29 November ~ Middlesbrough's curate's egg of a season continued with a 1-1 draw at Peterborough on Saturday. Paul Taylor's spectacular 81st-minute strike – which came about as a result of some dreadful defending – cancelled out Matthew Bates's deserved opener for the Boro. The away side had dominated for the first hour, but then failed to cope with Peterborough's more direct approach and came undone after failing to clear a regulation cross. Boro still had chances to snatch the three points their overall dominance deserved, but in the end frustration was the overriding emotion of the fans and boss Tony Mowbray.
On the one hand, the result means that Mowbray's men have gone four games unbeaten since a 3-0 defeat at Southampton at the end of October, in what was only their second loss of the season. But on the other hand, the team have thrown away a lead three times in two games. They came away from a home game against Blackpool and the trip to London Road with just two points, when six were comfortably within their grasp.
A win tonight, however, and those lapses could well be forgiven. Sadly the visitors to the Riverside are Sam Allardyce's West Ham, who are unbeaten in six games. They have won five of those and could move to the the top of the table if Southampton slip up against Hull. West Ham have lost only once away from home all season, but are yet to take a point off a fellow top-four club, while Middlesbrough remain unbeaten on Teesside.
As Peterborough showed on Saturday, Middlesbrough's defence are far more comfortable when attacks come along the ground. Aerial bombardment – Allardyce's speciality – could see them come undone. At the other end, however, Marvin Emnes's struggles with injury could force Mowbray to give Merouane Zemmama a start. The Moroccan playmaker is the only player in the Boro squad with the trickery needed to create chances against what will be a stubborn West Ham defence.
As with many of Middlesbrough's home performances, caution will be the more likely approach from the home side. Continuing the unbeaten run would be a success of sorts against the pre-season promotion favourites. As it is, there is a chance that one, if not both, of these teams will be playing in the Premier League next season and now is a good time to develop the skill of grinding out results. Charles Walford