The international break has been a mixed one for Leicester players. Wales rolled over for England with Andy King finding himself isolated out wide. Kyle Naughton was part of a comprehensive England U21 victory over Denmark, but an embarrassing defeat to Iceland. Meanwhile, Miguel Vitor will play at Wembley for Portugal’s U23’s after they beat Italy in the International Challenge Trophy. With many others away too it is difficult to know how much preparation could be done for the trip to Middlesbrough or how draining the last week has been for City’s international stars. But having been so prominent on the other side of the club v country debate it is doubtful that Sven will have complaints.
Middlesbrough are the perfect example of how precarious pre-season predictions can be. Lauded as promotion candidates before a ball had been kicked (and priced at 5/1 to win the division in some quarters), the Teessiders have spent just 6 days in the top half this season and most of the rest of it concerned that they might exit the Championship in the opposite direction. Thankfully for the hosts relegation concerns are now perhaps just two wins away from being allayed. For Tony Mowbray it will be job done having taken over from Gordon Strachan in late October with the club lying 22nd, but surely the ‘Boro faithful will be expecting more next season.
Leicester, another of nine Championship sides to change their manager this campaign, arrive in much better shape than when the two sides met in the season’s second weekend. Under Sven, the Foxes have won 1.68 points per game; Middlesbrough under Tony Mowbray have taken 1.36. The Foxes are undefeated in the last five meetings between the two sides and have stopped ‘Boro from scoring in four of them. But whilst the past holds promise, the present is far more uncertain. Just one win in six has seen the Foxes fall from 7th to 11th and with tricky away days at Reading and Nottingham Forest to come, the need to pick up points on the road at less intimidating venues has become essential.
It is unlikely, however, that three points will be won without a few twists and turns. Middlesbrough have only won six of the 15 league matches in which they have scored first (the worst record in the division) but no Championship team has won more matches after conceding the opener (six) than the ‘Boro. The bookies don’t do odds on drama, but it looks odds on.