Three straight league defeats in not the ideal preparation for Middlesbrough heading into a Tees-Wear derby and there seems little chance of their form improving when they travel to Sunderland in the FA Cup fourth round.
Middlesbrough still sit fourth in the Championship despite their recent blip and based on league position, they could be expected to make life difficult for Martin O’Neill’s team.
But a raft of injuries to important players will not aid Middlesbrough’s chances, particularly in midfield with the influential Nicky Bailey absent and Julio Arca and Kevin Thompson both suspended because of red cards against Coventry.
Goals have also become a problem for Middlesbrough, with Marvin Emnes struggling to maintain the rich bout of scoring form that he showed in the early weeks of the campaign and the lack of creativity likely to be present in midfield will not help him rediscover his touch.
While Middlesbrough have begun to find life difficult, Sunderland have been moving in the other direction since O’Neill took over the reins.
Confidence is brimming with six wins in nine games and a first appearance in the last 16 of the FA Cup for nine years now looks on the cards.
Sunderland’s odds are 4/6 to beat Middlesbrough and given the dip in form of the visitors, the 2/1 on offer that Sunderland triumph even with a -1 handicap has great appeal.
However, shocks are not rare in the FA Cup and if ever Middlesbrough were going to get truly up for a game then it is likely to be this one.
Middlesbrough are 9/2 to triumph, with the draw available at 5/2.
Nicklas Bendtner is out for the hosts and so the onus may fall on the shoulders of Connor Wickham to fire Sunderland to victory.
Wickham is 5/1 to strike first and 6/4 to score at any time in the 90 minutes.