BARRING some statistical final day freak results not even the most brazen Far East betting syndicate would contemplate, Boro are in the play-offs.
Oh no, we are all going to die! It’s a disaster. It’s a complete failure! We’ve got no chance. The habitual doom and gloomers have written us off already and are tuning up for their symphony of pessimistic predictions of failure before a ball is kicked. The killjoys.
But we should be buzzing. We are still in with a shout. And Wembley is in sight.
Yes, automatic promotion has been denied and it is a kick in the teeth after months of teasing, raised expectations and several times having it within our grasp before fingers were prised from a top two spot by defeats to the duo who are going up.
And, yes, we can all indulge in our time honoured duty as fans to pick over the bones with forensic zeal and find points dropped here, dodgy decisions there, divine team and tactical selections that proved costly, determine the scapegoats, bring all those carefully curated told-you-sos to the surface and start the post-mortem.
But hold on there! Put down the scalpel. The patient isn’t dead yet. The fight is far from over. And let’s hope the players are more up for it than the defeatist faint-hearts.
This is no time for wallowing in self-pity and recriminations. That’s what the summer is for. Now is exactly when we ALL need to step up the plate – players and crowd. There will be a rammed Riverside Stadium against Brighton on Saturday and it is crucially important that the supporters as well as the team do their utmost on the day to catapult the team into the final three game shoot-out with some serious momentum.
The Riverside roaring in the full house for Forest
The supporters who have travelled all season have been fantastic and created an incredible atmosphere and that will be needed again in the high-stakes away leg.
And we need to do that at home now as well. The home crowd have hit some serious ear-bleeding highs this season. We need to distil the essence of that, turn the volume up to 11 and make the opposition wilt in the face of our desire for this. We need the sold-out Riverside to roar the team on, to emotionally refuel the team ready for the next gruelling games and demonstrate the kind of tangible collective hunger and will to win from every fibre of the community that will power us to Wembley and beyond.
It has been a BRILLIANT season so far full of excitement, endeavour, industry and real, tangible progress, especially at the Riverside where results have been awesome.
There have been some incredible highs and inspirational displays – Liverpool, Derby, Forest, Man City, Norwich away – and, crucially, there has been a growing sense of identity and newly forged unity within the squad and between them and the crowd.
It’s been a compelling, energising, emotionally charged campaign that has cranked up the pressure and pleasure with almost every game that we have had to enjoy and endure in equal measure…. and now there is even more of it!
After Brighton we will be just two games from Wembley. And just three from an historic promotion to the Premier League via a fabled scenic route that we’ve never been on before. We’ve never done the play-offs via the big stage set-piece showdown. Wembley.
What a fantastic epoch-shaping consolation prize we can wrench from the short term dismay of not going up automatically.
And I’m really looking forward to it. Seriously. It can be brilliant. Yes, we may lose – and if you are of that disposition then there is no persuading you away from the inevitability of that impending doom.
But think about this: We may WIN. At Wembley! That would be a first for Boro. Winning at the national stadium and cliching promotion via the scenic route, the hardest, the most fraught and maybe the most enjoyable way. It would be an exhilarating new experience. Nerve shredding, intense and emotionally draining yes… but we are used to that now. Its our default. We can handle pressure. We can flourish in it.
And we have nothing to fear. In fact all the form suggests we will be the best team in the play-offs: we are leader of the top eight mini-table, we’ve beaten all the four teams behind us, Norwich, Derby and Brentford home and away and we’ve put four past three of them at the Riverside. And finishing third or fourth gives the advantage of having the second leg – plus any extra time and penalties – at home where we have an awesome record with 11 wins in the last 12 games. Seriously, THEY will all be terrified at the prospect of playing US.
This is most exciting end to a league campaign for almost 20 years. Relegation was tense but inevitability took grip very early on. Previous play-off battles lacked conviction or staying power. But after years of mid-table purgatory and frustrating fade-outs this season has been entertaining and engaging and exciting. Despite falling short on one front the next few weeks can be the biggest most audacious and most memorable episode yet of the Great Aitor Karanka Promotion adventure.
I’m buzzing for it.