In Middlesbrough’s sixth season in the Championship, they finally look like genuine promotion contenders for the first time. Manager Aitor Karanka has got his team playing attractive football with the right balance between attack and defence.
They have only conceded 18 times so far this season, which is a fantastic effort. Boro are fully capable of scoring plenty of goals as well and are playing like a team that can go all the way this term. Currently second following their 2-1 win over Cardiff, Middlesbrough have only conceded one goal in their last six matches.
Defensively they are extremely tough to break down with George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson and on-loan Chelsea man Kenneth Omeruo playing the majority of league matches together forming an impressive understanding with each other.
In goal, surprisingly 36-year-old Greek goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos has been outstanding since establishing himself as the clubs number one at the start of the season. The Greek man was second choice for much of last season and hasn’t held down a regular spot at a club for around six years.
He was Hartlepool’s standout player for a number of years before joining Coventry in 2007 where after a decent first season, his career came to a halt. He was loaned out numerous times before moving back to Greece in 2010 and now is back playing regular football as his career enters its final chapter.
In the centre of midfield, summer signing Adam Clayton and Captain Grant Leadbitter are forming an effective partnership adding to the side’s stability at the back. The two have made the team hard to break down and look good going forward and it’s crucial to have quality in the middle of the park as these two are proving.
Leadbitter has been one of the clubs outstanding performers this season, with his quality at this level and his leadership attributes. He is enjoying a rare prolific goalscoring season too, with 11 goals – 10 in the league – making him the clubs leading goalscorer this season.
Karanka has invested heavily in the loan market, using his friendship with Jose Mourinho to his advantage. The two worked together at Real Madrid and Middlesbrough currently have three players on-loan from Chelsea. The standout being starlet Patrick Bamford who continues to impress with his potential, in his fourth loan spell in three seasons. The 21-year-old striker who has two caps for England under-21s, has the makings of a future Premier League striker especially if he continues to develop as he is.
He has shown in recent seasons that he has what it takes to score goals regularly at this level, which given the competitiveness of the Championship is no mean feat for a young player like Bamford. He has eight goals in 22 Championship appearances so far. But other than being a regular goalscorer, he is proving to be a well rounded forward who works extremely hard for the team. He is able to drop deeper if needed and is a very fast player which is always handy for a striker.
Last season was where Bamford starting becoming a prolific striker, scoring 14 in 23 for MK Dons before joining Derby on-loan in January. He made the step up seamlessly, netting eight times in 21 Championship matches and helping the club reach the play-off final, which ultimately ended in heartbreak.
He will continue to get limited opportunities at Chelsea but is a player with a big future ahead of him and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Premier League club come in for him at the end of the season.