Match preview: Tottenham v Middlesbrough

Tottenham Hotspur v Middlesbrough, March 4, 2009

The sight of Robbie Keane consoling his team mates on the Wembley pitch on Sunday was a far cry from the jinking Irishman in tears of joy just over a year ago after Spurs’ Carling Cup triumph over Chelsea.

Much will be expected of Keane tonight, he will lead the Tottenham attack which was so poor against Manchester United as well as captaining the side in what is a crucial game in Spurs’ battle against relegation.

The Republic of Ireland’s all-time top goal scorer is yet to score since his return from Liverpool and if his form on Merseyside is anything to go by, he scores goals against struggling teams. Four of his five league goals for the Reds came in home games against West Brom and Bolton.

(Keane is 5/1 first or last goal scorer in tonight’s clash, 11/8 to score at anytime and 50/1 to claim a hat-trick.)

Gareth Southgate’s side will also fancy their chances tonight following two impressive results after a dire run of form. Prior to Saturday’s 2-0 win over Liverpool, Boro had not won in the league since beating Aston Villa on November 9, 2008. The win over Rafa Benitez’s side and the FA Cup victory over West Ham last week may just have kick-started a fightback against what was looking like a descent into the Championship. Much of this is down to a solid defence conceding just two goals in their last four games.

Following the 0-0 draw with Wigan, Southgate had commented that his team would have to pull off some results that no one expected. The win on Saturday certainly follows that category and now they face a run of teams in or around the relegation zone. After Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Everton, Boro play Portsmouth (h), Stoke (a), Bolton (a) and Hull (h).

Middlesbrough’s recent upturn in form has coincided with some goals from Stewart Downing, the England left winger will be keen to impress the side that are seemingly always linked with a move for his services and also build on the two goals he scored against West Ham in two cup ties in the FA Cup.

(Downing is 14/1 first or last goal scorer against Tottenham and 4/1 to score anytime.)

With two points separating both teams in 14th and 18th respectively this is the definition of a six-pointer. As three relegation rivals lost last night both Harry Redknapp and Gareth Southgate will see this is a crucial opportunity to gain some ground over the pack that still seems extraordinarily close together.

Tiredness will likely play a big part late on at the Lane. Spurs played 120 minutes on Sunday whilst Boro worked extremely hard to claim all three points against a Liverpool side who made a number of good chances.

101gg predicts: Tottenham 2 – Middlesbrough 0 (13/2)

Sympathy prediction: David Bentley to score and Tottenham to win (8/1)

Full odds from on Tottenham-Middlesbrough here.