We have not seen Middlesbrough playing in the Premier League since they were relegated to the Championship on the final day of the 2008/09 season. They have struggled ever since, failing to even make the play-offs in the Championship prior to the 2014/15 season.
Although, this season seems to be a different story. They arguably have the best squad in the Championship, with only Hull City also competing for that tag.
The Boro added to their squad wisely during the transfer window by adding numerous players to their squad, including signing Ritchie De Laet on loan from Leicester for the remainder of the season.
The right back has vast experience, in both the Championship and the Premier League. He played 26 times for Leicester in their first year back in the top flight last season. He has been unlucky not to feature more so far this season. He will add more competition for places at Middlesbrough, as well as adding more quality to the squad, of which they are not short of already.
They also pulled off the signing of Jordan Rhodes, which could be the biggest coup of the January window. The current top goalscorer for Middlesbrough is Cristhian Stuani, who has scored 6 goals in the league this season. The reason for the signing of Jordan Rhodes is for him to become the talisman of their side. When you look at his track record, you can understand why they decided to look at Rhodes. The striker has scored 155 goals in his 283 games during his spells at Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers. Which equates to an average of 0.54 goals per game.
The signing of Jordan Rhodes is a massive statement of intent from Boro Chairman Steve Gibson. The fee is believed to be around £9 million plus add-ons. Which shows how desperate he is for his club to finally get back to the promise land of the Premier League, where he believes they deserve to be.
Jordan Rhodes is delighted to have signed for Middlesbrough. When he was giving his thoughts on the move he stated that:
Middlesbrough is a fantastic club with a fantastic team that has been doing well this season. It’s a really good team, and a squad of players.
Nothing is taken for granted, and whenever the manager calls upon me I will be trying my best to play my part.”
Middlesbrough have had a dip in form of late, picking up two consecutive defeats against Nottingham Forest and Bristol City. This saw them lose ground on their rivals Hull City, who currently sit top of the league, after they find themselves on a run of four consecutive victories. Although, Middlesbrough can regain the lead at the top, if they win their game in hand over Hull, which would see them gain a 2 point lead at the top.
If Middlesbrough manage to turn around their current bad run of form, it is hard to look past them as league winners this season. They have the best defensive record in the Championship, after only conceding 14 in 27 league games. With the addition of Jordan Rhodes, he will almost certainly add more goals to the team and with players such as Stuani and Downing aiding him, their squad looks like one that is set to grace the Premier League.
But, who could possibly step up to beat Middlesbrough to promotion in May?
Hull City have as good of a chance as any. They have managed to keep the majority of their squad together from their Premier League team last season. Meaning they have a magnificent squad, which like Middlesbrough, looks to be too good for the Championship. Hull have won 7 of their last 10 games and in my opinion are going to be Middlesbrough’s closest rivals in race for the title.
Derby, a few months ago, were looking like the favorites to go up, they recovered from a poor start to the season to rise to the top of the league. But, in recent weeks, their good form has ended emphatically. They are without a win in 6 games and find themselves 4th in the league. As well as this, they only hold a slender 3 point advantage between them and 7th place. Despite this, it is my contention that Derby will turn this around soon. They have a fantastic squad with quality throughout their ranks. It should only be a matter of time before they pick up their form and begin to pick up more points again.
Last night, Derby came up against Preston. After the game, their goalkeeper, Scott Carson, gave his thoughts on the frustration he has about their current form:
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) February 2, 2016
Burnley are another contender. Like Hull, they have kept the majority of their squad together from last season and most importantly they still have Sean Dyche as manager. Dyche got Burnley promoted into the Premier League two seasons ago. When they were in the Premier League, they impressed and eventually were punished for not having the amount quality needed to maintain their Premier League status. This season they have signed Joey Barton who adds a wealth of experience as well as Andre Gray, who signed for a significant fee of £9 million. The Clarets will not be far away come the end of the season.
All four teams have the ability to put on a run and claim promotion. Despite this, if Jordan Rhodes finds his feet at his new club along with De Laet and the other new additions, they should have enough to win the title in May. It has been a long time coming for Boro supporters, who have had to wait for a number of years to return to the top flight.
The race should go right to the end of the season. This Championship season has been one of the most unpredictable to date, so you cannot write off any team near the top of the league. There are a lot of ups and downs to go and there is a lot that can change between now and then. Whoever it is who ends up getting promoted, will have trips to Old Trafford, Anfield, the Emirates to look forward to, to just name a few.
It is going to be an enthralling run in, which teams will end up grasping promotion? We’ll find out for sure in May, until then, we will just have to enjoy the drama of what the last few months of the league will give us.