How Boro Will be Top of the League by Christmas
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it's now in reach. There are just two more games until Father Christmas arrives and we could find ourselves with the best of presents: a nosebleed on Christmas day.
Things are looking good; Now that Jelle Vossen has finally broken his duck with that superb hat-trick against Millwall, the signs are there that the team can really push on. And this is reflected in Middlesbrough's current promotion odds, second only to Derby. However, these next two games couldn't be much bigger tests for Boro.
So, let's take a look at the run-up. On Saturday we host leaders Derby County with both teams coming off big wins against teams near the foot of the table. Steve McClaren's team have been stuttering a bit in the games before that though, with three defeats in their prior six matches. It will be a tight encounter but I'm confident and will be putting a little bet on a 2-1 home win. Three points will mean that we definitely leap-frog Derby.
Next, it's off to Portman Road to take on The Tractor Boys and this looks to be an even tougher proposition. Ipswich, like Boro, are undefeated since 21st October (when they lost 3-1 at Cardiff) and Mick McCarthy has got them on a roll. On closer inspection though, they are a fairly low-scoring side and if you exclude their last game against Leeds (4-1), Ipswich have not scored more than two goals in a match all season (20 games including the League Cup). Boro on the other hand have scored more than two goals in a match on six occasions. Although they are very tight at the back, putting 2 past Ipswich should do the trick. Again, 2-1 to Boro.
Finally, to make our yuletide wish come true we'll need Bournemouth to either drop at least one point or be better off in goal difference than The Cherries. They have to play Cardiff at home on Saturday but will be also thinking about their League Cup tie against Liverpool on the 17th and we've seen teams take their eye off the ball in these circumstances before. After that they have to travel to cellar-dwellers Blackpool and fitness could be an issue as they will have less than three days of recovery time.
If all of this comes off, the top four in the Championship table when we wake up on December 25th looks something like this:
Stranger things have happened in football.