JEFF Stelling thinks every football fan in the country should be hoping Middlesbrough continue to upset the odds as spectacularly in 2012 as they have in 2011.
A huge fan of Tony Mowbray, both as a person and a manager, he still cannot believe the cash-strapped Teessiders are in the running to once more be playing Premier League football next season.
Left with too much to do by predecessor Gordon Strachan, even a storming finish to last season was not enough to take Boro back into English football’s land of milk and honey.
With the financial parachute cut from over them in the summer, Mowbray has been asked to improve on a mid-table team while cutting costs at the Riverside. Having split his time this year between working for Sky Sports and presenting Countdown, Stelling knows only too well when the numbers do not add up.
“Tony Mowbray’s the Championship manager of the year so far by a million miles,” says Stelling.
“I don’t know how he’s done what he’s done without spending anything.
“It’s a Christmas miracle that they’re in the (Championship’s) top three. It’s just beyond belief.
“It shows what we always knew about Tony – he’s a quality manager. Boro fans welcomed him back with open arms because as well as being a legend there, they knew what a good manager he was.
“Can they maintain it? I would say no. But then if you’d asked me at the start of the season if they’d be in the top three at Christmas, I’d have said more like the bottom three.”
While Strachan’s style of play was functional and physical, relying on “men” rather than boys, the personable Mowbray has stayed true to his principles about how the game should be played, and restored the link between academy and first team which has been so productive in recent years.
“He plays football the right way and he’s a top man too,” is Stelling’s assessment. “I don’t care who you support, he’s the sort of guy you want to see do well.”
:: Jeff Stelling was speaking on behalf of Soccer Saturday Super 6, the free-to-enter online predictor game with a weekly jackpot of £100,000. Go to www.skysports.com/super6 for more details.