Middlesbrough make Premier League return after seven seasons out
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | May 7, 2016
Football is something of a religion in the Northeast towns and cities of England.
While the Premier League status of Newcastle United and Sunderland remain in peril, Middlesbrough have guaranteed themselves top-flight football next term for the first time in seven years with an emotional draw against closest challengers Brighton and Hove Albion.
Tenacity on Teesside
That time has contained bitter disappointments for Boro; a number of mid-table finishes and most notably of all losing the 2015 Championship play-off final – a Wembley match to which they simply did not turn up.
Under Basque Country-born coach Aitor Karanka and the boardroom stewardship of Steve Gibson, a man widely recognised as one of the best chairmen to work for in English football, the Teesside team have bounced back from such setbacks.
Their reward? An estimated £200m windfall as the new Premier League TV mega deal starts from 2016/17. Coral are confident Middlesbrough can stay up, offering an odds-on price of 8/15 on that and an alternative 11/8 to be immediately relegated.
Home form key
In front of a passionate crowd, The Riverside has been a fortress and that is the not so well kept secret of Karanka’s success. None of the last 44 visiting sides to have come to Teesside have managed to score more than once.
During this season, just eight league goals have been conceded on home turf by a Boro backline that already looks well-equipped to deal with stepping up to Premier League level.
There’s no nepotism behind chairman Gibson’s nephew Ben being in the heart of defence alongside Daniel Ayala and left back George Friend, two of three Middlesbrough men selected by their peers for the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
Attacking ensemble earns promotion
Karanka already has smatterings of Premier League experience in his squad through skipper Grant Leadbitter and hometown hero Stewart Downing.
Ghana winger Albert Adomah and Scotland striker Jordan Rhodes, meanwhile, are among those who can now prepare for their first crack at top-flight football.
A word too for the Uruguayan contingent that continues a trend of South American cult heroes at Boro. Cristhian Stuani ended up their leading marksman across all competitions, supplemented nicely by loanee compatriot Gaston Ramirez.
It’s an ensemble cast of attacking talents, then, that has got Karanka’s club, including David Nugent too. Stuani struck the goal that effectively took Middlesbrough up, despite Dale Stephens equalising for Brighton before being sent off.
Is all well behind the scenes?
Jubilation over promotion has hopefully healed that brief rift earlier this year, when Karanka was rumoured to be on the verge of quitting Boro over the signing of Rhodes.
Whether winter window alternative target Ross McCormack would’ve offered more is a moot point. In Rhodes, Middlesbrough have a striker prolific at all levels of English football like Grant Holt and Rickie Lambert before him and he is certainly deserving of a go at Premier League level.
Spanish boss Karanka’s reputation grows after an auspicious start to his club coaching career as assistant to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.
Burnley may be Championship champions, but the weight of expectation never fell as heavily on the Turf Moor team despite their similarities to Middlesbrough. Both promoted sides have close-knit squads, are still rooted in their local communities and have up-and-coming managers.
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