Middlesbrough were 15th in the Championship and meandering towards another mediocre campaign under Neil Warnock. Steve Gibson made the bold decision to replace the veteran manager with Chris Wilder.
Wilder came to prominence guiding Sheffield United out of League One and the Championship, and lifting the Blades to ninth place in the Premier League, their highest finish since the formation of the division in 1992. He had previously worked miracles at Northampton and Oxford United to leave both teams in very healthy situations after securing promotions out of League Two and the Conference respectively.
Wilder has been an overwhelming success at almost every post, and it is no surprise to see him already work his magic at Boro, pushing the North East outfit towards the Championship playoffs and guiding them to an FA Cup triumph over Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford. Wilder’s side are firing on all cylinders both at the back and in the final third, and the confidence that he has brought to the club is evident in their style and belief on the field.
Performances such as their 2-2 draw against Queens Park Rangers are why Boro are one of the teams you should pay attention to when in-play betting in the Championship and wagering as a whole as they are backed at 50/1 to win the title, the third best in the minds of the bookies, after they rallied from a two-goal deficit to secure a point at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
After 15 matches in charge of the club, Wilder secured nine wins, four draws and only two defeats. If you extrapolate that form over an entire campaign, Middlesbrough would be on course for automatic promotion with 93 points. It highlights the effect that the 54-year-old has had at the Riverside Stadium in such a short period of time. As his previous teams would attest, it is no fluke.
Wilder’s reputation has also allowed Boro to become a destination club for those players seeking improvement. Aaron Connolly and Folarin Balogun had their choice of Championship teams, but opted to sign for Boro due to Wilder’s presence and propensity for getting the most out young players, especially in the second tier. Isaiah Jones has become a dominant force down the right wing, with five of his eight assists coming under the tenure of Wilder.
Boro have deployed the 3-5-2 system that was so successful at Sheffield United, and it appears to be reaping the same benefits. Paddy McNair has grown into his defensive role, but with the ability to press forward from the back as Chris Basham was afforded in the same position for the Blades.
Dael Fry is developing into the lynchpin of the unit in the middle of the defence like John Egan. Boro kept five clean sheets in his first 15 matches in charge, and although it is an impressive statistic, Wilder will be optimistic for an improvement to turn one of the best rearguards in the second tier into the best in line for a potential charge at automatic promotion.
The North East outfit would need Bournemouth to stage a dramatic decline in form to beat them out for second place. However, there’s also the element of momentum that is crucial in the playoffs. Wilder will be determined for his side to be a team on the charge rather than the slide for the post-season.
He guided Oxford to success in the Conference playoffs in 2010, but Boro themselves do not have a great record in the playoffs, notably losing in 2015 in the Championship final under Aitor Karanka. Therefore, there may be more magic required from Wilder to push his team back to the top flight.