Promotion hopefuls – favourites Middlesbrough raring to unleash

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Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan has been on something of a Scottish splurge since January, and through his contacts north of the border he has managed to assemble a strong squad full of quality.

Indeed, with the capture of Kris Boyd a month ago Boro obtained a striker of real goal-scoring threat, and it’s little surprise to see the Scotland international the clear 8/1 favourite to be the Championship’s top scorer this season.

The 26-year-old is the Scottish Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, with a total of 164 strikes in 296 games, and has broken the 25-goal barrier for each of the last four seasons.

A free transfer from Rangers, Boyd is one of ex-Celtic boss Strachan’s nine signings from Scotland this calendar year, with Scott McDonald, Stephen McManus, Willo Flood, Chris Killen, Barry Robson (all from Celtic), Kevin Thomson (Rangers), Lee Miller (Aberdeen) and Andrew Halliday (Livingston) all arriving on Teesside in 2010.

Backed up by home-grown talents like David Wheater, Premier League-standard players such as Gary O’Neil and the ever tricky Leroy Lita, Middlesbrough’s team has the potential to do what Newcastle’s did last year and take the Championship title with ease.

Boro are understandably 6/1 favourites to do just that.

As if to confirm that Strachan is happy with his squad, the two left-backs having trials with the club were told at the weekend they are not getting a call back. Any one of Andrew Taylor, Jonathan Grounds and Joe Bennett can play there.

The only person not happy with Middlesbrough’s set up in Mido, the Egyptian striker who went on loan to West Ham at the end of last term. It is apparent Strachan has made up his mind on the 27-year-old, who is accused of lacking fitness.

“Middlesbrough are doing their best to force me out because they don’t want to give me my financial dues,” Mido said yesterday.

Boro open their campaign with a match against Roy Keane’s Ipswich at the Riverside. Strachan’s side are 5/6 to win the game, a sound bet given their solid build-up and decent home record. It was 3-1 in the corresponding fixture last season – a tempting 12/1 price this time.

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