In one of their most difficult challenges of the season, Middlesbrough pulled off the unthinkable as they managed to beat automatic promotion chasing Southampton.
So with Championship teams heading into the final league game, there is still a possibility of Boro reaching this year’s play-offs after all.
Who would have thought it? Well, definitely not me. In my previous blog I had completely lost faith in Boro. I wrote about how our season was definitely over and that the Saints would be sealing their second consecutive promotion with a convincing win over us. I couldn’t have been more wrong, which has left me eating my words.
It did seem like it was all going to go to plan for Southampton when Billy Sharp found an empty net to put the Saints ahead after just forty-six seconds. But Boro obviously hadn’t read the script. A first home goal for Nicky Bailey and a perfectly placed free-kick from Merouane Zemmama in the 77th minute gave us a 2-1 win – ruining the promotion party for the 3,000 travelling fans, as well as handing Reading this year’s Championship trophy. Our late kick-off, Cardiff’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United and the pressure resting mainly on the Saints was a good mix that enabled us to pull off this result – keeping us within reaching distance of the top six.
As it stands, Boro are currently seventh with 70 points and Cardiff City sit in sixth with 72 points. It is a simple situation – the last play-off position and a chance to play West Ham or Southampton will go to either us or them.
The Bluebirds obviously hold all the cards at the minute and it is in their hands to throw away as anything but a loss away to Crystal Palace guarantees them their third consecutive play-off spot – unless they draw and Boro win 10 – 0 away to Watford. I am confident we will win our game so most of the focus will be on proceedings at Selhurst Park. The cliché pre-match quotes are already doing the rounds that “Palace is a hard place to visit” and that “they are a tough team to beat”, but I just think Cardiff are too experienced in this league to throw this opportunity away. However, I was convinced we wouldn’t beat Southampton so what do I know. Anything can happen on Saturday and it is definitely going to be one of the most nerve-wracking and nail-biting afternoons in recent years for us.
The victory over the Saints really was a fantastic and morale-boosting win for the Boro, especially with the Sky Sports cameras watching, and it has left fans full of optimism. The atmosphere at the Riverside during and after the match was electric.
Fans were in full voice throughout the game, with the chants “stand up if you still believe” and “with Tony Mowbray we’re going up” ringing from stand to stand. I haven’t seen the home supporters react like that for a long time and although we are the underdogs this weekend, there seems to be a genuine belief around Middlesbrough again. Not only for the Watford game but also for next season already. This was a huge contrast to the previous match after a bore draw with the worst team in the league, Doncaster Rovers, left fans, including myself, very angry and frustrated.
Regardless of the outcome at the weekend and whether or not we actually reach the play-offs, Boro have given a good account of themselves this season, despite the slide during the past month or so. We have genuinely challenged for the top six in one of the most unforgiving and competitive leagues in the world, so to still be within touching distance as we head into the final game of the season is very respectable, especially after our past few seasons.
Looking forward, we have a great local chairman and manager who both have the interests of our club at heart and we are obviously moving in the right direction. I am positive we will continue to improve next season and that the fans will soon celebrate promotion back to the Premier League. But for now there is just the small matter of sixth spot to resolve – come on Crystal Palace and up the Eagles.