Occasionally, we like to mark your card with a medium to long-term ante post wager that looks of good betting value; as anybody on our Rotherham to be relegated/Millwall to be promoted/Moussa Dembele to finish Scottish Premiership top goalscorer treble tipped back in August, at 65/1, will currently attest.
One bit of obvious value that is becoming increasingly good value as time passes is poor old Middlesbrough, who look doomed to relegation (best odds of 10/11) and who may well yet finish bottom of the Premier League pile; available to punters at a sultry 7/1. Get on before that price tumbles.
It’s very tight at the bottom of the English top flight as ever at this time of year, but the key this time around is that some of those sides at the wrong end appear to be getting their acts together.
You all saw Leicester’s fine performance on Monday night, and as such we expect them to pull clear of the basement soon enough; three points against Hull on Saturday would certainly help that. Swansea too appear to be on the comeback trail under Paul Clement with nine points gained from a possible fifteen.
Sam Allardyce is the master of evading the drop, and a side containing Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha presumably has too much firepower to go down (famous last words!).
And that leaves four potential candidates: Sunderland, Hull City and Middlesbrough. Of the trio, it is the Boro who we fear for the most.
Aitor Karanka’s men are outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone, and just three points clear of bottom side Sunderland. The genesis of their problems is that they simply don’t score enough goals – 19 in 26 is the division’s lowest total – and as we are about to learn an inability to put the ball in the net is detrimental to survival during the pant-shredding final few weeks of the campaign.
Take the 2015/16 campaign as a guide. The Black Cats looked all but doomed, but a run of just one defeat in eleven from the beginning of March – including a trio of wins in which they scored three goals apiece – kept their head above water. Swansea extricated themselves out of trouble by beating Liverpool 3-1 and West Ham 4-1 in the final throes of the season.
Leicester City’s Houdini exploits of 2014/15 are the stuff of legend. They were down, to all intents and purposes, by Easter, but then were resurrected like the sweet lord Jesus Christ himself. Seven wins from the last nine kept them in the division, and the rest is history….
The roundabout point we’re trying to make is do the Boro have the firepower at their disposal to go on a similar run of form? You would suggest not, and Karanka’s rather conservative tactics may just prove to be their undoing.
Obstacles and Roadblocks
If you are deep in the brown stuff then you could do with a handy set of fixtures that at least offer opportunities to pick up points. Here’s Middlesbrough’s next and last ten:
As you can see, any advantage of playing at home has all been wiped out: the two Manchesters and Arsenal providing the opposition in three of their remaining six matches on their own patch.
And in one of those quirks of fate, their games against fellow strugglers are all on foreign turf: Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea all in April. A final trio of Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool could sound the death knell.
The Boro’s shots on target ratio is -1.62, -0.62 at home (with just 2.69 chances fashioned per 90 minutes) and -2.62 away. If they are going to get out of this pickle they need to improve….and fast.