Progress Report on Middlesbrough FC after Gameweek 17

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Best XI:

Boro lineup

Best Performer:

Many players have impressed this season, with the goalscorers Patrick Bamford, Kike and Lee Tomlin crucial to the team’s success. However, there’s no doubt about it, skipper and midfield general Grant Leadbitter has been the outstanding player this season, popping up with nine goals in 18 games – a stat strikers would be proud of.

Improvements:

Boro’s defence have been a rock this season and boast the most formidable defense in the division so far with only 12 goals conceded in the first 17 games. The depth of the defense has been key in this campaign. The manager Aitor Karanka has been able to rotate the back four against different levels of opposition, keeping all positions up for grabs and each individual hungry to earn a starting place.

Another massive improvement from last season is consistency. Just one defeat in 12 league games and scoring 20 in the process has seen them rocket up to joint second, just one point off Derby at the top.

Weaknesses:

Boro have a history of struggling to pick up points during the festive period. The side have been in this position before and when the games start coming thick and fast the side has generally struggled to cope. The 2012/13 season saw Boro top at this stage of the season, then as soon as the New Year came they managed only three wins out of 26 from January to April and finished a lowly 16th. This could be just as much a psychological thing as it is a physical problem, but whatever it may be Boro must change the course of history and stay in the mix through grit and determination.

Positions that need to be filled during transfer window:

For once I believe we have got the balance spot on. We have quality home grown talent, as well as other additions from around the world and vital Chelsea loanees Bamford and Kenneth Omeruo. With one of the biggest squads in the Championship, Karanka has been able to change the team each week and everyone seems to enjoy working with the manager. Boro need to be tying down the current crop, and this process has started by handing new deals to key men Albert Adomah and Adam Reach

The Manager: Aitor Karanka

Since beginning his first managerial role this time last year, Karanka has brought flair and positive, attacking football to Teesside – something that Boro fans have been craving in the last few seasons. He has an impressive portfolio making over 100 caps for Real Madrid, playing for his country, coaching the Spanish U-16’s and appointed Real Madrid assistant coach to Jose Mourinho in 2010.

Ben Gibson has praised Karanka for his call up to the England U-21s; “The manager has been absolutely brilliant since day one. He’s a perfectionist and if you fall away from those high standards he will let you know about it. I feel like I’ve improved as a player over the past year.”

Another who is reaping the rewards of working with the Spaniard is Bamford, who whilst training with the England U-21′s was noticed by Hodgson and asked to train with the full England squad.

Twelfth Man:

The Boro fans have been in full voice this season and the Riverside is rocking once again. The past few seasons have seen embarrassing capacities compared to the 34,000 we were getting in the Premiership all those years ago, but a corner seems to have been turned. This term fans have backed the players by recording the biggest Championship away attendance so far – 3,500 against Huddersfield, and look to top that with a 4,500 allocation for the trip to Wigan at the end of November.

Both Karanka and the players have praised the support shown this season in interviews. After the Rotherham game Ben Gibson said: “The away fans have been absolutely incredible. They never stopped singing from the first minute and it felt like a home game”.

The fans will be a key part of Boro’s push for promotion and need to carry on this overwhelming support.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s a firm belief that this could finally be the season that Boro return to the top-flight if their performances of late are anything to go by. It’s a long and chaotic season when you’re a Championship outfit, but the club must consider themselves a genuine chance of promotion – the festive period will be telling as always.

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