need to start quick: that's the biggest thing. As the games go on players will get tired so need to start quick.
"I always wanted the season to finish. I always said that; let's finish it the right way. The integrity of the league comes first."
Remember the last time?
The Swans became the first team to take points off Middlesbrough on their own patch in the 2018-19 campaign as they claimed a creditable draw at the Riverside Stadium.
Both teams struck the crossbar - George Saville for Boro and sub Tom Carroll for the visitors - during a tight encounter.
But the Swans fought hard to claim their fourth league clean sheet of the season as they dealt with a succession of set-pieces.
The draw moved Graham Potter’s Swans onto 13 points from nine Championship games.
3 – Three of Rhian Brewster’s four goals for Swansea have come away from home.
8 – Swansea are unbeaten in eight of their last nine matches against Middlesbrough in all competitions.