Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town: Changing times for promotion rivals

When it comes to their set-up, you know what you will get from Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough but with Carlos Corberan’s Huddersfield Town, anything is possible at the moment.

Ironically, despite Corberan’s carefully thought-out changes of formation not only between games but within them, it is the Terriers whose results have been more consistent over the season as a whole and since March’s international break specifically, which is why they sit pretty in third in the Championship going into today’s game at the Riverside and Boro are still on the outside of the play-off places, trying to force their way in.

Kicking off first for the second round of games running means a home win will put Boro back in the top six at Sheffield United’s expense, but for how long will depend on the Blades’ response at Bristol City this evening.

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But where the three and the five of Wilder’s 3-5-2 formation are pretty stable, with the majority of his shuffling done up front, centre-forward Danny Ward is almost invariably the end point of whatever shape Corberan opts for. Today that is likely to change.

Jordan Rhodes is pushing for a recall today by Huddersfield Town. Picture: Simon Hulme

Ward asked to come off at half-time of Friday’s 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers and whilst on Friday night Corberan claimed to be unsure of the extent or even the nature of the injury, he said he had been planning anyway to rest the 30-year-old today.

Whether Sorba Thomas – Ward’s partner in Friday’s first half 4-4-2 and the lone targetman in the second period’s 3-5-1-1 – gets the nod or former Boro striker Jordan Rhodes or both will be decided by the many factors that no doubt buzzed through the coach’s head all weekend.

Fraizer Campbell, rarely involved at all in 2022 is the wildcard.

“First of all I need to analyse how the players are feeling and decide which players are going to arrive to the game with better possibilities (to play),” says Corberan when asked about possible rotation.

“When you don’t have a big gap (between games) you need to be very clinical in your decisions and wait as long as you can to decide which players are in the right condition and have better possibilities to help the team.

“Speaking to the medical staff I know which players physically cannot play two games in such a short time. I know this.

“The players who can do it, we need to see what possibilities they arrive at the next game with. I can never predict how they’ll feel after a game if you ask me before it.”

Perhaps Rhodes fell into the one-game-only category and maybe that explains why he did not come off the bench but the sort of game the Spaniard is anticipating comes into his myriad thought processes too.

“The decision will sometimes depend more on the possibilities the game gives you – whether you need a player who can run in behind or a player that can turn more, or one that can draw players out more or needs to be in the box,” he explains.

“If you analyse the game against QPR, it was important to have the extra player in the middle to attack and fast players in behind to allow the team to counter-attack.

“Sorba was creating the feeling I think the team needed to have with his movement in behind. If we had the feeling the team was dominating (possession) in their half, I would have played with Rhodes because his strength is when the ball is in the box.”

Wilder’s big change on Friday was to drop goalkeeper Joe Lumley and select Luke Daniels, who kept a clean sheet at Bournemouth.

“I thought that was the right decision,” explained Wilder. “There is no hiding place for goalkeepers and I think there has got to be some respect to Luke as well.

“He’s not played any football since Joe has been in but he has trained fantastically well. Joe has made a couple of mistakes over the couple of games and, from a credibility point of view, I’ve got to be able to look Luke in the eye as well. He deserved an opportunity and I thought he did well.

“He didn’t have an awful amount to do but what he did was clean and tidy, he was decent with his feet and he’s played his part in us keeping a clean sheet. That’s four clean sheets on the spin away from home, which is good going.

“If we can get the other bit right then hopefully we can keep adding to that points total.”

Replacing suspended attacking midfielder Matty Crooks today looks reasonably clear-cut with Australian Riley McGree available but that certainly does not stop Wilder being angry with the Huddersfield-born Town product.

“There are consequences for picking up 15 yellow cards,” raged his manager. “Fifteen bookings is ridiculous and he knows that.

“There is being competitive and sticking your foot in and winning challenges and headers, I want my players to tackle but if you pick up 15 bookings then there is going to be consequences at the end of it.

“He misses three big games for us (Swansea City away and Cardiff City at home too), but we’ll deal with it.

“It creates an opportunity for somebody else to come into the team.”

With both teams dropping points on Friday – as did Fulham, Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers – perhaps the enormity of what is facing them is starting to dawn.

“It’s everyone’s dream to play in the Premier League,” says Huddersfield right-back Ollie Turton, growing well into his first season above League One level. “We are all working hard trying to get there.

“My family are massive Manchester City fans and I followed them growing up.

“Just watching them play at the highest level, winning trophies, that’s what you want and aspire to achieve. It would be a dream if I could get there and play against them.”

Actually doing it is far from straight-forward.