IT says everything about the madness of the Championship that Norwich City - a team in a slump only a few weeks ago - are the only side to have won their last two games.

Middlesbrough aren't the only team searching for consistency.

"It's a brutal league," admits head coach Michael Carrick.

"It's a fantastic league and a challenging league for that reason. Consistency is key. If you can be consistent it gives you a great chance, but it's not easy to get that, as we've seen.

"For whatever reason on any given day, anybody can beat anybody. That's the beauty of it. There are no easy games, every game is a real test, a physical test and mental test.

"Why is it like that? I'm not sure, it's been like that for a lot longer than I've been involved in it. You have to embrace the challenge."

That's exactly what Carrick is doing and while Saturday's defeat at Bristol City was frustrating, that telling stat above shows that if Boro can string a few wins together as they did in September and October then Carrick's side, currently 12th and four points shy of sixth placed Preston, tonight's visitors to the Riverside, would get themselves right in amongst it in the top six.

"It's an easy thing to say, string a few wins together, but everyone is striving for that. That is the biggest challenge," says Carrick.

"For us personally, we know how good we can be and what we're capable of. To have that confidence and know that it's in there, it gives you an awful lot. It's doing that throughout a half, a game then a period of time, that's the magic ingredient."

There's another stat Boro can take confidence from ahead of a decisive week, with tonight's game against Preston followed by a trip to face Leeds, who are currently third, and then comes a home game against second-placed Ipswich.

Tough, undoubtedly. But Boro have won four of their five games against teams currently in the top nine, beating Leicester, Southampton, Cardiff and Sunderland, their only defeat coming against West Brom.

On the other hand, Boro have failed to win any of their games against the teams currently in the bottom seven.

Why is it, then, that Boro are faring so well against the better teams?

Carrick says; "I don't know. It's a good question. I haven't thought about it.

"Style, maybe? Maybe not? The beauty of the league is you come across all sorts of different styles, it keeps you on your toes, it's a new challenge all the time.

"It probably shows the boys what they're capable of doing and the results they can get and performance levels they can hit.

"It goes back to the last answer, consistency is key, how much can you repeat that? That gives me a lot of encouragement to know we are capable of that, it's putting it together."


Boro are looking to put it together tonight against a Preston team smarting after suffering stoppage time heartbreak in their defeat to Cardiff last time out.

"It's a good challenge. I've watched them a lot. They can cause a lot of problems, they're very good in attack, put a lot of bodies forward and in the box. They make you defend so you have to be solid defensively. And they're really aggressive without the ball and organised and well coached.

"It's going to be a good game, they're up there in the league and have had a good start. They were unfortunate at the weekend. It will be a tough one."