Whisper it quietly but there's a feel good factor around Teesside; Middlesbrough have a real chance of promotion.
Yesterday's victory over fellow promotion rivals Norwich propelled 'Boro into the automatic promotion places and level on points with leaders Bournemouth.
Premier League supporters can be forgiven for forgetting about Middlesbrough. Since there relegation from the Premier League in 2009 'Boro have hardly made any great strides in England's second tier. However, Aitor Karanka's appointment last November galvanised the squad and the Spaniard has an impressive win ratio of 47%.
Middlesbrough's rise to the Championship's top two began in the summer. Karanka proved to be an enigma in the loan market, bringing in Chelsea stars Patrick Bamford, who has four goals for the club already, Kenneth Omeruo and Belgian forward Jelle Vossen.
Kike Garcia has been a revelation, scoring five goals; he has adapted to life in England seamlessly. Even though they spent a lot of money, they recouped almost £3 million from selling Marvin Emnes and Lukas Jutkiewicz to Swansea and Burnley respectively.
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Middlesbrough have always had a fantastic academy, in recent years they have produced the like of Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson, two regular members of Karanka's team are academy products.
Ben Gibson and Adam reach are just two of an increasing number of young British stars at Teesside, along with the likes of Patrick Bamford and Ryan Fredericks. seven of the starting XI against Norwich, last night, were British.
For the first time in years Middlesbrough have two or three great players in each position. Two of the biggest arrivals, certainly in terms of reputation, in the summer, Jelle Vossen and Kenneth Omeruo, can't force their way into the starting XI.
Out wide they have the likes of Albert Adomah, Adam Reach and Yanic Wildschut. There is directness about 'Boro this year; both Ryan Fredericks and George Friend are willing to push forward.
Lee Tomlin is one of the Championship's best at running with the ball. In Grant Leadbitter, who has eight league goals already, they have a real match winner. Moreover, they still have players like Jonathon Woodgate, Muzzy Carayol and Rhys Williams to return to fitness.
Jose Mourinho inspiration
Karanka has clearly developed Jose Mourinho's defensive astuteness. With only 12 goals conceded so far, they are the league's best. After making a string of high-profile errors, Aitor Karanka dropped goalkeeper Thomas Mejias in favour of Dimi Konstantopoulos. Since then, Middlesbrough haven't looked back, losing just one of the last 11 since Konstantopoulos came in.
Karanka, however, must work on the team's mentality. Once they are in a winning position they tend to drop off and allow the opposition to attack. This has cost them four points at the Riverside against Watford and Blackpool. Recent victories against Rotherham and Norwich appear to have quashed this, though.
Even though they have won a joint-record league high of nine games they are yet to beat any of the teams currently occupying the top six. A win against in form Bournemouth on Saturday, however, would give everybody associated with the club the belief that they can actually go on to win the title this season.
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