Middlesbrough ended the 2013/14 campaign lost in mid-table mediocrity in the Championship, with a 12th place finish leaving them eight points adrift of the play-off places.
Few would have predicted back in May that Aitor Karanka’s side would improve enough to position themselves among the promotion hopefuls this term.
That is precisely where the Boro sit at present, though, with a loyal Riverside Stadium fan base daring to dream of a Premier League return after five years away from English football’s top table.
Karanka has obviously taken plenty from the time he spent working under Jose Mourinho’s wing at Real Madrid, with the Chelsea boss also proving to be a useful ally in the Spaniard’s efforts to take Teesside back to the big time.
Middlesbrough currently have three players on loan from Stamford Bridge, with the right blend found between experienced Football League performers and exciting youngsters.
A steely core has also been added to the squad, with success this season built down the spine of the side.
So impressive have the Boro been, they currently trump the rest of the second tier’s top six in a number of key areas.
|Total Tackle||Won Tackle||Goals Conceded||Saves||Fwd Pass||Appearances|
In the middle of the park, where most of the donkey work is done, Middlesbrough have been able to put pressure on their opponents and get a toe to the ball in more tackles than any of their closest rivals.
They have also found a winning formula at the back, with watertight protection being given to first-choice shot-stopper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos.
Boro boast the best defensive record in the division, having been breached just 15 times in 20 fixtures, and it therefore comes as no surprise to find that their goalkeeper has also faced fewer shots than any other side.
This all bodes well, with only two points separating Karanka’s men from table-topping Derby County, but they will need no reminding that we are yet to reach the halfway stage and that promotion pushes are all about how you finish, not how you start.