GRANT Leadbitter was candid about Middlesbrough’s prospects of automatic promotion but reminded fans that anything can happen in football.
A Bournemouth win against Bolton Wanderers tonight will see the Dorset outfit complete the two promotion berths, with Watford having achieved their rise to the Premier League on Saturday.
Football’s a strange gameGRant Leadbitter
Leadbitter said that the Boro dressing room – “the best group of lads I’ve ever been with,” he says – were all ruing their first-half display against Fulham but that they remained optimistic.
“Can Bournemouth win? We’ll see,” he pondered. “Football’s a strange game.
“If it’s the play-offs then great, we can’t wait.
“We feel confident, of course. But so will fifth and sixth. We’re not ruling anything out.
“We had to win five games after the Watford game and we believed.
“We move on, we train hard this week. It’s out of our hands, like it has been for a few weeks.
“If we finish on 87 points and that’s not good enough then that’s not good enough.
“It’s important to win because then that gives you momentum going into the next game.”
Meanwhile, Aitor Karanka was mortified but not shocked with Boro’s first-half performance.
Expressing his disappointment, Karanka could not reason why his players were a pale of their high standards before half-time, but he did admit that it is not the first time that he has had to question a similar performance.
“After the Norwich game (1-0 win) I was completely convinced (Boro would go up) but today I have doubts,” he said.
“Again it is not the first time. I thought we had learned from the Bournemouth and Watford (losses).
“We know how to play against Norwich and Wolves but after Saturday I have to think and I have to learn from this game because they thought everything was done.
“We did everything during the week, playing the same way we did against Wolves and against Norwich.”
Beginning the inquest, the head coach was at a loss to explain: “The first-half I don’t know what happened,” he added.
“Maybe they thought we were playing a friendly game or that we were playing for nothing.
“For me, the first half was embarrassing.
“It’s difficult for me to understand because I need to see what happened because now I can’t understand.
“It’s difficult to understand why when we’re playing to get promotion directly we couldn’t play the way we did in the second half.”
Karanka, however, did not lay blame on Dimi Konstantopoulos whose foray into the opposition box in the last minute of added-on time allowed Ross McCormack to score his third of the afternoon and the winner.
“I told Dimi to go for the corner,” he said. “We needed to win the game because one point wouldn’t be enough.”