West Brom boss Slaven Bilic has urged his players to battle through the festive fatigue to maintain their grip on top spot in the Sky Bet Championship table.
The leaders saw two precious points slip from their grasp at lowly Barnsley on Boxing Day when Aapo Halme’s late equaliser cancelled out Filip Krovinovic’s early strike and ensured the game finished 1-1.
Bilic’s men remain three points clear of second-placed Leeds, who were held at home by Preston, but know they cannot afford another slip-up when improving Middlesbrough head for the Hawthorns on Sunday.
The head coach told the club’s official website: “Maybe the guys are a bit fatigued. In the last few games, we have had three draws and one win.
“We are trying to recover the players and refresh them. It is a very busy period. We lost a little bit of fluidness in our game, also we have to give credit to our opponent.
“But we have to take it back and bring it back in our next home game against Middlesbrough.”
Boro head into the game having taken their tally of successive home wins to four with victories over Stoke and Huddersfield, although they have collected just a single point from their last three away games.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are without a win in three following their 1-1 draw against Preston as they travel to Birmingham hoping for better fortunes, although they still enjoy an eight-point advantage over Brentford in third.
Bielsa told Leeds’ official website: “We should have drawn level in the match before we did and even after when we draw level at the end, after we did this, we could have scored one more goal, we had one more chance.
“We have to make difference between the first 20 minutes and the other 75 minutes.”
The Bees have banked 10 of the last 12 points on offer after their 3-1 home win over Swansea on Boxing Day, although they face a tricky trip to Millwall, who have lost only once in nine games and are within touching distance of the play-offs places.
Fourth-placed Sheffield Wednesday host Cardiff locked together on 39 points with Fulham and Preston, who entertain Stoke and Reading respectively.
Nottingham Forest lead the chasing pack following their 2-0 win at Hull on Thursday, and they will look to close the gap when bottom-of-the-table Wigan head for the City Ground with Swansea hot on their heels as they look to bounce back when Barnsley head for South Wales.
Huddersfield sit four points clear of the relegation zone following their reverse on Teesside and will hope to end Blackburn’s unbeaten eight-game run at the John Smith’s Stadium, while Luton face a difficult task to drag themselves out of the bottom three when they travel to Bristol City.
Elsewhere, QPR and Hull meet at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, while Derby and Charlton have to wait until Monday evening for their showdown at Pride Park.
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