Perfectly Placed For Automatic Promotion
With just 7 fixtures remaining of the regular Championship season, Middlesbrough are perfectly placed to mount a serious attempt at gaining automatic promotion, back to the Premier League.
One of the key elements to the success of Middlesbrough's season has been the defensive performances of the team, conceding just 30 goals in 39 matches to date. This is a record, which is 10 goals better than the team currently sitting top of the table and the basis on which Aitor Karanka has based his team.
Players, such as Ben Gibson, Daniel Ayala, George Friend, Ryan Fredericks, Kenneth Omeruo, Tomas Kalas and Jonathan Woodgate have all played their part but have some combinations been better than others?
Concentrating on the central defensive areas in particular, the stand out partnership of the season has been Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson, who, when starting together, have not lost a match. Having played 14 games together and conceding only 6 goals, it becomes clear as to why Middlesbrough have not lost any of their games, when Ayala and Gibson have been played together.
Another popular partnership in central defence for Aitor Karanka has been the combination of Daniel Ayala and Kenneth Omeruo, who have conceded an average of 1 goal per game, over the course of 12 matches played. Omeruo has also featured alongside Gibson at the back, playing 6 games together and losing just 1, conceding 4 goals in the process.
Other players to play in the central defensive role, include Jonathan Woodgate, who despite only making 4 appearances to date, is yet to lose a game this season. One common factor at the back, in all 4 of Middlesbrough's most recent defeats, is Tomas Kalas, who played in all of those matches, including the 3-0 loss to Bournemouth.
Three other, key players, who have featured in what has mainly been a back 4 this season for Middlesbrough, are George Friend, Ryan Fredericks and Emilio Nsue. With 36 Championship appearances this season, the majority of which have come at left back, Friend has been a constant component of the back 4, enabling stability and success. Only one player, Grant Leadbitter, has more league appearances to his name this season, than Friend.
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This group of defenders, plus the meticulous methods and preparation of manager Aitor Karanka, have combined over the course of the season, to produce the meanest defence in the Championship.