Preview: Middlesbrough vs. Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn manager Gary Bowyer prior to kick-off against Man City in their FA Cup third round match on January 4, 2013
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Sports Mole previews Saturday's Championship encounter between two sides with outside chances of making the playoffs as Middlesbrough host Blackburn.

Blackburn Rovers could move to within two points of the playoff positions with a victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Saturday.

Rovers are currently just five points behind sixth-placed Reading following last weekend's 2-0 win over Blackpool at Ewood Park.

Gary Bowyer's side have only been beaten once in the league in 2014 so far, winning three and drawing the remaining two of their matches this year.

However, they know that they can't afford many slip-ups with six teams realistically still looking to displace the Royals in the final playoff spot.

Blackburn have struggled for consistency for much of the season, and they will need to address that problem if they are to sneak into the top six.

A good place to start would be by improving their away form as they have only managed three wins on the road all season, although two of those victories have come in their last four outings.

Bowyer could name an unchanged side for the match, although Markus Olsson is pushing for a start having recently returned to fitness.

A win for the visitors could effectively end Middlesbrough's playoff hopes, but should the result go the other way then the hosts would be right amongst the main huddle of challengers.

Only runaway league leaders Leicester have been able to beat Boro in their last nine league matches, although they have not won or even scored in their last three.

Back-to-back goalless draws have left them nine points adrift of the top six, and manager Aitor Karanka knows that he can't afford to let that gap grow any bigger.

Boro do have some impressive home form to fall back on, with just one defeat since the opening day of the season and four consecutive clean sheets at the Riverside, including keeping out the likes of Burnley, Wigan Athletic and Reading.

Karanka will be hoping that new boy Danny Graham is the man to end their drought in front of goal, and he is set for his home debut on Saturday, as is Nathaniel Chalobah.

Recent form

Middlesbrough: LWWLDD

Blackburn: WLLDDW

Possible starting lineups

Middlesbrough: Given; Varga, Gibson, Ayala, Friend; Leadbitter, Chalobah, Carayol, Kamara, Ledesma; Graham

Blackburn: Robinson; Kane, Hanley, Kilgallon, Spurr; Taylor, Lowe, Cairney, Dunn; Gestede, Rhodes

Sports Mole says: 1-1

Manager of Middlesbrough Aitor Karanka looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Birmingham City and Middlesbrough at St Andrews Stadium on December 7, 2013
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