Bouncing back to the Premier League is a tough job, Boro have been absent from the top flight for seven years, and many other relegated teams have dabbled with League’s one and two – Bouncing back with the same manager in charge is even rarer.
The promoted teams in the next eight weeks will be the mentally strong sides so Saturday will be the start of an interesting test for Hull, Burnley and Boro.
Middlesbrough and Hull have had a couple of opportunities to pull clear at the top of the table, Hull when playing Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday, Boro against Blackburn and Wolves. Both failed to make the most of it. Then came respective 1-0 lossess at Birmingham (Hull) and Rotherham (Boro), results that left the door open for Burnley to pull clear.
Question’s are now being asked about how this Boro team handles the pressure of a promotion race, which will intensify as the finishing line approaches.
It wasn’t long ago that fans were confident Boro could pull clear at the top of the table but it looks as though this fight will go right down to the final day.
The twelve games remaining will have ups and downs, twists and turns, but if Middlesbrough can find eight wins and a couple of draws from that run theres a chance we’ll be celebrating promotion in May and a return to the top flight.
Burnley have excelled on their second-tier return, brushing off a shaky opening three games to win 20 out of 33 since, including each of the last five, which form part of a 13-match unbeaten streak.
A 3-2 victory at Fulham on Tuesday sent them four points clear at the top and though second-placed Middlesbrough have played one less and Hull seven points back have two extra fixtures to fulfil, the Clarets are now favourites to win the title.
16 years have passed since a team relegated from the Premier League kept the same manager and were promoted as champions at the first attempt.
The last boss to bounce back in such style was Alan Curbishley at Charlton in 1999/00, and like Bruce and Dyche who are on course to repeat his success, he oversaw their initial promotion too.
If that comparison doesn’t emphasise how impressive what Bruce and Dyche are delivering is, consider this: only three of the 15 prior clubs relegated from the Premier League this decade shot back on their maiden try, and all of those required the play-offs.
It hasn’t been done automatically since Newcastle got rid of Alan Shearer for Chris Hughton and went up as champions in 2009/10.
If you focus on managers instead of teams, just one of the 18 managers to finish 18th or lower in the Premier League in the last six seasons have bounced back with the same club, when Harry Redknapp won the play-offs at QPR in 2013/14.
The other four teams that had an immediate return – Newcastle and West Brom in 2009/10, West Ham in 2011/12 and Norwich in 2014/15 – all made changes in the dugout when regaining Premier League status, which further highlights how rare what Steve Bruce and Sean Dyche are on the way to trying to achieve.