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Premier League predictions: Lawro v Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith

Tottenham are the Premier League leaders going into Sunday’s game against third-placed Chelsea, but which London side will come out on top at Stamford Bridge?

BBC Sport football expert Mark Lawrenson said: “This is a great match-up. Tottenham are very capable of shutting teams out but Chelsea have got a real cutting edge at the moment.

“A lot will hinge on who gets the first goal. I have a feeling it will be Chelsea.

“By the time this game is played, Liverpool could be back on top, and it is possible Spurs, Chelsea or Leicester could be leaders by Monday night.

“I’m really enjoying it being so open. I still think when every team is fully fit and has hit their stride, Liverpool are still the best side but that situation may never happen.

“We could have four or five teams still in the title race in the last couple of months of the season, which would be brilliant – especially if we have got fans back at games by then.”

Lawro is making predictions for all 380 Premier League matches this season, against a variety of guests.

This weekend, he is up against Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith, who is a lifelong Middlesbrough fan.

Smith was nine when Boro were promoted to the top flight – Division One as it was then – in 1988. ‘You couldn’t help being swept away by it if you had any interest in football’

Smith told BBC Sport: “When I was growing up everything was always about the Boro.

“I’m from Billingham, which is a small town nearby, so I didn’t have much choice in the matter when I was a kid. Playing football in the yard, everyone would be talking about them.

“It was in the late 1980s when Bruce Rioch was in charge. The club had almost gone bust in 1986 and the gates to our old Ayresome Park ground were padlocked. I remember watching it on the local news, and there was all the uncertainty about whether we would survive.

“We had come through it but we were in a rut in the old Third Division and Rioch had no money to spend. He built his team using a lot of teenagers, so there was a real connection with them, because they were mostly local.

“Things took off and it was a special time. Rioch is well known for instilling discipline, but we had an amazing team spirit. We had some very talented young players too like Gary Pallister, Colin Cooper, Stuart Ripley and Tony Mowbray – aka ‘The Redcar Rock’ – and of course Bernie Slaven scoring the goals.

“Slaven had written to every Football League club for a trial and we were the only ones to reply. For him to then go on and get the goals to get us up the divisions and into the top flight was just an incredible story.

“He was my hero. When I played as a kid I was usually up front, so I was always Slaven in the playground.

“I kind of ended up on the wing when I was older though because I was pretty fast and loved taking people on, so I guess I turned into Ripley in the end. That’s how I saw it anyway.”

Local businessman Steve Gibson helped save the club from liquidation and by the mid-1990s he had overseen a brave new era on Teesside, with Bryan Robson in charge and a new home for Boro at Riverside Stadium. They were soon back in the Premier League and making exciting Brazilian signings like Juninho, Emerson and Branco.

“There have been some great players down the years,” Smith added. “Like Slaven, Cooper has always been a favourite of mine because he was such a stalwart. Those childhood players stick in your mind because you have their posters on the wall, but I have ended up getting to know him pretty well too.

“But there have been plenty of others, as I’ve got older, watching people like Alen Boksic. It was open to question whether he was that interested in playing for us but when he did play, wow, his control and movement was just so good.

“Then there was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka too. I couldn’t quite believe his first touch.

“It was a total pleasure watching the players I have just listed when it was going your way, but when it wasn’t going your way, there were players who gave it all, all of the time, like your Coopers and even Juninho. He never gave less than 100%. He was always incredible.

“They stand out because they forge a real connection with the club.”

“But there have been plenty of others, as I’ve got older, watching people like Alen Boksic. It was open to question whether he was that interested in playing for us but when he did play, wow, his control and movement was just so good.

“Then there was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka too. I couldn’t quite believe his first touch.

“It was a total pleasure watching the players I have just listed when it was going your way, but when it wasn’t going your way, there were players who gave it all, all of the time, like your Coopers and even Juninho. He never gave less than 100%. He was always incredible.

“They stand out because they forge a real connection with the club.”

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