Boro must believe
This has not been an easy year for Middlesbrough – certainly not as easy as many predicted when they were cited as title favourites before the season started. Having won just 13 of their 46 games under Gordon Strachan, and with Steve Agnew losing his first game in charge this week, the club are currently 21st in the table after 12 games. They have yet to win away, have a negative goal difference and, perhaps most alarmingly, crowds at the Riverside are falling sharply.
This is made more surprising by their busy summer in the transfer market, during which they have supplemented last season's additions of Barry Robson, Willo Flood, Chris Killen, Stephen McManus and Lee Miller with new boys Nicky Bailey, Matthew Kilgallon, Mickael Tavares, Kevin Thomson, Andrew Halliday and Kris Boyd. With that squad, the side were football betting tips to win the league.
Boyd, who arrived on a free transfer, was thought to be the Championship's signing of the summer. He holds the Scottish Premier League goalscoring record, and said on his arrival that, "if you have played for Celtic or Rangers, you develop a real mental toughness."
But it is this mental toughness which has seemingly deserted Middlesbrough this term, something shown by the fact they've only kept two clean sheets this season. This statistic instantly puts pressure on the whole team to outscore the opposition rather than simply playing their own game. With a tight defence, they could still come away with a point even if they have an off-day in front of goal.
There are some bright spots though. Firstly, it's still relatively early in the season. With only twelve games gone, Boro are still playing for a maximum of 113 Championship points, more than enough to secure automatic promotion. It even leaves some room for error if they fancy their chances of going up via the play-offs. Despite their shocking start, they only sit nine points behind Swansea in sixth and the Middlesbrough betting suggests they still have a decent chance of going up.
However, the most important thing working in Middlesbrough's favour is their squad. Their new manager, whoever it may be, will inherit some great individual talents, and their main task would be that raising morale and building confidence, rather than a drastic overhaul of personnel. Bravery is what's required at the Riverside, from the new manager, the chairman, the players, but most of all from the fans. It's never easy supporting a losing team, but they won't get to the Premier League without backing.