Onside: Middlesbrough fans have to dig deep again to find a glimmer of hope for next season


IT’S the hope that kills you - not that there’s been much of that this season.

It seems nothing short of ridiculous that in a season absent of any real genuine optimism, Boro find themselves a little more than two wins away from the top-six.

Not that there’s any chance of a late assault of course. Even those blessed with eternal optimism must accept that the concept of Boro landing a play-off spot is more far fetched than our red and white neighbours hatching a great escape from their current perilous troubles.

It’s not necessarily the eight points difference between Boro and Reading that’s the problem - although making up that gap is rather improbable requiring Boro to continue in their recent vein of fine form and Nigel Adkins’ men tumbling in a Nottingham Forest-style collapse.

It’s the fact that there’s another six teams above Boro who would essentially have to do a Newcastle and call it a day a few weeks early, including Bournemouth who seem to be brushing aside anything put in front of them at the minute.

In truth, this is a Boro side that’s never been capable of challenging the top six. The five wins from six over Christmas and the New Year were the only real consistent spell of any form.

Were you to look for an official definition of the term mid-table mediocrity, you may well be greeted by the words Middlesbrough FC.

Yet, to stay sane while trapped in the football prison that is the Championship, we need to continue to find that hope.

And it’s a rather damning indictment of the league that a team that spent the months before Christmas looking over their shoulder, a team that went seven games without a goal and a team that won just one in 12 is just eight points short of a spot which would enable us to play out a three-game Premier League shootout.

Were it not for late goals conceded at Derby, Birmingham and Bolton and at home to Brighton, Boro would have somehow found themselves right on the brink.

Every team can play the ‘what if’ game, granted, but it’s an indicator to this Boro side that you don’t need to pull up any trees to be in among the pack at the right end of the table.

Next season starts now, we are told. But challenged with the task of beating Birmingham City on Tuesday night was a team consisting of four loanees who may well not be here next season.

Karanka has a taste of the Championship - but now we approach yet another summer of assembling a team capable of getting out of it.

It’s a marathon not a sprint, so goes the cliché. Never a truer word spoken in the realms of Championship football.

Cast your eyes upon the London Marathon this weekend, enjoy the sight of the finest athletes from around the globe, well, the Africans, beating around the streets of London.

A front pack will prowl together at the halfway mark, many running well within course record pace.

But the distance will have its say. Some who look exceptional at halfway, perfectly poised to strike for home, will fade away.

The Championship manages to wear down its victims in a similar fashion.

Leicester and Burnley kicked on after a good start. QPR, striding so purposefully at halfway are limping over the line. Nottingham Forest aren’t even limping.

We know the league only too well now. We seem to have missed a shot at the top six in every fashion possible.

Should Boro manage to continue on a winning run at Premier League Burnley and beyond, we may, somehow, be looking at a case of what could have been.

If not, we can try and console ourselves the fact it was a dead rubber anyway and dig about to discover some renewed hope for next year.