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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Boro should overcome road blues at Bolton

Middlesbrough clap the fans at the end of the Forest game
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Kick-offs 3pm Saturday

Bolton v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough have not won an away game since August 2016 but they can cure their travel sickness by beating Sky Bet Championship basement boys Bolton at the Macron Stadium.

It is imperative that Boro get used to winning away from the Riverside.

Last season their poor away form was down to an over-cautious style of play.

But a summer recruitment drive has focused heavily on enhancing the attacking options and Boro have started playing with more intent.

They lost 2-1 at Nottingham Forest on their last road trip but registered 17 shots – seven of them on target.

Their defeat was down to a combination of good goalkeeping from Forest custodian Jordan Smith and poor finishing from club record signing Britt Assombalonga, who seemed unsettled by facing his former employers.

Assombalonga is likely to have learned from the experience and can play his part in exposing a Bolton side who have shipped ten goals in the first five games.

The Trotters are still under an embargo which prevents them from paying transfer fees and have struggled to make the necessary enhancements to the group who won promotion last season.

They have lost both home games – 3-2 to Leeds and 2-1 to Derby.

It could be a long, hard season for Phil Parkinson's men, who look ideal opponents for a Boro side targeting a long-awaited away win.

2pts 21-20 general

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Norwich v Birmingham
Norwich were expected to be major players in the promotion race this season but are third-bottom after five games and their miserable start could continue against Birmingham, who look good value to at least avoid defeat at Carrow Road.

Harry Redknapp has been urging the Birmingham board to bring in new players and got his wish during the international break with six new faces arriving, including attacking midfielder Jota - snapped up from Brentford for a reported £8m fee.

It will take time for Redknapp to settle on his best team but the mood of the club has been lifted and there could be an initial upturn in performance.

Other Saturday columns

Mark Langdon

Kevin Pullein

Norwich manager Daniel Farke decided against making any deadline day purchases and will have spent the last two weeks trying to get his ideas across.

Farke has brought in nine permanent signings and three loans this summer but performances have been unconvincing and Norwich have the worst defensive record in the division, shipping 12 goals at an average of 2.4 per game.

Norwich were handed a harsh lesson a fortnight ago, losing 4-0 against a direct, no-nonsense Millwall side who had just a 28 per cent share of possession.

Farke likes his teams to play a passing style but Norwich have not been up to scratch in the key areas of the pitch and could continue to struggle.

Birmingham or draw double chance
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Charlton v Southend
There is a much more positive vibe at Charlton this season and the Addicks' fast start to the season could continue with a victory over Southend at The Valley.

Karl Robinson's side have won four of their first five games and are boosted by the return of centre-forward Josh Magennis and left-back Jay Dasilva, who missed last Saturday's 4-3 victory at Oldham due to international commitments.

Charlton are the second-highest scorers in the division and they showed a steely side on the opening day of the season, winning 1-0 at home to Bristol Rovers despite playing almost the entire match with ten men (striker Lee Novak was dismissed in the sixth minute).

They are shaping up as a well balanced side and could be strong contenders for automatic promotion.

Southend are also hoping to be involved in the promotion race, having finished just one point outside the playoffs last term.

However, they have gone six games without a win in all competitions and have had injury problems with centre-back trio Michael Turner, Anton Ferdinand and John White having spells out of the side.

Ferdinand and White are back in training and may return although the last time they played together (a 3-3 draw at Gillingham) they struggled to cope with opposing target man Tom Eaves, who bagged a hat-trick.

Southend drew 0-0 at home to lowly Rochdale last Saturday despite playing against ten men for most of the second half and could find it tough to cope with a classy Charlton side, who are growing in confidence.

2pts 13-10 general

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Crewe v Chesterfield
Chesterfield have found it tougher than they might have expected in Sky Bet League Two but they dug out a 0-0 draw at home to Coventry last Saturday and can avoid defeat against Crewe at Gresty Road.

Poor defending hampered Chesterfield in their early games this season but they were much more solid against Coventry with on-loan Shrewsbury centre-back back Zak Jules and left-back Matthew Briggs making their debuts.

Jules and Briggs have made an immediate difference and can help the Spireites hold their own against eighth-placed Crewe, who were poor in last weekend's 1-0 loss at Grimsby.

Chesterfield or draw double chance
2pts 8-13 Betfair, Betway

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It could be a long, hard season for Phil Parkinson's men, who look ideal opponents for Boro
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