Last minute winners, final day drama and a manager walk-out. It’s fair to say that Middlesbrough’s promotion campaign has been an eventful one to say the least.
After agonisingly missing out in the play-off final at the end of last season, the way they regrouped and used the heart-breaking experience was impressive and the mark of a team who were determined by the prospect of Premier League football.
By the middle of January, Aitor Karanka’s side looked almost nailed on to gain promotion when they were six points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand.
Yet a subsequent drop off in form led to an unravelling situation, in which Karanka ended up missing the game away at Charlton in March.
In the end it all came down to the eight minutes of added time during the final game of the season, in a winner takes all clash against Brighton at the Riverside.
A 1-1 draw was enough to get the Teessiders over the line and end a seven year absence from the top flight.
Here are seven games which were decisive in Boro’s march back to the Premier League.
Nottingham Forest 1 Middlesbrough 2
Boro hadn’t won at the City Ground since 1999, but lay down a marker in this lunch-time kick-off back in September.
Last season the Teessiders’ away form let them down as they missed out on a place in the top two, and Forest was just one of the grounds where they came unstuck.
However, on this occasion Boro conquered their recent hoodoo in dramatic fashion.
David Nugent opened the scoring for the visitors after just three minutes only for Matt Mills to equalise three minutes later.
Daniel Ayala headed Boro back in front on 32 minutes, before a late penalty save from goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopulos secured all three points for Karanka’s side.
Middlesbrough 1 QPR 0
This Friday night fixture looked like it was going to be one of the dullest games of the season, as Boro were frustrated by a QPR side who were struggling to adjust after their relegation from the Premier League.
The hosts saw more of the ball but rarely threatened Rangers keeper Rob Green on a bitter evening at the Riverside.
However. just when the game appeared to be heading for a draw, Boro won a corner and made it count when Daniel Ayala’s audacious overhead kick was blocked on the line by
the hand of Leroy Fer.
The midfielder was subsequently sent off and Grant Leadbitter tucked away the penalty in stoppage time.
Brighton 0 Middlesbrough 3
Arguably Boro’s best performance of the whole campaign. Brighton were unbeaten in their opening 21 league games, yet Karanka’s side dealt a decisive blow in the race for promotion with a 3-0 victory at The Amex.
Kike headed the visitors ahead with just three minutes on the clock before Daniel Ayala’s header deflected in off Albert Adomah on the stroke of half time.
It was a disciplined and ruthless performance from Boro, who made it three without reply through Cristhian Stuani in the second half.
The result meant the Teessiders would top the table on Christmas Day.
Middlesbrough 2 Derby 0
The New Year’s party continued on Teesside as Boro rose to the occasion admirably in another top-of-the-table clash.
Seven minutes remained when two goals in the space of as many minutes decided this invigorating tussle.
Grant Leadbitter’s incisive pass through to Albert Adomah in the dying minutes was finished in composed fashion by the Ghanian international, who calmly dinked the ball over goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Seconds later the hosts made it two when full back George Friend converted David Nugent’s cut back.
The result moved Boro four points clear of the Rams in second place with a game in hand.
Middlesbrough 3 Cardiff 1
The night will be remembered for the emotional tributes which were held for the much-loved BBC Tees commentator Ali Brownlee, who tragically passed away in the middle of February. Clips of Brownlee’s greatest commentaries were played before the match and in the 56th minute, Brownlee’s age when he passed away, the whole stadium lit up torches on their phones and sang his name.
It was also a huge game for a Boro side who had hit a sticky patch and were without a win in their last five games.
Things didn’t start well either, as they fell behind to a wonder strike from full back Fabio da Silva.
A fortunate own goal from Matthew Connolly drew Karanka’s side level, before second half goals from Gaston Ramirez and David Nugent secured a much-needed three points.
Middlesbrough 1 Hull City 0
David Nugent’s last minute winner against Hull will probably be remembered as the most important goal of the entire season.
Prior to this game the Teessiders had just lost back-to-back away games against strugglers Rotherham and Charlton, the later had been overshadowed by Aitor Karanka’s mysterious absence which had left all sorts of question marks over the Spaniard’s future.
In the end a dramatic victory over promotion rivals Hull on a memorable Friday night was the perfect way to defuse the situation.
Both sides had chances as the pendulum swung one way then the other, then with almost the last touch of the game Albert Adomah’s cross was powerfully headed into the bottom corner by Nugent to spark wild celebrations around the Riverside.
Boro went on to win their next five games after reigniting their promotion hopes.
Bolton 1 Middlesbrough 2
On paper, this should have been one of the easiest fixtures of the season against a Bolton side whose relegation had already been confirmed.
Boro led the promotion pack with five games to go before this lunch-time kick off, but looked like they’d handed the initiative to rivals Burnley and Brighton when they fell behind to Josh Vela’s strike on 61 minutes.
Yet Karanka’s men were bailed out, in dramatic circumstances, by their big money signing Jordan Rhodes who bagged his first brace for the club since his arrival in January.
The first came on 73 minutes when the ball bounced into the striker’s path off ex-Boro defender David Wheater, which provided Rhodes with a simple finish.
It took until the first added minute of stoppage time for Boro to grab the winner, when Rhodes nodded home David Nugent’s cross.
Rhodes went on to score in Boro’s next two games.