THE BIG MATCH

Middlesbrough are one of the npower Championship's in-form sides, despite a defeat last time out, and this weekend they host struggling Bristol City.

Boro went down 1-0 to fellow promotion-chasers Cardiff City in their last outing, but now welcome the lowly Robins, who are without a victory in their last 11 outings, to the Riverside.

Defender George Friend, who has shone so far for Middlesbrough this term but will miss the next month after picking up a hamstring injury, believes the team will return to winning ways quickly after the defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium.

"Every team will have setbacks and lose games, it happens," the former Doncaster Rovers man explained to the Gazette Live.

"But it's a better position to be in having had that loss after such a good run and with a lot of points in the bag.

"We are still well placed after that and are upbeat after losing so narrowly in a game when we all think we probably should have won. Now we all know we have to bounce back quickly and get back into our stride.

"You can't call any game in this league a definite win because anyone can beat anyone, but you would like to think that if we play as we know we can on Saturday - and Tuesday - then we can take these points.

"We won't be complacent though. In fact, having lost at Cardiff we will be more focused and more determined to win."

While third-placed Boro are thriving this season, with 32 points from their 17 matches, Derek McInnes' City are struggling, and have just 12 points from the same number of games.

They lie 23rd in the division, level on points with rock-bottom Peterborough United, but a win against high-flying Boro could lift them out of the bottom three.

The Robins will be the underdogs in the match in the North East but boss McInnes is comfortable with that label, telling www.bcfc.co.uk: "It's always good to prove people wrong.

"We will need to perform as we did against Blackpool [in the last outing, a 1-1 draw], show the same togetherness and willingness to work hard for each other.

"A lot was expected of Middlesbrough last season but their season fizzled out, but they are going very well at the minute.

"They are expected to be amongst the Play-Off places and if you look at the calibre of their players they should be where they are."

McInnes' added to his squad by completing the loan signing of Liverpool full-back Danny Wilson, who could come straight into the squad for the trip to Middlesbrough.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Peterborough United and Ipswich Town currently sit in the relegation zone, along with Bristol City, and they go head-to-head at Portman Road on Saturday.

It's been a miserable season for both sides to date but Saturday's match could provide one with a much-needed boost in the shape of three points.

Ipswich are a point better of than the Posh, who sit bottom, and come into the game with two wins in their last four - the other two ending in defeat.

Their latest loss was a 6-0 hammering at Leicester City last time out, but their away form has actually been better than their form at Portman Road this season, where they have won just once in eight.

Club captain Carlos Edwards believes their two upcoming home games provides them with a chance to make amends, telling www.itfc.co.uk: "It was unacceptable to lose in that manner [against Leicester] and it's a feeling that I and the rest of the guys don't want to ever experience again.

"To lose any game as a professional is hard to take, but to concede six goals is even worse. It wasn't just a loss but a setback, too. Now we need to bounce back from that result as soon as possible, starting with Peterborough.

"The bright side of things is that we have two home games coming up in quick succession and it gives us the opportunity to put things right and not dwell on the disappointment of the weekend."

The Posh were also on the end of a heavy loss last weekend - 4-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers - but boss Darren Ferguson played down that defeat.

The 40-year-old believes it is more important to beat the teams in and around the bottom of the table, starting with Saturday's opponents Ipswich.

He told the Peterborough Telegraph: "Losing to teams like Blackburn isn't going to affect our position too much, but the games against the teams around us in the table are huge.

"We've already lost to the likes of Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday and those results hurt us so the importance of the game against Ipswich is smacking us all in the face."

Ferguson made two loan signings this week with striker Dwight Gayle joining from npower League 2 Dagenham and Redbridge and George Thorne signing from West Bromwich Albion, and they could both make their debuts.

Ipswich signed Tyrone Barnett on loan from the Posh, but he will be unable to play against his parent club.

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Table-toppers Crystal Palace will be in search of their sixth successive victory when they travel to Elland Road to take on Leeds United on Saturday.

The Eagles are 14 games unbeaten and will be confident of adding to that against a Leeds United side who haven't won in seven.

Cardiff City remain in pursuit of Ian Holloway's men at the summit and they travel to 20th-placed Barnsley on Saturday. Tykes boss Keith Hill could hand debuts to Jonathan Greening and Akos Buzsaky, who this week joined on loan from Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth respectively, as well as Emile Sinclair, who has joined from Peterborough United.

Sheffield Wednesday sit a place below Barnsley in the standings and they entertain fifth-placed Leicester City.

Hull City and Blackburn Rovers occupy the other two places in the Play-Offs, as well as the aforementioned Middlesbrough and Leicester.

Hull take on Burnley, while Blackburn welcome in-form Millwall to Ewood Park. The Lions have shot up the Championship table after an unbeaten run of 10 matches, and are now just two points adrift of the Rovers, who occupy the lowest Play-Off place.

Sandwiched between Millwall and Blackburn is Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town.

Gus Poyet's Seagulls are at home to Dougie Freedman's Bolton Wanderers, while the Terriers are on the road to London to face Charlton Athletic.

Elsewhere, Blackpool and Watford sit side-by-side in the table - the Hornets with the upper hand in 11th - and they meet at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.

The remaining matches in the npower Championship see Wolverhampton Wanderers host Nottingham Forest and Derby County take on Midlands rivals Birmingham City, in what is this weekend's npower Championship televised fixture, which kicks off at 5.20pm.

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