Three reasons Middlesbrough will be promoted and three reasons they won't

Middlesbrough FC Crest

Boro have stuttered of late, but will their season finish on a high?

The Championship returns this weekend and for teams like Middlesbrough, this is the home straight. Boro have experienced some turbulence of late but sit a point outside the top two places with a game in hand. Will they begin next season in the Premier League?

Here are three reasons they will...

It's in their hands - Boro have nine games left to play, which is one more than second-placed Brighton, who are only a point ahead. Even if they fail to take advantage, Aitor Karanka's side could still overtake the Seagulls on the season's final day, when they host them at The Riverside.

Big-game experience - This month's 1-0 win against promotion rivals Hull City has reinforced the Teesiders' credentials against those around them. They've beaten the entire top six (excluding themselves, of course) at least once this campaign, and the fact that five of their remaining fixtures are against the current top 10 won't faze them.

Ayala's back - Yet again, Boro boast the Championship's most watertight defence (joint with Hull) but without Daniel Ayala, their record isn't quite as favourable. Almost a third of their 23 goals conceded (eight) have come during the Spaniard's recent nine-game absence, of which they won four and lost three. He's set to return to contention this week.

And here are three they won't...

Disruption - Let's start with the obvious... Karanka's flirtation with quitting was far from ideal preparation for the forthcoming busy run-in (well get to that soon) and though the Hull result has gone some way to drawing a line under the matter, that could all be easily undone if long-term results don't improve.

A busy month ahead - Starting at Queens Park Rangers on Friday, Boro play eight games in April and don't get a Tuesday off until the final week of the month. Rediscovering their momentum is more imperative now than ever.

Not enough goals - Karanka's men are the most goal-shy of the entire top seven, which is perhaps not as bad as it sounds until you remember they spent a £13million on strikers Jordan Rhodes and David Nugent (figures courtesy of the Daily Mirror and Leicester Mercury). Both are capable of going on runs at this level, and doing so now would be most welcome.

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