Middlesbrough can steal a march on their title rivals by taking three points from St Andrews.
The Championship promotion race will go down to the final day, no matter what happens here or anywhere else over the Bank Holiday weekend. And the knowledge that there’s a fallback, that any hiccups at St Andrew’s can still be corrected on the final day, should be comfort enough for Middlesbrough to hold their nerve and take the three points in a professional manner.
The psycho-dynamics are particularly relevant in Boro's case because they are the one contender you worry about mentally, the team most capable of sabotaging their own progress for no good reason. On top of the world one minute, down in the dumps the next, it’s certainly been a turbulent season for the Teessiders.
It was their 0-0 draw against a tepid Ipswich side last weekend that has created this remarkable situation whereby the top three all sit on 87 points, separated only by three goals in the goal difference column. The setback against the Tractor Boys was understandable, it was Boro’s seventh game in 23 days and a six-day break coming into clash should do them good.
The standout 6/1 quote about the home win did initially prompt a double-take and it would obviously be a ridiculous price at any other time of year. But you have to pick your battles when taking on the neediest teams on the home straight and there simply hasn’t been enough about Birmingham in recent weeks to suggest they can cause an upset.
Blues have hit the wall, winning just one of their last ten matches, and performances have become increasingly sloppy since they began to sense that their play-off hopes were forlorn. Stamina has been a problem. In the last seven matches, Birmingham have taken the lead five times but failed to close out the win on four occasions.
With that in mind, there could be value in siding with the Draw/Middlesbrough half-time/full-time option at 18/5. It might be asking a bit much for Gary Rowett’s men to turn a positive start into a lead here because the visitors have conceded only 28 goals in 44 games with Dani Ayala and Ben Gibson playing together in defence, roughly one goal every two hours and 20 minutes.
But the hosts can make Boro wait. Aitor Karanka’s men are no strangers to the interval stalemate, with no fewer than 24 of their 44 matches level at the break this term, but there should be a greater urgency about them later on, if, according to the usual routine, they attack their 4,900 travelling contingent in the Railway Stand during the second period.
And with uncertainty avoidance likely to high on the agenda now the finishing line is so close, one goal ought to be enough. Take the 11/2 available on Middlesbrough to win 1-0. The points are the priority. Only if Boro go two goals ahead might they start to entertain ideas about increasing the goal difference.
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