While it’s great that ‘Boro have finally found a degree of consistency with the recent unbeaten run of four wins and two draws easily representing the best spell of the season, there must still be reservations about the team’s ability to compete against the top sides.
The four wins (Hull, Leeds, Birmingham and Barnsley) and one of the draws (Sunderland) were all against teams well below us in the table. That we struggled at Brentford – a team much closer to us in the league than the rest – and finished the game relieved not to have lost is evidence enough that we still can’t be too confident against the top six or seven.
So the real test of our new found consistency will surely be the last seven fixtures starting with the Good Friday visit of Wolves to the Riverside. Their exceptional season finds them in a position of real strength and with only eight games left and already thirteen points clear of third place they must surely be guaranteed Premier League football next season.
Cardiff’s recent six match winning streak has also put them in pole position given that Aston Villa have slipped up of late. Looking at the performances of the other teams above us, in fact, shows that with the exception of Fulham, ‘Boro’s current form is easily the best of the rest and that needs to continue. How we cope with Wolves on Good Friday will surely be a great indicator of whether we have actually discovered the Pulis way of achieving success, especially when we follow that with a hectic six match April programme.
Those fixtures include games against teams around us like Derby (away), Sheffield United (away) and Bristol City (home) so we really have to start competing better against our real play-off rivals.
It’s going to be an exciting last few weeks, though, and for that we have to thank the organisation and commitment that Tony Pulis has brought to the club since his arrival. Amazingly, he still has his detractors on both radio phone-ins and social media from ‘fans’ who it seems will only be satisfied when we can attract Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi to the Riverside. As a ‘Boro supporter of many, many years, however, I – like the majority of real fans – have learned how to have more realistic ambitions.
Attracting major sponsorship and top players to what the outside world perceives as the cold, unfashionable North East has always been extremely difficult and shows what an amazing job Bryan Robson did to attract the sensational talent he did.
The current wealth of the Premiership and the world wide coverage of the top six has only made it even more difficult because even Newcastle, with their amazing support week after week, will never be as attractive for prospective investors as the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and even Arsenal.
Perhaps much of that is because of the fawning attitude towards them of the media in general and BBC in particular that suggests the rest are only there to make up the numbers. That’s why Leicester City’s performance in winning the Premiership was probably the greatest sporting achievement and the biggest sporting shock of the last hundred years.
So, let’s all just hope that ‘Boro’s recent form can continue until the end of the season and that we can once again look forward to the most exciting lottery of the lot – the play-offs. We know after Norwich two years ago that absolutely anything can happen and that Wembley hasn’t exactly been a successful venue for us in the past but you simply never know. Let’s just hope we can get there and re-write the record books!