Eye On The Opposition: Crystal Palace vs Middlesbrough (25/2/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

Yet another big game for Palace. Jack Pierce is here to preview the Eagles' home clash with Middlesbrough.

I thought we were supposed to be excited to go and see Palace?!

Well, after the shambles that was Sunderland at home three weeks ago and Stoke in the sleet, I'm hoping two weeks has been enough for most to gather the enthusiasm to cheer the red and blue on come 3pm on Saturday.

I'll be careful in being too critical of our opponents given our current form and the performance of the last 'relegation threatened' side who visited Selhurst.

Middlesbrough are where we were three years ago. They're in with a shout of staying up beyond their first season back in the top flight but that's reliant on gathering enough points from winnable games to get over the line. Whether Aitor Karanka can do what Tony Pulis did for us is for the next three months to show us.

Karanka, adored by the Boro fans, has a rather more fractious relationship with his chairman and the board. There were rumours, and not for the first time, that he was set to walk away from the club given the supposed differences between he and the club hierarchy but he has remained and is 13 games from adding to his burgeoning reputation if he should inspire his side to staying up.

Middlesbrough head south having secured their place in the final eight of the FA Cup after seeing off a spirited Oxford United with a winner in the last ten minutes. Involvement in the cup in its latter stages, as we so wonderfully demonstrated last season, can have an impact on a side's league form towards the end of a season and Karanka and his staff will have to ensure players' focus remains on the league despite he pull of the glory that cup success would offer.

A friend of mine has not had the greatest night's sleep in recent weeks and that's had nothing to do with impending fatherhood. It's the prospect of Patrick Bamford wheeling away having won the game in the dying minutes and celebrating in front of the Holmesdale that's causing the disrupted nights. I'm not sure what 'typical Palace' is anymore but Bamford, after one of the most innocuous loan spells of recent seasons at Palace, winning such a vital match for his new side would, I dare say, be pretty close to a definition imaginable.

Other threats Palace will need to aware of include Alvaro Negredo, notable for his Sevilla days and less so for those at Manchester City, the former Spain international, on his day, is as classy a striker as any. Finishing is his art so if we give him the space required, it's likely we'll suffer. Gaston Ramirez has remained at the club despite making it clear he wanted Boro to entertain Leicester's interest a little more than the club were willing to. Again, very inconsistent but a game changer if given time and space.

Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, one player who is almost certain to be playing Premier League football next season is Ben Gibson. Much like Michael Keane at Burnley, Gibson has adapted to the top flight so easily that it's no surprise he's supposedly on the shopping list for many clubs come the summer. Chelsea and Everton's interest is no secret and should Boro fail to stay up, Gibson, despite close ties to the club, will be off.

Those close ties if you were wondering stem from the fact his uncle owns the joint. Steve Gibson, a man who has ploughed millions into the club he loves, may well be who agrees to the selling of his own nephew.

Just imagine Steve Parish having to relieve Mark Bright of his duties in a cost cutting exercise come May. Heartbreaking.

Like Swansea and Sunderland's trips to Selhurst, this is must win for Palace. A different result is obviously what most reading this want but there's a sense of resignation after recent visits to the place we call home and defeat on Saturday would further signal the end of Palace's top flight stay is nigh.

If, like many others, you're struggling to summon the enthusiasm for a trip to Selhurst, how about the pull of the latest edition of FYP being on sale?

That's surely got to be enough...