There’s no end to the thrills and spills in Middlesbrough’s rollercoaster charge towards the Championship title but Tuesday night could provide the definitive test of character because there’s no way Burnley will be handing out any get-out-of-jail-free cards at Turf Moor. If there’s any sort of emotional fatigue in the Boro ranks, the Clarets can be trusted to take advantage.
Aitor Karanka’s men have stared defeat in the face on both of their last two outings, letting slip a goal advantage at home to Reading then poaching a winner just moments after Matej Vydra had squandered a glorious chance to stun the Riverside in stoppage time, before coming from behind to beat relegated Bolton with another last-gasp winner four days later.
On the one hand, you can argue Boro are needlessly making life difficult for themselves against opposition they ought to be brushing aside at this stage of the campaign. On the other hand, you can incite the narrative and talk about abstract concepts like momentum and destiny. Maybe these pivotal moments are just pointers that promotion is meant to be.
Either way, don’t expect Sean Dyche to be falling for the latter. He’s the ultimate pragmatist and his Burnley side are no more dominant but head into this top-of-the-table clash 19 matches unbeaten by consistently doing enough. Whether they deserve to win games or not, there’s much less fuss in how they go about it. No freebies, no drama. Just cool heads and clinical finishing.
Shot data will tell you that Boro are the better team with a 60 per cent shot ratio compared to 53, but Burnley have scored seven more goals and both teams share the same +32 goal difference figure, so logic says the Clarets are making more out of less and their background story suggest it’s more than just randomness working in their favour.
And yet those underlying numbers appear to be dictating the prices here. My ratings agree completely with the market but my instincts favour Burnley because of those extra ingredients that stem from promotion two seasons ago, a season playing Premier League football and the presence of Joey Barton in the centre of midfield.
The value in the 15/8 on the Lancashire side to win the game is negligible, a more appealing punt is the 17/5 available on the Clarets to win to nil. Middlesbrough have lost nine games this season, and eight of them have arrived in this manner. If they fall behind here, then Burnley’s extra knowhow should ensure that further openings are few and far between.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system