THEY’VE been in, they’ve been out, and after Monday’s hammering at Nottingham Forest, they’ve been shaken all about. Middlesbrough’s attempts to claim a play-off place have been akin to completing the hokey-cokey, but when the music finally stops for good in two games’ time, Adam Clayton is still convinced his side will find themselves inside the top six.

They’re not there at the minute, with Derby’s stoppage-time double against QPR on Monday having enabled Frank Lampard’s side to leapfrog them and reclaim sixth spot.

Given that Derby, who are ahead of Boro thanks to their superior goal difference, and Bristol City, who trail the Teessiders by a point after losing to Sheffield Wednesday two days ago, have a game in hand, the odds are stacked against Tony Pulis’ side making it back into the play-off positions.



6. Derby County P43 GD +11 Pts 67

7. Middlesbrough P44 GD +6 Pts 67

8. Bristol City P43 GD +7 Pts 66

Saturday, April 27

Bristol City vs Derby County

Middlesbrough vs Reading

Tuesday, April 30

Millwall vs Bristol City

Wednesday, May 1

Swansea City vs Derby County

Sunday, May 5

Derby County vs West Brom

Hull City vs Bristol City

Rotherham United vs Middlesbrough


Stranger things have happened though, and with Derby and Bristol City playing each other at Ashton Gate this weekend, there could still be a window of opportunity for Boro to exploit.

Win their remaining two matches, against Reading and Rotherham, and one of their rivals will have to win two of their remaining three games to overtake them. On recent evidence, that would be far from a given.

“It’s the Championship,” same Clayton, who has regained a place in the starting line-up in the last few weeks after spending more than two months sitting on the sidelines. “We’ve seen it so many times before now – there’ll definitely be twists and turns right up to the final five or ten minutes of the final round of games.

“When I was at Huddersfield, we were down with seven minutes of the season to go, but then we stayed up because of a goal somewhere else. Things like that happen all the time in the Championship.

“There’s twists and turns to come. They (Derby and Bristol City) still have to play each other, so for me, the game in hand is a bit of a red herring really. I still think the situation is more in our hands than not.

“If we can get the three points against Reading, it could all change again. Bristol aren’t exactly pulling up any trees at the minute, and Derby only snuck home at home to QPR.

“We’ve just got to stay positive, win our home game, do what we can, and make sure it’s still to fight for in the final game of the season.”

Attention now switches to Saturday, and a home game against a Reading side that effectively guaranteed their survival when they held West Brom to a goalless draw at the Madejski Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday.

Boro’s back-to-back home wins over Hull and Stoke thrust them back into the play-off picture, and came courtesy of a pair of disciplined defensive displays, both of which resulted in a clean sheet.

That defensive resolve went out of the window at the City Ground, with Boro’s remodelled back five repeatedly ripped to shreds as Joao Carvalho pulled the strings for a Nottingham Forest side that would have scored five or six had it not been for the goalkeeping efforts of Darren Randolph, but Clayton insists the afternoon should be written off as a bad day at the office.

“We can’t dwell on what happened,” he said. “We’d won the three games before that, so we have to stay positive and stay confident.

“We know we can’t afford to throw in another game like that. We need to take maximum points from the two games we’ve got left, it’s as simple as that.

“But we won three on the spin before the game at Forest, so we know we can win two on the spin now.

“You’ve just got to forget about what happened in the last match. It’s disappointing, but it’s done now and we go again.”

They will ‘go again’ with the same group of players, with Daniel Ayala, George Friend, Dael Fry and Lewis Wing all having been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

“There can’t really be any major changes,” said Clayton. “But we’ve won games with this team. The players in the starting XI are more than capable of playing in this league.

“It’s your job. You’re not pigeon-holed in one position – if you’re needed to play somewhere else, like Jonny and George are at the minute, then that’s what you’ve got to do, and you’ve got to do it to the best of your ability, which to be fair, the boys have done.”