Neil Warnock’s hopes at the start of the season were that we would be somewhere near the business end of the table at the turn of the year and with just over half the games played to date, ‘Boro have certainly achieved that aim.
Sitting in seventh place and just three points behind sixth place Bournemouth with a game in hand is a very promising position to find ourselves. But following the last two contrasting performances – losing at home to Birmingham and then winning away at Forest – it would be easy to again comment on a lack of consistency. It’s fair to say, however, that the Birmingham result owed much to the after effects of the Covid virus so we perhaps shouldn’t read too much into that one. Conversely, we should really take a lot of satisfaction from the excellent ‘Forest performance, not least because it saw the eagerly awaited return of Johnny Howson. And boy, did he prove what a miss he’s been since his injury. Completely controlling the midfield and providing tremendous support to both the back four and the players in front of him he showed how much better the team is when he’s in it.
So looking at the next few weeks there’s again a big contrast in the teams we will face with two winnable home games against Rotherham and Blackburn followed by visits to top three sides Norwich and Brentford. It’s pretty obvious that if we are to maintain a place in and around the play-offs then we would hope to see a minimum of six and perhaps even eight points from those four games. But in this league you just never know.
One apparent uncertainty is the guessing game that is the January transfer window. Neil Warnock has frequently announced his acute awareness of the financial situation surrounding Covid and is obviously reluctant to spend Steve Gibson’s money unless it will really improve the team. I have to say that so far I have heard no potential incoming names that particularly excite and with the return of Johnny Howson and the imminent addition to the strike force of (prior to his injury) the vastly improved Ashley Fletcher, it’s hard to see where anyone else would actually fit in. The goalkeeper and possibly the best back four in the championship currently pick themselves, while another excellent performance and goal from George Saville, the continued whole hearted efforts from Marcus Tavernier and the hard working reliability of Sam Morsey suggests that any newcomer would – like Patrick Roberts – be merely warming the bench.
To me, January signings tend to suggest that the players are not particularly important to their own clubs so why would they improve ours? There’s also the danger of disruption to team spirit -something Warnock has managed to develop in this group of players – so why risk it? I’ve said before that at no point in the season have we been particularly outplayed and there’s really only Norwich that has shown that little bit extra over the season so there’s still every chance that with a bit of luck on the injury front we could continue to compete right to the end.
We’ve reached the really exciting time of the season when every result can have a huge impact on the league table. At least this year we are most certainly looking upwards and not over our shoulder with trepidation. And that’s all thanks to the very likeable Neil Warnock. He’s been a great signing!