Think the Premier League title race is exciting? You’re an idiot. It isn’t. Leicester have had it sewn up for months. The Championship’s the place to be for genuine edge of the seat thrills - especially as a Boro fan.
Since PL relegation in 2009, thanks to goals from Carlton Cole and Junior Stanislas (and our utter ineptitude over the course of the season), we’ve only once made the play-offs. That was last season when Norwich gave us a real schooling - the shame of being bettered by a side that had Cameron Jerome as a lone striker gave me nightmares all summer. The rest of our time in the Champs has been spent haunting the dead-zone between 7th and 16th as a trio of managers failed to spark us into any kind of life and our home crowds plunged to horrible new lows (averaging just 15k a game during 2013-14).
Image - Mike Eggerton/PA
The halcyon days of Juninho, Ravanelli and a ‘way too good for the division’ Paul Merson were replaced by a grumpy Scot at the helm and a whole parade of indifferent strikers (MARLON KING. SCOTT MCDONALD. ISHMAEL MILLER. KEI KAMARA). Christ.
Fast-forward to now though, we’re sitting at the top of the Championship table, with a handsome Spaniard in charge and a £9m striker at the sharp end of the team. Lovely stuff, right?
I’ve never been more nervous. Sure, I remember us losing 3 finals in a year - but I was only 7 and my main memory is of the battle to remove temporary tattoos from my face. Yeah, we beat Basel and Steau Bucharest in two absolute thrillers to reach the European Cup final - where we were tonked by a stunning Sevilla side after Steve McClaren lost his mind and put on every striker we had at 1-0 down. That was joyous though, not nervous - we were the tiny team that could, the small town in Europe taking it to teams I’d only ever seen on TV and never imagined we’d play.
This season has been agonising. We were 6 points clear in mid-January after a tight 1-0 win at Brentford and it looked as though we’d avoided our usual Christmas cock-up. Then we went without a win in 5, losing two and drawing the other three to slip agonisingly down the table. Two excellent wins against Cardiff and Fulham seemed to break the funk before being rattled by Blackburn and Danny Graham. Unbelievable. Fancy letting Danny Graham score against you? A free flowing win at Wolves made us look like a team that had turned the tide, but then we completely imploded. We’re talking a Christian Bale on the set of Terminator Salvation style meltdown.
That same handsome Spaniard that looked to be our saviour had a colossal meltdown after an insipid performance against Rotherham and didn’t show up for training the following day. That £9m striker? Rhodes had only managed 2 goals since his big money move, and was apparently at the centre of Karanka’s almighty strop with the team - alongside local hero Stewart Downing. Really properly staggering stuff, like the twist in one of Lampard’s ‘Magic Football’ books for kids. A lifeless showing against a struggling Charlton followed, with Karanka watching at home (presumably in a really nice pair of pajamas - maybe M&S ones? At the very least they’re from George. Silky.) as we let in two really stinky goals to make it 3 away losses in a row.
But Michael, ‘Middlesbrough have just recorded their sixth straight win’, you say. The first time they’ve done that in forever. ‘They’re two points clear at the top of the league’, you point out. Adding that ‘Karanka came back and the team spirit seems better than ever’.
I’ll just leave this here:
W - 1-0 vs. Hull, 91st Minute Winner
W - 2-3 vs. QPR, conceded 86th Minute Goal
W - 2-1 vs. Reading, 94th Minute Winner
W - 1-2 vs. Already relegated Bolton, 73rd and 91st Minute Goals
Absolutely harrowing stuff.
My Dad is 53, and I really worry for his wellbeing. 4 games to go - with Burnley up next (2 points behind us in 2nd) and Brighton as the last game of the season (4 behind in 3rd). I’m going to the Brighton game with my girlfriend, it’s sold out and I really hope we’re already promoted by that stage.
I genuinely don’t care about being champions, but I am having nightmare visions of her having to watch a 25 year old man she thought she loved break down in tears, whilst his father has a heart attack and the play-offs raise their disgusting, oozing head into view.
Up The Boro.