Player by Player - Clarets v Boro: The reporters' view

David Nugent
David Nugent
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Burnley host Middlesbrough tonight in what promises to be a titanic tussle at the top of the Championship.

With four games remaining, Boro top the table by two points from the Clarets, with Brighton a further two points adrift.

Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton

Aitor Karanka's side travel down from Teeside on the back of six-successive wins, while Burnley are unbeaten in 19 league outings.

Ahead of a pivotal clash, Express Sport's Chris Boden (@bodenknights) and Jonathon Taylor (@JonathonTaylor1) of The Gazette in Middlesbrough compare the team's strengths and weaknesses, as they analyse the potential starting XIs.

GOALKEEPERS

Boro

Dimi Konstantopoulous - Has thrived behind a record-breaking defence this season and has won points single-handedly with a string of superb matches. An excellent shot-stopper, but will be disappointed with his error against Reading. 7/10

Burnley

Tom Heaton - The England squad member is Burnley's captain and has been Mr Consistent. Clean hands and no fuss, solid and reliable, as good a keeper as there is in the Championship. 8/10

DEFENDERS

Boro

Emilio Nsue - Arguably Boro's most improved player of the season. Has added an attacking dimension to his game, and his versatility down the right has been a huge bonus. Scored the winner against Burnley in December's reverse fixture. 8/10

Daniel Ayala - Named in the Football League Team of the Year on Sunday, and his return from an ankle injury has coincided with Boro's six-game winning run. A colossus in the air, but has only started three games since returning from a lengthy lay-off. When fully fit, he's arguably the best defender outside of the top-flight. 7/10

Ben Gibson - A real Mr Reliable at the back, who has formed a formidable defensive partnership alongside Ayala. Part of a defensive unit that is currently the best in the Championship, conceding only 27 goals in 42 matches. 8/10

George Friend - Another player recently named in the Football League Team of the Year, and it's no surprise after the left-back's stunning campaign. His engine allows him to be rock solid at the back, but also a menace on the attack. Will be one of Boro's most crucial players at Turf Moor. 8/10

Burnley

Matt Lowton - Had to wait until December for his first start, due to a pre-season injury and the form of Tendayi Darikwa, but has impressed as the side have gone 19 league games unbeaten. Composed on the ball, Lowton contributes at both ends with his willingness to overlap and whip crosses into the box 7/10

Michael Keane - Keane has nailed down a centre back berth after the sale of Jason Shackell, and looks like a Rolls-Royce at this level. Strong in the air and comfortable in possession, Keane can also chip in from set pieces, with four goals to his name so far this season 8/10

Ben Mee - Played the promotion and Premier League seasons at left back, but since coming inside to his more preferred central role, he has excelled, coinciding with Burnley's 19-game unbeaten league run. Terrific in the air, and brave as they come, a contender for Burnley's player of the year without doubt 8/10

Stephen Ward - Had to be patient for his chance until Mee switched inside, and has shown his Premier League and international pedigree. Another consistent performer in a back four which has 10 clean sheets in the last 19 league games. 7/10

MIDFIELDERS

Boro

Grant Leadbitter - Boro's captain who leads the team into battle. Since the defeat at Charlton, Leadbitter has been in excellent form and has led by example, combative in midfield and looking to get the team on the front foot. 8/10

Adam Clayton - Probably Boro's player of the season, who has transformed from valuable squad member to one of the first names on the teamsheet. Plays the percentages brilliantly, and his range of passing is crucial in keeping Boro on the front foot, probing and looking to unlock the opposition defence. 8/10

Albert Adomah - Brilliant at times, but quiet in others. Can potentially be Boro's match-winner as he has shown against Ipswich, Fulham and Preston already this campaign, and plays a big part in pinning down the opposition full-back. 8/10

Stewart Downing - Capable of unlocking any Championship defence. A bit quiet of late, but showed exactly what he can do by rattling a 25-yard effort off the underside of the bar at Bolton on Saturday. Offers natural balance on the left. 7/10

Burnley

Joey Barton - His signing may have raised a few eyebrows, but Barton has been instrumental to Burnley's success so far this season. He understands and appreciates the manager and team's ethos, and has become a huge fans' favourite with his committed displays. 8/10

Dean Marney - Marney has made only nine appearances this season after recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury suffered in the Premier League, and a couple of niggles in between, but, described as "a machine" by his manager, his fitness is undoubted and he knows the route to promotion from this league. 7/10

Scott Arfield - Eight goals to his name this season, and newly-capped for Canada, Arfield has been a big part of Burnley's climb into automatic promotion contention. Industrious, and intelligent between the lines. 7/10

George Boyd - Player of the year in his first season at the club in the Premier League, Boyd hasn't hit the heights he did last term, but his workrate is beyond doubt, and is more than capable of providing a key assist or a goal, as he demonstrated at Birmingham. 7/10

FORWARDS

Boro

Gaston Ramirez - Has highlighted his Premier League pedigree on a number of occasions, and has six goals since moving to Boro on loan from Southampton in January. But his contribution is more than that - he drifts into dangerous areas between the opposition lines, and gives other Boro players that extra half a yard of space. Pivotal player in Karanka's side. 8/10

Jordan Rhodes - Has always been a streak striker throughout his career, so scoring two goals against Bolton last time out was a pivotal breakthrough. A clever striker who drifts into good positions, but has struggled for regular service since his £9m January move. Scored four in his last six against Burnley. 7/10

Sam Vokes - Has proved the perfect foil to Andre Gray, having performed a similar role with Danny Ings two years ago. The Championship's Player of the Month for March is arguably in the form of his career. Far more than just a targetman. 8/10

Andre Gray - The Championship Player of the Season, and top-scorer with 24 goals. Add his eight assists, and he has contributed to more goals than any other player in the division. Pace and power have given Burnley a different dimension, and even when he's quiet in games, he remains a big threat. 9/10

TOTALS

Boro - 84

Burnley - 84

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