A clash of the out-of-form play-off candidates in the EFL Championship on Friday night in an 8pm BST kick-off, hoping to capitalize on a similar loss of form from their competitors.
It’s one win in five league games for Middlesbrough, one in six for Norwich, but with nobody between fourth and 13th bar Preston North End winning more than one in three, the winner of this one massively enhances their chance of securing a top-six berth.
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Middlesbrough’s Shift in Objective
Eight wins in 10 between January and March had Middlesbrough fans eyeing up the second spot, especially with automatic promotion rivals Sheffield United showing signs of mild vulnerability.
Natives aren’t full of the joys of spring, though, because April began with a shock 4-2 loss at Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield, a not-so-Good Friday 2-1 loss to champions-elect Burnley, before more dropped points on Easter Monday, in a 2-2 draw at Bristol City.
The Blades have taken full advantage of the Boro blip, too, leaving Michael Carrick’s side eight points off the top two, having played a game more. That has left Boro available at a price of 7/4 with Bet365 to go up automatically compared to United now being listed at odds of 1/25 with Betway to be promoted.
The Teessiders could win all five of their remaining games, and they’d still need United to take no more than seven points from their last seven, so realistically, automatic promotion isn’t on the table.
Boro’s incredible form for much of Carrick’s reign to date, though, puts them in a great position to sow up a Play-Off spot, with a six-point cushion over seventh.
Projections suggest 70 points will suffice for a top-six spot, in which case it’s just another two points for Middlesbrough to tick off, although they’ll want to go into the Play-Offs with the same momentum they enjoyed in February and March.
Norwich Hanging On In
The fact Norwich have spent two of their previous three seasons in the Premier League means the novelty of that level isn’t as strong as it might be in different circumstances, especially given that they’ve finished bottom with a whimper both times.
2019-20 and 2021-22 no-shows followed emphatic title wins, with teams that were much better rounded, and mentally fresher, than this crop that have flattered to deceive.
It’s perhaps typical of City’s season that an uninspiring goalless draw against Rotherham, in fact, lifts them closer to the Play-Offs, because Millwall lost at Hull and Blackburn shared the points at Huddersfield.
Ultimately, this is a club that needs a substantial rebuild, with fresh energy and new ideas on and off the field, in order to move towards it’s long-term ambition of becoming a sustainable Premier League club.
In many ways, winning promotion wouldn’t do much for that rebuild, because the club would then have to prioritize the short-term in order to stand a chance, and they would almost certainly be relegated anyway, kicking the can further down the road.
In that sense, oddly, the truth is there isn’t a huge appetite among the Yellow Army for the club to sneak into the play-offs and go up, because promotion would almost justify the status quo and delay the point of deeper, more fundamental change that’s really needed. The fans will therefore be delighted to see the Canaries priced at a distant 8/1 to go back up to the Premier League this season.
The Tactics Board
The general mood around Norwich, as a club, is significant for the dynamics of this game. While Middlesbrough aren’t in the best form, they’ve been dropping points by being so energetic, so overzealous, that they’ve been caught out on occasions, but that mindset of attacking the game will win them far more games at this level than it loses them, not to mention thrill the home fans.
Norwich, therefore, have to go to a buoyant atmosphere of excitement, optimism and renewed hope, and have the mental resolve to not only handle that adrenaline from the hosts, but also step out and play their own games.
With a likelihood of various stalwarts from the last few seasons departing in the summer, it’s plausible that City don’t quite have the resolve that’s required, even with the animated David Wagner on the sidelines.
Middlesbrough vs Norwich Betting Tips
Middlesbrough are odds-on to win with Betfair at 19/20 and, while that might seem short to an outsider, it’s probably fair based on the dynamics at both clubs. Plus, Middlesbrough under Carrick have beaten top-half opposition six times in 11, and have a favourable record against the top teams in the league.
Additionally, Chuba Akpom is 13/10 to score anytime, having already bagged a whopping 26 for the season in the league – at 27, the former Arsenal trainee has scored an astonishing 47% of his career goals this season!
Middlesbrough to win – 19/20 with Betfair
Chuba Akpom to score anytime – 13/10 with SpreadEx
All odds are accurate at the time of writing.
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