The life of a Championship club is a helter-skelter rollercoaster ride. There’s no time to bask in the afterglow of victory or wallow in the self-pity of defeat with games every few days and that’s the situation facing Chris Wilder’s side this evening as they head to the capital for a play-off showdown with QPR.
For all of the heroics on show on Friday night and championing of the win at Old Trafford, Boro find themselves straight back to the meat and potatoes of league football. The bread and butter. Insert your other food-based expressions here, I’m out.
It might be that the glory haze of Boro’s shootout win against United hasn’t disappeared yet or the prospect of a tension-filled meeting with Derby coming on Saturday but it feels like tonight’s game is going *slightly* under the radar given the ramifications of the game.
Boro, in 8th place on goal difference, could go as high as 5th tonight with a win while a QPR victory could see the Hoops move ahead of Bournemouth and Blackburn into the automatic promotion places.
While the race for a play-off place won’t be decided tonight, especially given the fact that just three points separates West Brom in 6th and Sheffield United in 11th, the match provides Boro with arguably their biggest challenge in the league since Chris Wilder took over.
Sure, we’ve played teams further up the table at various points in the campaign or who were on better runs of form but they all came with a slight caveat, if you want to be really picky.
Bournemouth hadn’t won in 5 when they were dispatched at the Riverside while Blackburn were weakened through injuries and Ben Brereton Diaz’s international commitments. Even Nottingham Forest, who were the form team at the time, at least had to give up home advantage on Boxing Day.
None of those things apply to Queens Park Rangers, unbeaten in their last 6 in the Championship (W5 D1), who’ll be backed by an enthusiastic crowd at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium with Rangers fans currently enjoying the same “glow up” wave of momentum that has swept across Teesside in recent months.
Mark Warburton’s side are a significant step ahead of Boro in their development and their upturn in fortunes has been more of a slow burn than the quickfire transformation Boro have enjoyed under Chris Wilder, but after a number of seasons of mediocrity both clubs find themselves now able to enjoy good football and dreaming of the Premier League.
QPR have quality all over the pitch and only Norwich loanee Sam McCallum is unavailable for selection tonight, although Seny Dieng will likely be given time to rest after returning from AFCON.
That means Boro will face Rob Dickie, Stefan Johansen, Ilias Chair, Charlie Austin and the returning Chris Willock, one of the Championship’s best players this season, as well as the TYPICAL BORO spectres of Albert Adomah and Jeff Hendrick casting a shadow fit to extinguish the floodlights.
As big of a test as it is, this game also provides Chris Wilder’s men with a huge opportunity, and not just one to pick up valuable points in the play-off race.
A win tonight would keep the momentum of the cup win (and Wilder’s entire time since taking over) rolling into the weekend while it would also go some way to calming any nerves that supporters may be having.
For the brilliant comeback wins and shows of resilience, it’s not unfair to say that this Boro team haven’t put together a complete performance in the league since Boxing Day. As always, it’s the three points that matter, but doing it in style would be even better.
Tonight may also give an opportunity to members of the squad to impress the gaffer and the 2200 fans in the away end.
Wilder has been able to name a consistent first eleven because of the positive results and performances since taking over but with some lads having played 120 minutes of football on Friday, the gaffer has said that “he won’t be frightened” to make changes tonight. Boro are also in the thick of it when it comes to the upcoming schedule, with 9 games in the next 31 days.
That could open the door for the likes of Martin Payero, Folarin Balogun, Duncan Watmore, Lee Peltier, Sol Bamba or even new signing Riley McGree to stake a claim for more first team minutes.
The performance and result this evening is going to be a major barometer of how far Boro have come in the short time Chris Wilder has been here. The reverse fixture at the Riverside was three points thrown away by Boro as they wilted and collapsed to gift Rangers a 3-2 win. It’s going to be very, very interesting to see how Boro cope this time around.
QPR can play football and they’re not going to drop deep and close ranks as some teams have done since the league has become aware of our newfound, front foot nature. Are they truly Chris Wilder’s Resilient Reds or are there still some nervy self-esteem issues left in the camp?
I guess we’ll find out.
Finally, a big shout out to all of the Boro fans making the journey tonight. I usually couldn’t give two fucks about the “Attendance Trophy” conversations that all fan bases have but 2200 Reds in London for a midweek game is belting, even with the advantage of having many undercover Smoggys living in London. Hope you all have a great day and evening in the capital.
Photo Credits: Teesside Live/The Gazette, MFC