Former Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing believes his old side have a ‘great chance’ of securing a top-six finish this season if they can make additions during January and remain relatively injury-free, speaking on Sky Sports.
Boro have been in a good run of form under new boss Chris Wilder, going unbeaten in all but one of their six games under the 54-year-old and taking 10 points from a possible 12 in their last four matches as they set their sights on the play-offs.
Their defensive record has been key to this success, keeping clean sheets in their last three outings against three tough opponents in Swansea City, Stoke City and automatic promotion contenders AFC Bournemouth.
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Although Neil Warnock gave Wilder a good platform to build on, the Teesside outfit struggled to gain any form of consistency under the latter’s predecessor earlier in the campaign and with the opportunity to bring in the ex-Sheffield United boss, they decided to part ways with the 73-year-old.
This decision at the start of November, however harsh it may have been, has paid dividends so far because they are now just two points adrift of Stoke City in sixth – and although the Potters have a game in hand over them – Boro will be looking to sustain this push for the top six.
With Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion looking like favourites to secure a place in the promotion mix along with Fulham and Bournemouth, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke look set to battle with the likes of Nottingham Forest, the Blades and Wilder’s men for the remaining play-off spots, a tough test for the latter.
But Downing thinks a play-off finish is a real possibility for his former team, saying on Sky Sports after their 1-0 victory over Bournemouth (quotes via Teesside Live): “I think they’ve got a great chance of getting into the play-offs, I’ll be honest.
“I think that win and performance will give them a lot of belief and confidence within the team.
“Obviously, it’s going to be all about the injuries and the health of the players.
“If they can keep their players fit and fill a couple of positions in January then I think they could really kick on.
“It’s so tight. Couple of losses you can be right down there and a couple of wins you can be right in the mix.
“I think with a few additions Chris will be quietly confident with his squad and I think they could go on to give a real good account of themselves in the second half of the season.
“I do fancy them to be in the play-offs.”
They are only likely to improve more under Wilder as his system continues to bed in – and signings in the winter window should help that – so Boro fans should be excited about what potentially lies ahead.
Bournemouth may not have played to their full potential and wasted multiple golden chances to win a point or three at the Riverside on Saturday, but this win against the Cherries was impressive regardless of this and they seem to have the squad depth and quality needed to build something special.
Two or three additions during January, with a couple heading in the other direction may be needed, but their recruitment work in the summer was good and they could rectify their biggest mistake of the previous transfer window by recalling Djed Spence from his loan at Nottingham Forest.
Regardless of signings though, they seem to have a decent spine with Dael Fry in defence, the likes of Matt Crooks and Marcus Tavernier in the middle of the park and Duncan Watmore and Andraz Sporar up top.
This is why the squad must be focused on their current assignments instead of the January window – because they have shown they can win games on their own and still have a lot of work on the training ground to do on their new style of play.