A positive start but the hard work is still to come
Fans will have mixed feelings over the start to Middlesbrough’s campaign this season. It has been fairly promising but we will be holding our collective breath after the events of last year.
After 16 games it is clear to see the main contenders for promotion. Coming into a crucial period of the season, Boro will have to push hard over the coming months to avoid the dreaded play-offs and win automatic promotion.
Last year was heartbreaking. It was a fantastic first full season in charge for Aitor Karanka, who saw his team finish fourth in the league and destroy Brentford in the play-off semi-finals. What was shaping up to be a fairytale ending wasn’t meant to be, as we lost 2-0 to Norwich City at Wembley. After more than six years away from the Premier League, it is imperative that Boro don’t take the same path this season. Boro must look to secure automatic promotion. In fact, with the rival teams not looking quite as strong this season, Middlesbrough have a good chance for promotion. 32red UK have priced them at 8/11 to go up at the time of writing, with closest rivals Hull City at 4/5 with Unibet. These odds haven’t changed much since August. The Championship is such an unpredictable league, though, and teams who have been favourites in the past have been known to drop down massively within only a couple of months.
This time last year, Middlesbrough were on exactly the same amount of points after 16 games. Back then sites like 32red and others were offering similar odds on winning a return to the Premier League. This is why fans will be hesitant to get too excited just yet. The recent 3-0 defeat away to Hull was a big dent to title hopes. So far, these are the two sides who have looked most likely to mount a title challenge.
The football season is just about to enter its busiest period of the campaign, and it would be fair to say that after January would be a better time to assess any team’s chances of promotion. With that in mind, there are some crucial games coming up for Boro in this period. After the international break, Boro face a QPR side that have not had the best of starts to the season. But nevertheless they were a Premier League side only a few months ago. They then go on to play a Huddersfield team who are looking for a change of fortune under new manager David Wagner, who plans to bring in an attacking style of play. It is important that Middlesbrough build up some momentum in these fixtures as they go into a packed December where they play seven matches.
Some may say that Middlesbrough’s success so far in the Capital One Cup could end up being a hindrance to promotion hopes, as other rival teams won’t play as many matches. So it will be interesting to see how the quarter-final match against Everton impacts upon performances throughout the rest of December. And there is a seriously nail-biting set of fixtures up ahead in the run-up to Christmas. Boro are pitted against other promotion hopefuls Birmingham, Burnley, and Brighton in the same week, which will be a real test of our mettle before rounding off the year against Sheffield Wednesday - who have been in fine form over recent weeks.
It is all very much still to play for and, in the cutthroat world of the Championship, anything can happen. That is why it so hard to say what Middlesbrough’s chances of promotion are after only 16 games, when there are 30 more still to play. If Boro can overcome the tough-looking fixture list over the festive period and keep their focus after that, there is no doubt that there is an incredibly good chance of achieving promotion this time. The next few months will see some exciting football, there is no doubt about that.