With the very difficult transfer situation over the summer break that saw more players leave than be recruited it would have been easy to expect another long, hard winter at the Riverside.
Six games in, however, and the change from last season has been remarkable. OK, we still aren’t scoring a lot of goals, but the difference in attitude, effort and expectation is very plain to see with the latest result, an excellent away win against top of the table Bristol City. That it follows a hard fought draw against Reading, the side who at the time were also top of the table is a great indication that Middlesbrough are once again a team to be reckoned with.
Perhaps the most important aspect of both results was that they were achieved quite comfortably with experienced senior players missing through injury.
Having to start the Bristol game with just one recognised striker in Chuba Akpom was a good indication of the well documented thinness of the squad but the way the team performed and the work they put it was a credit to every one of them.
With five defenders and three defensive minded midfielders it was hard to see where the goals would come from but an absolute gift from the Bristol City defence eventually gave us the three points, and at that point it was no more than we deserved.
It hardly needs to be said that Neil Warnock is again working his magic with a team who are most certainly benefiting from his wealth of experience at this level.
The three central defenders for Reading and Bristol, for instance, included a midfield player (McNair) and a fullback (Dijksteel), but in both games the three performed superbly giving the opposition very few chances.
It’s also great to note that Warnock has somehow managed to bring Dael Fry back to the player he was when the general consensus of opinion was that he looked to have a great future in the game.
So, with a bit of a lop-sided transfer window the work rate and the influence Warnock has been able to inject into the remainder of the squad that last season looked destined for relegation is a wonderful testament to his ability to get the absolute most out of what he has. And let’s be honest, had we taken a couple of the chances that have so far gone begging we would have already been in and around the top three.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy start fixtures-wise with perhaps Barnsley the only game that didn’t look too ominous. And with a trip to Cardiff up next, things certainly aren’t getting any easier.
But, so far so very good, and with only four goals conceded out of six games it is pretty obvious where the basics of the unbeaten run have come from. (Further evidence of that is that we’ve only scored five in the same six games, so we know where improvement is needed if we are to maintain the climb up the table.)
Obviously the most frustrating thing is that fans can’t be a physical part of all this but in the strangest situation any of us have ever known we can only do our bit to try and prevent things from getting any worse. So please, stick to the rules, stay safe and keep doing your bit until we can all once more congregate at the Riverside.