The final hurdle to Promotion
Middlesbrough travel to Bournemouth this weekend for the early kick-off in the Championship, in a match that sees two of the top three go head-to-head.
Bournemouth have only tasted defeat once in their last 15 Championship matches at the Goldsands Stadium, winning 9 of them and this will be a tough test for Aitor Karanka and his team.
Despite suffering three defeats in their last seven Championship games, Middlesbrough have been one of the form sides in the Championship, picking up 12 points out the last 18 available. Of those six games, three were against teams currently in the top 7 places in the league. Only Nottingham Forest and Watford have better records, the latter of which Middlesbrough play on Easter Monday, at Vicarage Road.
Two good wins, over Ipswich Town and Derby County, thanks mainly to the goals of Patrick Bamford, have set Middlesbrough in good stead, for what is going to be a tricky, and possibly defining part of the season.
On paper, upcoming home fixtures against Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United, should pose little threat. However, teams at the bottom of the table can be very dangerous at this time of the season and can not afford to be under estimated. Having slipped up at home to Leeds United and away, to Sheffield Wednesday last month, it's games against teams such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, in April, that could provide the biggest test.
Considering the stage in the season we are at, the injury list is looking very short and there are key players, such as Bamford, Grant Leadbitter, Daniel Ayala and George Friend, who Middlesbrough can ill afford to do without, during the run-in. Currently, it is only Ryan Fredericks, who is a concern but he could be fit for the match against Bournemouth, which makes Damia the only definite absentee from the squad. Should the above mentioned players remain fit for the remainder of the season, Middlesbrough can have little excuse, for not remaining in the hunt for an automatic promotion chance.
Four very winnable home matches, would result in 12 points and that alone, would mean a total of 84 points for the season. The two away matches at Norwich City and Fulham, which will be played on consecutive weekends towards the end of April, will be tough but victories in those matches, could be the difference between automatic promotion and the play-offs.
The recent win at Derby, stopped a run of three matches without a win away from the Riverside, two of which ended in defeat. The 3 points at the iPro Stadium came at a crucial time, with two of the toughest away fixtures possible in the Championship, on the horizon.
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The results in the away matches, at Bournemouth and Watford, could dictate where Middlesbrough finish in the Championship this season. Yes, these are difficult games but with a fully fit squad, Middlesbrough can make a real statement by winning them and in doing so, have their destiny, firmly in their own hands.