Mike Holden thinks Middlesbrough are worth backing to see off Hull on Friday night.
How Middlesbrough’s players might respond to the club’s incredible U-turn over Aitor Karanka we can only speculate, but the mood in general on Teesside is buoyant right now and it could pay to follow the idea that the whole saga, embarrassing though it was initially, has had a cleansing effect and eased the immense pressure suffered by the team in recent weeks.
Should that be the case, we might see Boro return to their very best at a stroke and there’s appeal in a variety of bets that reflect how they go about their business when the stars are aligned and everything is in order. The case for each wager is only amplified by reservations about Hull, on whom the pressure appears to be currently taking a heavy toll.
Let’s start with a bet on Middlesbrough/Middlesbrough half-time/full-time at 10/3. A high press, a fast tempo and an early goal are usually hallmarks of the Karanka philosophy, and it stands to reason that Boro will be looking to come out on the front foot and capitalise on the renewed sense of positivity around the Riverside.
Hull haven’t scored a first-half away goal since October, a sequence of 11 matches that includes interval deficits at Bristol City, Leeds, Rotherham and Birmingham. In fact, it’s a problem that has also crept into their performances at home too. More than two months have passed since they scored inside 45 minutes anywhere, nine league games in succession.
The second wager - Middlesbrough to win to nil at 13/5 - is a natural follow-up. The Tigers have rescued a point after going behind in their last two home games, against MK Dons and Nottingham Forest, but they racked up 24 attempts without finding the net in their previous league outing at Birmingham, a game in which they were trailing for 76 minutes.
Over the past three matches, Steve Bruce’s men have averaged 61 per cent possession and registered 66 shots but only scored two goals. Since the beginning of February, they have mustered just five goals in 10 matches, firing blanks in six. The team is heavily dependent on Abel Hernandez for goals, especially at 0-0, and the Uruguayan simply hasn’t been at the races since spitting his dummy out when substituted at Ipswich a month ago.
Since the start of last season, no fewer than 30 of Middlesbrough’s 45 league victories have been accompanied by a clean sheet, including 20 out of 27 at the Riverside. Burnley, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby have been beaten to nil already this season, just as Norwich (twice), Brentford (twice) and Derby (twice) were last. Put simply, no team in the Championship closes out games better.
Finally, it might also be worth backing Middlesbrough to clear the -1 handicap at nearly 5/1. It’s a feat they’ve achieved in 26 out of 82 matches since the start of last term, which implies that odds of 11/5 would be more appropriate. The bet has landed in 18 out of 41 at home, which works out as a 13/10 shot.
You can argue that Hull are a much better class of opposition that your average Championship fodder, and of course you’d be right, but the trend is one that reflects Boro’s ability, once ahead, to soak up pressure and kill teams on the counter. More than a third of those handicap successes have been secured against top-eight opposition.
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