At the start of the season we all look at the fixture list to see what the run-in is going to be on the off-chance that we may need to win the last couple of games to progress to either automatic promotion or the play-offs.
This season I remember thinking that a home game against Millwall was an infinitely more attractive proposition than a trip to Ipswich – a ground where I still vividly remember Dalian Atkinson tearing us apart.
As it happens, the Millwall game looks much more difficult and has turned into the most important of the season because a win will guarantee that much sought after play-off spot. We have, however, hit good form at exactly the right time with a decent performance and win against Bristol City being followed by an excellent performance and great win at Derby. Every player played his part in that Derby game and we looked particularly strong throughout the team. That both games were against top ten sides made the two results doubly satisfying taking into account the poor performances against the top ten so far this season.
And so – hopefully – on to the play-offs where – if results go as I expect – we’ll probably be playing Aston Villa for a place in the final. As well as Villa have played this season, and the fact we failed to get more than a single point from the six available against them, the statistics don’t tell the full truth.
We started well at Villa Park but had Adama Traore sent off after only four minutes to negate any chance of a famous victory. A draw under extreme pressure was a very good result under the circumstances so honours remained reasonably even.
We played very well at the Riverside but failed to put our chances away only to be foiled by a Robert Snodgrass header in Tony Pulis’s first game in charge. An easy victory over them in the league cup was sandwiched in between and should give us even more confidence that we can indeed make Wembley.
Once there, of course, it’s anybody’s guess who the opposition would be but Fulham’s fantastic end of season run suggests it would probably be them provided Cardiff don’t slip up in their last three games.
There are lots of questions still to be answered, of course, but it has developed into a really exciting end to the season – a scenario that didn’t look particularly promising until Pulis took over. I’m pleased to see Garry Monk getting decent results at Birmingham, however, because he is a thoroughly decent bloke, but it is a fact that Pulis has had a much more positive effect since his appointment.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks though, it’s pretty obvious to most ‘Boro fans that changes will have to be made over the summer to make us more effective going forward. Our midfield is not anywhere near as creative as it could be though Mo Besic has certainly improved that aspect of the play since his introduction.
In the meantime we can only watch on with bated breath and pray that we don’t have to suffer yet more Wembley heartbreak. One day it might happen for us in the national stadium. Let’s hope this year is that time!
Hopefully see you at Wembley!