Middlesbrough on fine form at end of Championship campaign and on their way to the Premier League

    20 Apr 2016 | Championship | Opinion
    Middlesbrough on fine form at end of Championship campaign and on their way to the Premier League

    This year looks like being the year Middlesbrough will finally return to the Premier League after seven seasons in the Football League Championship. Boro ended last season with a crushing playoff final defeat against Norwich City.

    Manager Aitor Karanka says the club have improved and are now "more confident" of promotion. With four games remaining, they lead the table with eighty-five points, two more than Burnley who are in second-place and four more than third-placed BrightonBoro are on a great run of form with six wins in their last six league games and full of confidence at just the right time.

    Karanka has been a huge contributor to the club's success. The former Spanish central-defender has implemented a squad rotation policy that has kept his squad fresh and energized. At the tail-end of a long season it is really starting to pay dividends. When opponents are starting to tire, Karanka's players are stepping up a gear. They won their last game against bottom of the table Bolton Wanderers 2-1 with a winner in the 91st minute. In other recent games, they overcame Reading 2-1 at the Riverside with a 94th minute strike and struck a 91st minute winner against Hull in March. Their superior fitness is enabling them to play at a higher intensity in the final-stages.

    The club have great strength in depth. With attacking options like Stuart Downing, David Nugent and Christian Stuani, Karanka has had quality on the bench to bring on game-changing substitutions. One player finding his form at the right time is Scottish striker Jordan Rhodes. Signed from Blackburn for £9 million on transfer deadline day in February 2016, the 26 year-old has previously struggled to find the back of the net. Karanka said Rhodes finally "arrived" when he scored twice in the last game against Bolton, doubling his league goal tally. The club will be hoping Rhodes will now have the confidence to fire his side to the division title.

    Despite their great attacking options, a strong defence has been at the core of Boro's title charge. Middlesbrough have the best defensive record, having conceded twenty-seven goals - the fewest in the league. Karanka has drawn upon his experience playing in defence, instilling in his backline a solidity and determination that has made them hard to break down. His side have kept a remarkable 21 clean sheets so far this season including a streak of nine games without conceding between November and January.

    Middlesbrough's next fixture is a crucial title six-pointer away to second-placed Burnley at Turf Moor. Both teams are unbeaten in their last six league games. It will be an fascinating tie as Burnley have scored more goals than any other team this season and have division top-scorer and 'player of the year' Andre Gray facing off against the best defence in the Championship. Boro have performed well against the teams at the top and will look to the team's last meeting when Karanka's team beat Burnley 1-0 in December. A win against their closest rivals would set them up for a triumphant return to the top flight.

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