MIDDLESBROUGH head into the final eight matches of the Championship season with their hopes of scrambling into a play-off position just about alive despite the 1-0 defeat at Millwall that preceded the start of the international break.

Neil Warnock’s side sit in ninth position in the table, six points adrift of Reading, who currently occupy the final play-off place. They are within two points of eighth-placed Cardiff City and three points of seventh-placed Bournemouth, although the latter have a game in hand.

The odds are stacked against them, and they will almost certainly have to win at least five or six of their remaining eight games to finish in the top six. Is that possible? Let’s have a look at Middlesbrough’s remaining eight games.

Apr 2 – Bournemouth (a)

Boro’s run-in begins with a Good Friday trip to the Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, and if they are to have any chance of making a late surge into the play-offs, they will surely have to at least avoid defeat when they line up against one of their key promotion rivals.

Ideally, they could do with leaving the south coast with all three points as that would leave them level on points with Bournemouth, albeit with the Cherries still having a game in hand. Friday’s game pits Boro against their former manager, Jonathan Woodgate, who was confirmed as Bournemouth boss until the end of the season just over a month ago. On paper, with the likes of Jefferson Lerma, Jack Wilshere and Dominic Solanke at their disposal, Bournemouth unquestionably have one of the strongest sides in the league.

Apr 5 – Watford (h)

Boro complete their weekend double-header with a televised Easter Monday game against Watford. It will be another extremely stiff test, with the Hornets currently gunning for automatic promotion in second position, with a six-point advantage over third-placed Swansea, who have a game in hand. The Teessiders lost at Vicarage Road on the opening weekend of the season, and Watford have remained in the thick of the promotion race pretty much ever since, despite their now-traditional mid-season change of manager.

December’s appointment of Xisco Munoz did not throw Watford off track, and the Hornets have won nine of their last ten matches, a sensational run that has been built around strong performances from Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes and Joao Pedro in particular.

Apr 10 – Barnsley (a)

The big games keep on coming, with Boro heading to Oakwell to take on another of their play-off-rivals, Barnsley, a week on Saturday. Barnsley have been on a remarkable run since the turn of the year, and now find themselves sitting nine points ahead of Middlesbrough in fifth position. Valerien Ismael’s appointment as manager has transformed Barnsley’s season, with the Tykes looking a completely different proposition since the Frenchman replaced Gerhard Struber in October.

Struber left a few days after Boro beat Barnsley 2-1 at the Riverside, but under Ismael, the South Yorkshire club have won nine of their last 11 matches, a run that has seen them leapfrog Boro. Whatever has happened in their previous two matches, this will surely be a game Boro have to win if they are to finish in the top six themselves.

Apr 17 – QPR (h)

Having played three teams in the top seven, things should get slightly easier when Boro host 12th-placed QPR midway through next month. Hopefully, the Teessiders’ promotion hopes will still be intact when one of Warnock’s former clubs visit. QPR are one of the few Championship clubs with very little to play for in the final month of the season – too far adrift of the play-off places to be promotion contenders, but far enough away from the bottom three to not have to be concerned about suffering the drop.

That might allow Mark Warburton’s team to play with a certain amount of freedom, but their away form has been poor all season, winning just five of their 18 matches away from Loftus Road.

Apr 21 – Rotherham (a)

Boro’s final midweek fixture pits them against yet another of Warnock’s former teams, with Rotherham lying in wait at the New York Stadium. On paper at least, the trip to South Yorkshire kicks off a four-game run-in that looks reasonably inviting. Warnock has been talking up his side’s prospects in the final month all season; the key question will be whether they are close enough to the top-six to enable a strong finish to make any difference.

Rotherham currently sit in the bottom three, and will almost certainly still be embroiled in a battle to avoid the drop when Boro visit given that they still have 12 games to play because of a Covid-induced fixture pile-up. Loanee Lewis Wing will not be able to line up against his parent club, and Boro will be keen to extract some revenge for a painful 3-0 defeat to the Millers in January.

Apr 24 – Sheff Wed (h)

A second successive game against a team from South Yorkshire desperately trying to avoid relegation to League One. Sheffield Wednesday have never really recovered from the six-point penalty they were saddled with before the season began, and currently sit six points adrift of safety. If Boro are still within touching distance of the top six by the time the Owls visit, this will certainly be a must-win game, although their recent home record against Wednesday is far from great.

They were thrashed 4-1 at the Riverside last season, and have not won any of their last three home games against the Owls. That will have to change, with two of Wednesday’s chief threats coming via former Boro duo Adam Reach and Jordan Rhodes.

May 1 – Luton (a)

Boro’s final away game takes them to Kenilworth Road to take on a Luton side that have made an impressive fist of things this season. Luton currently sit 15 points clear of the relegation positions, and will almost certainly have nothing to play for by the time Boro roll into town. Hopefully, that will prove crucial if the Teessiders are still targeting the top six.

Luton have been strong at home this season though, losing just five of their 18 games, and remarkably, Boro have not won at Kenilworth Road since 1974. With fans still certain to be absent in early May, perhaps this will be the season when that changes.

May 8 – Wycombe (h)

If Boro can take their promotion battle to the final game, they could not wish for a more inviting way to round things off. Wycombe have looked relegation certainties all season, and currently find themselves 11 points adrift of safety with eight games to play. There is every chance they will be dead and buried by the time they visit the Riverside, a scenario that would surely play into Boro’s hands.

Boro’s likely promotion rivals all have much more difficult propositions on the final day – Barnsley host Norwich while Cardiff take on a Rotherham side that could well still be scrapping for their lives.