The battle for the play-offs: Will Boro make it?
By Joshua Healy
Tuesday 10 Apr 2018 11:13:00
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After a strange and inconsistent season, it feels surreal that three more wins and two draws should be enough to propel Middlesbrough into a top-six place in this season’s Championship.

Joshua Healy wrote this for the fanzine before Saturday's win v Nottingham Forest. Can we keep on track with his plan after tonight's game at Sheff Utd?

So remember this assessment was written before Saturday's game.

With six games remaining Boro have accrued 63 points. Over the last five years the average point total needed to clinch the final play-off spot has been 74 points.

That means 11 more points should see Tony Pulis' charges into a semi-final clash with third-place.

By my calculations - and I'm no mathematician - three wins and two draws should do it, which is convenient as the form book reveals Boro have managed exactly that record over the previous six games.

Victories over Leeds, Birmingham and Barnsley were followed by a hard-fought point at Brentford, a feisty defeat to nine-man Wolves before a dismal 1-1 draw at basement side Burton.

Only Boro's upcoming fixtures look much more tricky than the ones which have come before it, on paper at least, with four of their direct rivals for the top-six still to face.

After 39 games it all boils down to the crucial, congested month of April - five games in just three weeks - with just the final league fixture to contend in May.

Here we assess Boro's chances against their next six opponents.

Nottingham Forest - Saturday, April 7 (h)

Who else but Aitor Karanka's Forest are Boro's next challengers.

It's no surprise that the Spaniard has strengthened a leaky backline since his appointment in January, but not for the first time in his career Karanka is having difficulty finding the balance between defence and attack with Forest having failed to score in their previous four matches.

Boro's own lack of proficiency in attack has been demonstrated in recent weeks but if Pulis' side can batten down the hatches and make the breakthrough early then they should have enough about them to record the three points - and send Karanka back to the Midlands cutting a frustrated figure.

Prediction - win

Sheffield United - April 10 (a)

A trip to Bramall Lane is the first of four successive matches with Boro's direct competitors.

Like Forest, Chris Wilder's side have struggled to turn draws into wins in recent weeks: United have drawn three successive matches, winning just once in their previous six - and that success came over Burton.

But their inspired performance against promotion favourites Cardiff highlighted their ability and sent out a warning to their play-off rivals.

Boro have won only once at Bramall Lane since 1988 and a point at Yorkshire would be extremely useful.

Prediction - draw

Bristol City - April 14 (h)

An epic two-legged League Cup battle with Manchester City appears to have taken its toll on Lee Johnston's side. They have lost the momentum built during an incredible run of form earlier in the season and the club's dismal away record may well cost them a place in the play-offs.

Johnston has overseen nine straight league matches on the road without a single win and an electric Riverside, filled with close to 30,000 enthusiastic and raucous Boro supporters, will have City concerned.

Again, Boro should scrape the three points.

Prediction - win

Derby - April 21 (a)

The Rams are suffering their infamous annual post-February blip: just one win in six games has left Gary Rowett sweating on a play-off place.

But an impressive single-goal win over in-form Preston suggests Derby are in no mood to surrender their fifth-place spot any time soon.

It's an almighty difficult game to call but Boro can afford to lose once more and defeat at Pride Park wouldn't spell disaster.

Prediction - loss

Millwall - April 28 (h)

Millwall are the division's form team: 14 games without defeat has seen Neil Harris' charges creep into contention for the playoffs.

Commentators have suggested there is no pressure on newly-promoted Millwall to claim a top-six position, but with only a handful of matches remaining and with the play-offs in sight, the London club know there may never be a better chance to be promoted.

With this in mind, Boro should have the know-how and experience to better Millwall on home turf.

Prediction - win

Ipswich - May 5 (a)

It comes down to the final game of the season. Boro need a point to secure sixth, Mick McCarthy's side are already dreaming of the after-party for their boss on his final game.

Do Boro ever do things the easy way? No. Who would bet against the Tractor Boys sitting on a 1-0 lead with Boro sweating over their playoff place with 20 minutes to go?

I wouldn't. But I also wouldn't bet against Adama Traore weaving his magic and somehow, someway scoring a dramatic late equaliser to send the Boro faithful into ecstasy and into the lottery of the playoffs. It's been that sort of season.

Prediction - draw

And with that, Boro have 74 points - just enough to land a place in the battle-of-four to the Premier League. Who would have thought it possible on December 23 when Garry Monk was relieved of his duties?

Either Aston Villa or Fulham lie in wait as potential semi-final opponents.

Will Boro advance to the final and end their Wembley hoodoo? That is a story for another day...


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