Why Middlesbrough fans can be optimistic about their play-off hopes ahead of Derby County's clash with West Brom

Middlesbrough's play-off hopes are still alive and kicking, after Swansea City, in particular winger Wayne Routledge, handed the Teessiders a huge favour on Wednesday night.

Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 18:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 18:36 pm
Midfielder Lewis Wing returned to Middlesbrough's starting XI against Reading last time out.

Routledge scored a second-half equaliser as the Swans salvaged a 1-1 draw with Derby at the Liberty Stadium, keeping the Rams within Boro's reach ahead of the final round of fixtures.

It means the Teessiders are just a point behind Frank Lampard's side, who occupy the final play-off spot, while Bristol City also have an outside chance of finishing in the top six.

Ultimately though, the final play-off spot remains in Derby's hands, and if the Rams win their final game of the season at home to West Brom, neither Boro or Bristol can catch them.

But, despite their place in the play-offs already confirmed, the Baggies have picked up ten points from a possible 12 in their last four games - ahead of the trip to Pride Park.

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Tony Pulis' side could also be aided by a recent EFL rule change which prevents clubs from making wholesale changes to rest players.

The alteration was made after Huddersfield Town made ten changes for a game with Birmingham City in 2017 - which the Blues won to avoid being relegated from the Championship.

EFL clubs have since voted to add a new rule, which states: "For any league match played on or after the fourth Thursday in March, any team sheet for a league game should include at least 10 outfield players who featured on the team sheet for the league match before."

"In the event any club breaches the threshold, they may be charged with a breach of Regulation 24 and the matter will be referred to a disciplinary commission."

It means Baggies boss James Shan will be unable to rest a large number of his first-team squad, ahead of the upcoming play-offs.

Yet Boro will surely have to claim all three points when they face an already relegated Rotherham side at the New York Stadium - with Derby boasting a six-goal superior goal difference over the Teessiders.

Rotherham, whose demotion to League One was confirmed last weekend, haven't won for five game (losing four), yet recent results may not completely reflect the Millers' form.

In recent weeks, Paul Warne's side have led against Aston Villa, Swansea, Birmingham and West Brom but haven't been able to maintain their advantages.

The Millers have conceded the most number of goals in the Championship this term (81), but given Boro's difficulties in front of goal this season, and the goalless draw between the two sides back in October, another tight affair could be on the cards.

Boro's defensive trio, George Friend, Daniel Ayala and Dael Fry, have all missed recent games through injury and are expected to be out for the remainder of the campaign.

Pulis did spring a surprise ahead of Boro's 2-1 victory over Reading last week, though, when midfielder Lewis Wing returned to the starting XI following a hernia operation.

Wing produced a standout display against the Royals, scoring Boro's equaliser before Britt Assombalonga netted a winner from the penalty spot.