Middlesbrough have a free hit when they go to runaway Championship leaders Norwich (KO 12.30, Saturday).
The Canaries are six points clear at the top having won six of the last eight to pick up serious title momentum.
Boro though have hit a wall as injuries have mounted. Having been breathing down the leaders necks four defeats in six have seen them drift three points off the play-off pace and slither down the form table.
And after a stinging midweek 3-0 Riverside reverse to Rotherham hot on the heels of the controversial loss to Blackburn as Dael fry suffered a serious facial injury that went unpunished and things are feeling flat.
But upbeat boss Neil Warnock insists the trip to hot favourites Norwich is a great opportunity.
“I suppose on paper anything we get from this game is a bonus,” he said. “I want us to go and enjoy it and give them a great game.
“On paper it is the toughest test in the division right now – but I hope it’s the toughest test for them too. I want to go down there and be positive and give a good account of ourselves.”
Boro dominated but narrowly lost out 1-0 in the reverse fixture in November in a game that revolved around two penalties.
Marcus Tavernier slipped as he stuck home a Boro spot kick only to have it ruled out for touching it twice then they were punished as Teemu Pukki made a late Norwich penalty count.
“We should have won that game easily,” recalled Warnock. “They didn’t play well that day and we had the chances to win but then they took all three points. That’s the sign of a good team, winning games when you are second best.”
The mood has been sombre among fans and the squad in recent weeks as a string of injuries to key men has left the team unbalanced and short. As well as Fry, Boro lost lively wideman Tavernier to a groin injury against Blackburn while influential defender Anfernee Dijksteel has been sidelined after surgery for an abscess.
But the mood has been lifted by the signing of long term target Yannick Bolasie from Everton on a short term deal with others lined up to follow.
Mooted moves to Boro have twice previously fallen through on deadline day so Warnock is delighted to have finally landed a player he worked with at Crystal Palace.
“He is a big lift for us,” he said. “Yannick is a good player and a good lad and he will be great for the dressing room. He’s always got a smile on his face. He makes me happy.”
Bolasie hasn’t played since March so will be rusty and may not feature at Norwich while Warnock was facing a race against time for Darnell Fisher to be included in the squad if he completes his move from Preston in time.
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