MIDDLESBROUGH’S return to winning ways could not have arrived at a better time - and should provide the catalyst for an end-of-season boost of confidence to secure a play-off spot.

With ten points separating fifth place Boro from Aston Villa above them, the challenge on Tony Pulis’ side is no longer whereabouts they finish in the top six. The challenge now is purely on getting there.

Whether or not it is Aston Villa, Fulham or Cardiff City who end up claiming the second and automatic promotion spot behind champions Wolves, the task will be difficult whoever Middlesbrough face if they reach the play-offs.

Firstly, though, Middlesbrough have to build on the victory over Bristol City on Saturday by making sure they stay in one of the final two play-off spots still up for grabs for seven of the teams in the division.

Middlesbrough might have the upperhand at the moment, but that will count for nothing if they can’t capitalise on renewed confidence by finishing the campaign solidly; it might not even need to be a flourish if the other fixtures are taken into consideration.

Pulis will know his players can’t afford to think like that and the sooner they get another win under their belts the better, so this weekend’s trip to Derby County would be the ideal place to do it.

Millwall might have put themselves right in the mix over the last few months by going on a fantastic run, although they are going to have to maintain all of their recent spirit to stay in the top six because they have to face Fulham and Aston Villa either side of a trip to the Riverside.

Even though Bristol City might have failed to avoid defeat on Teesside, the run-in suggests they are still in with every chance of finishing in the play-off zone. It is certainly going to be tight, and is likely to come down to goal difference.

Chief Football Writer Paul Fraser has taken a look at the remaining games and predicted the outcomes in a bid to see who will finish fifth and sixth. Where points are level, the positioning is based on the current goal difference.



Derby (a) D

Millwall (h) W

Ipswich (a) D

Current points: 69

Projected points: 74


Fulham (h) L

Middlesbrough (a) L

Aston Villa (h) W

Current points: 69

Projected points: 72


Middlesbrough (h) D

Cardiff (h) D

Aston Villa (a) L

Barnsley (h) W

Current points: 68

Projected points: 73


Norwich (h) W

Sheffield United (a) L

Burton (h) W

Current points: 66

Projected points: 72


Birmingham (a) D

Preston (h) W

Bristol City (a) D

Current points: 66

Projected points: 71


QPR (h) W

Barsnley (a) D

Hull City (h) W

Current points: 65

Projected points: 72


Hull (h) W

Nottingham Forest (a) W

Sheffield United (a) D

Current points: 66

Projected points: 73


Middlesbrough 74

Derby County 73

Bristol City 73

Millwall 72

Brentford 72

Preston 72

Sheffield United 71