Seeking yet another memorable scalp in the FA Cup, Middlesbrough welcome Chelsea to the Riverside Stadium for Saturday’s quarter-final battle.
The Championship side made it this far by overcoming Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 in the fifth round, while the Blues had to do it the hard way to beat Luton Town 3-2.
As if victory at Old Trafford over Manchester United was not remarkable enough for them, Middlesbrough were paired with another Premier League Big Six side in Tottenham for a place in the last eight, and the Riverside giant killers ensured that Spurs’ barren run without a trophy would be extended to 14 years.
After a goalless 90 minutes on March 1, 19-year-old forward Josh Coburn came off the bench to score the winner after just 11 minutes of action in extra time, and Antonio Conte’s side could not find a way through in the time that remained as scenes of delirium erupted in Middlesbrough.
Chris Wilder’s side also got their playoff bid back on track at the weekend thanks to a 2-0 win over Birmingham City, with Premier League loanees Folarin Balogun and Aaron Connolly on target, and a first semi-final FA Cup appearance since 2005-06 is firmly in their sights.
Not since the 2016-17 season have Middlesbrough taken to the pitch for an FA Cup quarter-final – bowing out to Manchester City 2-0 that year – while their semi-final venture in the 2005-06 campaign under Steve McClaren ended in heartbreak to West Ham United.
Attempting to get one over the European champions is a slightly different kettle of fish to an inconsistent Man United or Spurs side, but Boro are on an incredible nine-game winning run at the Riverside Stadium in all competitions and have only let in four goals in that stretch.
While off-the-pitch issues continue to bedevil Chelsea – whose inexplicable request to have the quarter-final played behind closed doors led to an amusing response from Middlesbrough – Thomas Tuchel’s side are continuing to do their talking on the turf.
There were fears that the Blues would not be able to fulfil their Champions League last-16 second-leg clash with Lille under the rules of their special operating licence, but the European champions made it to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy and progressed to the last eight as Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta cancelled out Burak Yilmaz’s penalty.
Victory over the French champions marked a fifth win in a row for Chelsea – who had to come from behind twice to beat Luton Town 3-2 in the fifth round of the FA Cup – while Chesterfield and Plymouth Argyle have also fallen victim to Tuchel’s side in this year’s competition.
Tuchel will inevitably be forced to bat away questions regarding the club’s ownership, but his side head into the quarter-final on a five-game winning streak away from home and will endeavour to make the final four for the third season running this weekend.
Chelsea and Middlesbrough have not locked horns since the Blues eased to a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the 2016-17 Premier League season – their eighth win and eighth clean sheet on the bounce versus the Championship side, whose most recent win in this fixture came all the way back in 2006 under Gareth Southgate.
Middlesbrough FA Cup form:
Middlesbrough form (all competitions):
Chelsea FA Cup form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
We say: Middlesbrough 0-2 Chelsea
Middlesbrough will see no reason why they cannot add Chelsea to their list of FA Cup scalps, but a fatigued Blues side still possess the necessary defensive nous to shut out an inexperienced Boro attack.
Tuchel’s side have been far from spectacular against lower-league opposition in this season’s tournament, but a refreshed set of options up front will feel confident of breaking the Boro resilience as the hosts’ FA Cup journey ends in front of their own fans.