Middlesbrough to sharpen Championship expectation with Hartlepool Utd friendly

Aitor Karanka.
Aitor Karanka.

Summer. Promotion. Middlesbrough.

Three words that, regardless of pre-season activity, are laced together by almost most Boro fans every summer.

For the past six seasons those betting slips have quickly been filed in the ‘wasted money’ cabinet.

This season, however, with the hunger to return to the Premier League heightened by Aitor Karanka’s irrepressible thirst for achievement, those bold predictions can ripen.

That is the belief of Neil Maddison, who played for four years for the Teessiders and watches every game as a expert summariser for BBC Tees.

“I think Aitor realises that it is a big season for him, his staff and for Middlesbrough,” said Maddison ahead of Boro’s friendly against Hartlepool United at Victoria Park tonight.

“Aitor wouldn’t be in the job if he didn’t think he could take us up to the Premier League. It’s the league everyone wants to be in.

“The play-offs are certainly realistic if we can find that consistency that the top teams have.

“We always seem to raise the stakes against the better outfits but dip against the lesser teams.

“We seen last season that we can play some really good football and beat anyone.

“But this league is what it is, you have to find that consistency.”

Karanka’s winning mentality is as admirable as it is obsessive and it led to him questioning the attitude of his players on occasions last season.

But they were rare admissions of public frustration, with the former Real Madrid assistant manager creating a close group amongst his players who appreciate his methods.

“He doesn’t give much away, he keeps as much as he can in camp,” Maddison added.

“He’s had a few pops at the players and at times that’s needed but most of it is dealt in the dressing room.“

They work together, they fight together, and they win and lose together.“

He wants the best from his players and that has to be commended.”

A winning start to the campaign will lay the foundations for a promotion push: “We have a great chance of getting off to three straight wins,” Maddison said.

“Birmingham and Leeds are both in financial problems and then we have Oldham in the League Cup.

“It offers us as good a chance as we could have hoped and it could kick us on.”