Nick Ransom on Middlesbrough's impressive 2014/15 Championship season. Do they have what it takes to stay at the top?
Nick Ransom on Middlesbrough’s impressive 2014/15 Championship season.
Middlesbrough are flying high. Their first ever foreign manager, Aitor Karanka, has propelled the team to the top two promotion spots in the Championship with an electrifying Spanish touch. Having worked with José Mourinho at Real Madrid, Karanka knows how to win games and has sights sets on the Premier League.
There have been many highlights this season for ‘Boro; the Capital One Cup exit to Liverpool broke all records, cultimating in a jaw-dropping penalty shootout that ended 14-13. Supporters were buoyed by the result and the fact that the club gave the FA Cup a good go. Defeating Manchester City at the Etihad was a game no ‘Boro fan will forget, but the club were given a reality check when Arsenal showed their true colours and nullified Teesside’s threat.
Consistent league form has been imperative this season and Karanka’s recruitment has been second to none. Patrick Bamford has excelled since joining on loan from Chelsea and Spanish striker Kiké has also scored vital goals this year. Jelle Vossen has been incredibly influential but the midfield pairing of Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton has given ‘Boro stability in the centre of the park. The defence has also been rock solid – a big squad has seen many changes to the starting eleven – and the ethos of the Spanish manager has been absorbed by all players.
‘Boro have a tough run coming up with fixtures away to both Derby and Bournemouth in the space of four days. They also still have to visit Watford and Norwich but the squad and supporters have a belief that winning all the remaining games is nowhere near impossible. ‘Boro beat Derby 2-0 in the reverse fixture back in December and their resilience, determination and performances are of a Premier League quality. Karanka is clearly a shining star and many make obvious comparisons to Mourinho. He knows the mental ability needed to win but the run-in will undoubtedly test his experience as a manager.
The team have rarely lost this season in the Championship but blips to Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, both at home and away, may still come back to haunt the club at the end of the campaign. Although ‘Boro aren’t the highest scorers in the Championship, their defensive displays have been impressive, going into the game against Nottingham Forest with sixteen league clean sheets to their name.
Middlesbrough are clinging on to the top of the Championship. Many believed the home defeat to Leeds was a worrying turning point but later home wins against Bolton and Millwall have kept the faith at the Riverside. Other results have gone their way recently but the top six is constantly changing – just look at Bournemouth – and it will no doubt go down to the final few games of the season. ‘Boro play three of their last five matches at home, concluding the season at the Riverside against Brighton. This is the closest ‘Boro have got to the Premier League since their relegation in 2009 and these will no doubt be the longest two months in many of these players’ lives to date.
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