As the Championship inches closer to the business end, the challenge for both clubs is to stay within striking distance of the play-off positions.
After a promising start during which they were among the early pacesetters, Leeds will look back at that run of six losses in seven matches between late September and early November as the period during which their season went pear-shaped.
After repairing their campaign somewhat with a run of six wins in eight matches the Whites suffered yet another damaging slump.
The 1-0 win over Brentford on Sunday was Leeds’ first in 10 matches. That barren streak cost Thomas Christiansen his job, paving the way for the appointment of Paul Heckingbottom three weeks ago.
Heckingbottom’s Boro counterpart, Tony Pulis, is also relatively new in his job at the Riverside Stadium. The former West Brom boss was roped in as a replacement for former Leeds boss Gary Monk on Boxing Day.
Pulis’s record of four wins and as many defeats in his 10 league matches since taking over is rather underwhelming. Safe to say it hasn’t been the instant positive impact Boro fans were hoping for. In fact, Boro are exactly still in the same position as when Monk left – three points adrift of the final play-off place.
For Middlesbrough, hopes of making an instant return to the Premier League now depend on securing a play-off berth.
With 12 games left in the season there are enough points on offer for both Boro and Leeds to haul themselves back into the play-off reckoning.
Boro, three points off the pace going into this tie, are better placed than Leeds, who have a six-point point gap to make up on the top-six pack.
Leeds United won the reverse fixture 2-1 at Elland Road in November. The two sides have met 13 times in the Championship era, with Leeds claiming seven victories to Boro’s three.
Middlesbrough were held to a 3-3 draw by bottom-of-the-table Sunderland in their last outing. Adama Traore was dismissed during that clash, but the mercurial forward is available to face Leeds after his red card was rescinded. The dampener for Boro is that they will have to do without Rudy Gestede who is out for the season after fracturing his ankle in the win over Hull City a week ago.
Meanwhile, Leeds duo Adam Forshaw and Pablo Hernandez could return after missing the win over Brentford on compassionate grounds and through injury respectively.
The Whites are unbeaten in three matches since Heckinbottom took over, a record they will be desperate to preserve and build on.
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