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Middlesbrough vs Southampton; at riverside stadium saturday (3pm kick-off).

Byline: with Gazette writer Philip Tallentire

Alvaro Negredo could be making his final appearance at the Riverside Charlie Austin could return for the Saints our verdict IT'S the final home game of the season and Boro are playing for pride.

However, Southampton's season is very much alive and they will be looking to end a miserable run of form.

Saints haven't won since April 8 and currently sit 10th with 42 points but are targeting a top eight finish.

Claude Puel's side have only scored two goals in their last five fixtures, conceding nine at the same time.

Make A Statement Boro can't rescue their season but at least they can sign off their home campaign with a moraleboosting win.

Things could turn nasty if the home side put in an insipid display but there's no reason why they should.

Against Manchester City they were excellent and were unlucky not to win.

Steve Agnew will be demanding the same level of performance against Southampton. The support for Boro home and away this season has been sensational and the fans deserve something to cheer after such a miserable campaign.

At The Back Brad Guzan didn't have the best of nights at Chelsea, letting three goals in through his legs. In his defence, though, he was left horribly exposed and did make a fine early save.

With Boro's fate sealed, Agnew may be tempted to give Dimi Konstantopoulos his first Premier League start. However, the Greek goalie has had precious little competitive football this season so it would be a gamble to name him in the first XI.

In defence, the Boro boss is unlikely to make too many, if any, changes.

Dani Ayala has an ankle problem and, though he has been able to run, isn't likely to be risked.

Bernardo Espinosa and Antonio Barragan have had to make do with a place on the bench recently and that's probably going to be the case tomorrow.

In The Middle Agnew has plenty of options in the engine room. Adam Clayton and Marten de Roon will be oddson to start but the coach might be tempted to give Grant Leadbitter a start in place of Adam Forshaw.

On the wings, Agnew must decide whether to persevere with Adama Traore or change tack. One option would be to move Stewart Downing to the right and recall Viktor Fischer to play on the left.

Forward Momentum Alvaro Negredo will surely start in what's almost certainly his final game in a Boro shirt at the Riverside Stadium. He was immense against Manchester City but barely got a kick at Chelsea and he'll want to go out in style by scoring his 10th league goal of the season.

SOUTHAMPTON look set for another top-half finish in the Premier League - yet a section of supporters seem to be unhappy with manager Claude Puel.

We get an insight into tomorrow's opponents: Mixed views on season so far "It's strange. This season from the outside is that Southampton have been OK. Not fantastic, but safely in mid-table and reached the League Cup final. A lot of people feel that's probably their level. But in the last three years, the club has finished eighth, seventh and sixth - and the football this year has been dreadful to watch, at times.

"There was also the major disappointment of going out of the Europa League at the group stages - a weak group - and that's led to pressure on Claude Puel's shoulders. "It's been up and down. The EFL Cup was a triumph, albeit tinged with the disappointment that they should have won the game, "But assessing their Premier League performance, you'd have to say it's been slightly below expectation. The success of the last few years is probably partly down to some top clubs not having their own house in order. This year, all of the traditional top seven have improved - so eighth isn't bad for Southampton, but it's the style of football that has lent to the feeling it's been a disappointing season."

Could Puel lose his job? "He's certainly under pressure amid the takeover talk, and if he wants to stay he'll certainly hope for a rally before the end of the season.

"Only Boro and Sunderland have scored fewer goals at home this season, and that underlines the problem. The fans feel there's been a lack of entertainment.

"There's a feeling Puel needs to break the shackles - he needs some momentum, or may struggle to convince the supporters."

Surprise at Boro's plight? "When you get to a position where you can't score goals, obviously you tend to struggle.

"Southampton have been the same at home this season.

"I watched Boro at Southampton before Christmas and they were defensively organised, well-drilled but there was a lack of attacking quality which is required in the Premier League.

"On that viewing, it was clear they would struggle - so I'm not overlysurprised that they've gone on to be relegated, if I'm honest."

BEAT THE BOOKIES RELEGATED Boro are 11/4 to end their home campaign with a victory over a Saints side tucked safely in mid-table.

Claude Puel's side are 19/20 to complete a league double over the Teessiders, while a snore draw is a 5/2 shout.

The Saints were 1-0 winners at St Mary's Stadium in December 2016, and Boro to win by the same scoreline is 7/2. With one look on next season, it may be the time to start Patrick Bamford - he's 9/1 to score first and end his two-year goal drought.

As for the Saints, fit-again Charlie Austin is 9/2 to open the scoring.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 12, 2017
Words:939
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