Championship Play-Off Final: The view from Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough v Norwich
Championship Play-Off Final
Monday, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports 1

For most football fans a game of football probably doesn’t get any more nerve-racking than a Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley. Fully six days before the game itself, when I first started writing this, I am a bag of nerves just thinking about what might happen on the day.

Thankfully, come Monday, I won’t have time to get nervous about the match as I’ll be full of stress getting my family to what has now turned out to be the most ill-timed holiday I could ever have planned.

It’s a UK holiday and myself, my partner, and my oldest son are going by rail, dragging suitcases between three different trains before arriving at our destination at just after 2pm. That doesn’t leave myself and my Middlesbrough-crazy son long to dump the cases before finding the pub and hopefully a decent vantage point.

What can go wrong? Rail disruptions earlier than the planned strikes, no Sky Sports in the pub, no internet connection to watch it on Sky Go… oh how I wish I could eliminate all those worries and be at Wembley supporting the team that I love. If anyone wants to borrow a family for a week, then just send me a Tweet!

As for the game itself I can honestly, hand on heart, say I can’t call the outcome. I’m naturally pessimistic when it comes to Boro in big games, and probably with good reason when you look at the way we performed at the end of the regulation season.

Live TV games away to Bournemouth and Watford were massive at the time – if we’d have won just one of those fixtures we’d have been promoted automatically, but we were desperately disappointing in both, losing 3-0 and 2-0 respectively without registering a shot of note in either match. Did the enormity of those games get to the players? If it did then that has to be a huge worry.

From a far more positive aspect if a team is only as good as its last game then Boro were magnificent in beating Brentford 3-0 in the semi-final second leg, beating Mark Warburton’s men 5-1 on aggregate.

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As Aitor Karanka rightly said, those two semi-final victories means Middlesbrough beat the team that finished fifth in the Championship table four times during the season by an aggregate score of 10-1. We beat the Bees 4-0 at the Riverside Stadium and 1-0 at Griffin Park and hopefully those results are an omen ahead of Monday’s final against Norwich.

The reason I say that is because Boro thrashed the Canaries 4-0 at the Riverside before winning 1-0 at Carrow Road just a few weeks ago thanks to a superb defensive display. For that reason alone I’m surprised that Karanka’s men aren’t favourites in the Match Odds market – Middlesbrough [2.9], Norwich [2.8], The Draw [3.4].

But despite not being able to call the outcome in terms of a winner, I’d be very surprised if the match isn’t a very tight, and probably low-scoring affair.

Boro have the best defensive record in the Championship and I don’t expect us to suddenly crumble on the day. My big concern is that skillful players running at our backline usually cause us problems, and in Wes Hoolahan, Norwich have the player to do exactly that. Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter, charged with protecting the Boro defence, must try and stifle Hoolahan’s runs as often as possible.

At the other end of the pitch Albert Adomah and Lee Tomlin can inflict the same damage as Hoolahan, and if Patrick Bamford is fully fit then Alex Neil’s men will know they’ll have been in a game.

But I’m not going to fall into the trap of saying we will win because I’m not confident, the market tells you there’s nothing between these two sides.

It’s been a magnificent season for Middlesbrough and for the first time in a long time us fans can see the ‘glory’ days returning. Yes, it will be disappointing not to reach the Premier League in what will be a heartbreaking day should we lose on Monday, but I can live with it because that’s what us Boro fans do best, we take the knocks, brush ourselves down, and just get on with it.

We don’t expect or crave success, we just enjoy it when we’re lucky enough for it to come our way. And believe me if success happens to find us on Monday then it will be party, party, party, all round my house for a parmo.

When I get back from my holiday that is.

Recommended Bet
Back Under 2.5 Goals @ [1.8]

*****

You’ve read the view from the Riverside, now check out Norwich fan Mark Tranter’s take from Carrow Road