Middlesbrough looking to breathe at last in promotion race

With the third game in Middlesbrough's pivotal promotion triple-header approaching, they could finally open up some space at the top of the table.

Since Christmas, all the teams in the top seven have faltered at some stage, and March always looked like the pivotal month as far as the race for promotion from the Championship was concerned. If Middlesbrough navigated the month successfully, they would go a long way to securing a precious Premier League place.

So far the first two of three successive games against promotion rivals have gone the way of Aitor Karanka's men, with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Ipswich Town last weekend followed up with a narrow, but deserved, 1-0 victory at Derby County's iPro Stadium in midweek, through a Patrick Bamford strike, leaving the Teessiders in second place.

Now 'Boro face a trip to Bournemouth's Goldsands Stadium, knowing that another win would open up a five-point gap on the chasing pack in the play-off places, and in a season where nobody has been able to open up a gap at the top of the table and look a reliable bet for promotion, Middlesbrough may have timed their charge to perfection.

Close rivals Derby are faltering without the services of injured strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent and face play-off chasing Wolves on Friday night. Also, Norwich City have dropped vital points in the last week with two successive draws. 'Boro will now aim to deal a decisive psychological blow by taking all three points from Bournemouth and finally opening up a gap at the top of the table where nobody has been able to take a commanding lead. A home defeat could also seriously dent the confidence of Eddie Howe's Bournemouth, who many feel have over-performed this season.

For his part, manager Aitor Karanka still finds it hard to believe his team are in this position on the cusp of the Promised Land, he spoke to the BBC earlier this week saying: "If someone said we would be in this situation, I would have thought he was crazy. We know how difficult it is to be in this position and how difficult it is to win every single point, so now we have to work again."

By the end of Saturday's games, 'Boro could finally see the prize a little clearer.

FIFA World Cup 2018FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia - click here for all of our coverage...

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch