‘Suited’ Middlesbrough can set themselves top-half ambitions

11/2

TOP BET

Middlesbrough to finish in the top ten

Extracting four points from the first two games back in the Premier League will hardly have Middlesbrough fans boasting that their club will stay clear of all danger this season, or go on to succeed Leicester as champions, but the signs are very encouraging.

Aitor Karanka’s maiden voyage as a manager in England’s top tier could hardly have begun in much more pleasing fashion, albeit they were denied a deserved opening-day victory over Stoke before derby success on their travels at Sunderland last time out.

After attaining this early foothold in the table, local Boro lad and former England winger Stewart Downing was quite enthused over the potential of his teammates this season.

He said: “The Premier League is more week-to-week (than the Championship) and I think the squad we have here will help me too, because we are a better team and a better squad.

“We will do well this season, I am not getting too far ahead and predicting anything too wild, but I am confident we can get points on the board.”

Downing added: “It’s not a surprise that we are adapting,” Having spent all but one-and-a-half seasons plying his trade in the top tier with Boro, Aston Villa, Liverpool and West Ham, the 32-year-old is quite well qualified to make the call.

Clearly, far sterner examinations than Stoke and Sunderland lie ahead. On paper, though, Karanka’s squad looks to be well-balanced to cope with the rigours of a Premier League campaign.

Owning the best defence from the Championship last season gives Boro a solid platform from which to start life, with Ben Gibson and a fit-again Daniel Ayala a formidable duo at the heart of it and left-back George Friend starring early on.

Even with midfield lynchpin Grant Leadbitter sidelined, the industrious Adam Clayton has Adam Forshaw, who was particularly impressive against the Black Cats, and new signing Marten de Roon to come back from injury as capable partners.

The addition of big-name striker Alvaro Negredo on loan could be inspired, while Gaston Ramirez is becoming a fan favourite on Teesside.

On his first Premier League start, brace-scoring Cristhian Stuani showed he is capable of mixing it in the top flight too, albeit how consistently remains to be seen.

After Brad Guzan’s display in the net, though, getting Victor Valdes back fit can’t come too soon.

We make it 5/6 Boro rule the north east ahead of fast-starting Hull and twice-defeated Sunderland come May, but some punters may be more willing to risk greater gains on the 7/2 surrounding a top-half finish in ‘15/16.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.