For those of you hibernating late this year (because a pesky rabbit woke you up on Christmas Day to give you some tat from John Lewis), Boro’ come out of winter with a spring (geddit?) in their step. A couple of victories and a draw from the last three games have hauled us off the bottom of the division – we’re now level on points with Shrewsbury Town and just three points from safety with a fixture in hand over Bristol City. Ignore the gulf in goal difference, and you can just about crack a smile.
In terms of how points are needed to stay up, the consensus is a neat, round half-ton. And as it stands, we’re 18 points – or six wins – away from that mark. There are 13 games left, eight of them are at our gaff and six of them (not including Port Vale) will be against teams who you’ll find in the bottom half of the table. Of course things are going to change over the course of the next two months, but we can at least look at where we could and maybe should be getting the points needed to stay up.
Tranmere Rovers at home are first up and we have this down as a game we must win. They sit four points ahead of us on the same number of games. It’d be a huge boost if we can be right on their back come the end of Saturday. It’d also put pressure on Bristol City, who go to Shrewsbury in a game that we probably want a draw from. And if Crewe complete the set by losing at Posh, we could be sitting prettier in 21st and in with a huge shout. If we lose, it’ll be right back to the drawing board.
We then start entering the realms of uncertainty. Preston North End come to town on 11 March and will be a very difficult proposition. In fourth and nailed on for a playoff place, they haven’t lost any of their last nine heading into this weekend. Moving on, Carlisle United (away) and MK Dons (home) on the 15th and 22nd respectively are tough ones to call. Our record at Carlisle in the League isn’t the best, while the Dons form has been more wayward than a Brian Quailey attempt on goal.
The next duo are Coventry City (away) and Port Vale (home), which completes the March line-up. It seems like a bold call to make, but it’s not exactly in the realms of fantasy to think we can take four points from these two games. The performance level will have to be high, but we’ve shown that we’d be able to. And that’d be a terrific boost once again as we kick April off with a home game versus the current league leaders, Wolves. How they lost to Gillingham we’ll never know. Away win.
If we’re still going strong as we return to a more sedate Saturday-only schedule in April, two matches that could hold the decisive cards will be Shrewsbury Town (away) and Colchester United (home) – not least because we ought to be gunning for six outta six from them. Yeah, so we’re not usually so hot at the Shrews’ home and the Us have stuck four past us already this season, but times change and so do fortunes. The Us could be right back in the relegation mire, for example.
After that, we have four games – Sheffield United (away), Bristol City (home), Walsall (home) and Brentford (away). And these’ll be difficult for different reasons. The Blades have pulled well clear of the dogfight, Bristol City are still in a decent position to avoid the drop, Walsall are still pushing for a playoff place and Brentford could need points on the last day for automatic promotion. We’d look for between four and seven points from these, and it’d be a huge achievement.
Now, we can’t predict how the paths of other teams – or even Boro’ – will end up going over the next two months. But there are plenty of ups and downs to be had and we’re hoping (with justification) we have more of the former and less of the latter. It’s arguably in our hands at the moment – not totally, if you consider goal difference. But we take on teams around us in some veritable six-pointers. So come on BBC, give us the League One predictor so we can really work out where we’re heading…