BY the time Middlesbrough kick off against Southampton later today, next season’s Championship status could well be secured.
Had this been 12 months ago when Boro were in a relegation dog-fight then this news would have been met with a welcome sigh of relief given that, for a long while, they were nervously looking over their shoulders with League One not far in the distance.
Fast forward a year though and should Blackpool and Cardiff City both beat Burnley and Leeds United respectively this afternoon, come 5.15pm when Boro get proceedings under way against the Saints, the promotion dream could finally be killed off.
How the atmosphere at the Riverside will be is anyone’s guess but you can imagine that given the progress made over the last year, the weight of disappointment will hang heavier than the passenger carrier on Teesside’s Transporter Bridge.
“By kick-off time, we’ll know what everyone else has done. Lets hope some results have gone our way and there’s something to play for,” said a hopeful Boro boss Tony Mowbray. “We can’t disguise the fact it’s been a frustrating season at home for us, but it should still be a big occasion. Southampton will be trying to cement their promotion, and if we still have something to play for, hopefully we’ll be all guns blazing. Lets wait and see.
“Southampton are a very good team and they’ve been up there all season long. They’ve kept their momentum going from their promotion and have some very talented players.”
What has cost Middlesbrough a chance to have a crack at the Premier League’s big boys next season has been their lack of profligacy in front of goal.
“Lets not kid ourselves on,” added Mowbray. “The disappointment of dropping two points at home on Tuesday night was a huge blow to us really.
“Yet we shouldn’t be too surprised because its been a struggle for most of the season at home to open teams up. We haven’t scored enough goals this year. But you never know in football.
“Pressure can be a strange thing and the expectancy of a couple of clubs in front of us, if they were to lose on Saturday it would give us a great boost to try to take it to the last day, and on the last day of the season, anything can happen. We just have to take care of our business – we cant affect the other games going on.
“Any football team is about balance and chemistry. We’ve lost 11 games in 44 and that’s not a bad total. We are hard to play against and hard to beat, but we haven’t really had that ingredient that allows us to win matches. We haven’t lost too many games, but when you look at a team like Southampton, we haven’t won enough either. Their midfield players are very good at what they do. They have a great balance to their team. With us, I think the balance has been better out of possession than when we’ve had the ball.
“The number of goals we’ve scored this year hasn’t been enough to propel us to the top end of the table. For most of the year, we’ve been in contention because of our ability not to lose football matches rather than pushing on and winning them. That’s something I have to address in the summer by finding an ingredient that allows us to push on and score more goals.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean a centre-forward that’s going to score 30, it could mean a midfielder who can see clever passes and has the quality to play someone in, or a wide player who can stick decent crosses into the box. I have to put together the ingredients for a goalscoring team.”