CHRISTMAS – a time for carols, crackers and mounting concern about where your football club is going to end up in the second half of the season.
It used to be said that Middlesbrough came down with the decorations at the start of January, but if that is the case this term, Teesside is in for a bleak 2014.
Eighteenth in the Championship table ahead of this afternoon’s home game with Brighton, Boro are seven points closer to the relegation zone than the play-off places. If things are about to take a turn for the worse at the turn of the year, goodness knows where they will end up by May.
Aitor Karanka’s arrival has failed to arrest the decline that had set in under Tony Mowbray, yet as they prepare to tackle a typically hectic festive schedule, it is hard to detect a sense of Christmas crisis within the Middlesbrough camp.
There is disappointment at the club’s current position, but you would expect nothing else after the concession of costly late goals in consecutive matches against Derby and Birmingham.
On the whole, though, the mood remains one of cautious optimism. The season has not gone to plan so far, but there is still sufficient time to put things right.
“I’m not even looking at the table, I always look forward,” said winger Albert Adomah, whose form since leaving Bristol City has provided one of the few bright spots of the season so far. “You can’t look at negatives all the time – you have to be positive and now we have five games to look forward to in December.
“If we can win three, that’s nine points, and then we could be three points away from the play-offs. That’s the only thing I look at.
“I don’t look at relegation because it’s still early on in the season, and there are 27 games to play. If we win all of those, we can get promotion. Even if we win 15, we still could, so you’ve got to stay positive.”
The capture of Adomah was one of Mowbray’s final acts as Boro boss, and while plenty of the former manager’s decisions at the Riverside failed to work out as planned, his dogged pursuit of the Ghanaian already looks something of a master stroke.
Operating primarily on the right-hand side, Adomah has scored seven goals of his own and set up a number of others, with his direct, fast-paced style enabling him to trouble opposition full-backs from a wide position.
With his friend, Mustapha Carayol, operating on the opposite flank, Adomah has helped Boro pack a punch up front, and despite their struggles, it is telling that the Teessiders have failed to score in just two of their 19 league games this season.
"I think I’ve done well from a personal point of view, and even from the team’s point of view, I think things have gone well,” said Adomah. “It’s just a shame that results haven’t shown that.
“We haven’t lost many games. People can look at our league position, but we haven’t lost a lot of matches, we’ve just drawn too many.
“It’s good to have my friend (Carayol) on the other side of the field. We’re like two brothers playing on either flank. It’s good. We both try to do our best and produce chances for the team to score goals.
“Both of us are scoring goals too and, as a winger, it is important to chip in. We are there to assist, but to score is a big bonus.”
Adomah is one of two Middlesbrough players with a realistic chance of being involved in next summer’s World Cup – Australian defender Rhys Williams is the other – although he was an unused substitute in both of Ghana’s play-off matches against Egypt last month.
Ghana thrashed Egypt 7-3 on aggregate, and are being touted as one of the sides to watch in Brazil despite having been drawn in one of the few groups to rival England’s for depth of talent.
The ‘Black Stars’ will take on Germany, Portugal and the United States in Group G, but Kamara is refusing to get too caught up in the vagaries of the draw until he has cemented his place in head coach Akwasi Appiah’s squad.
“At the moment I have to focus on Middlesbrough and do what I do best here,” he said. “Hopefully, if I do well here, I might get selected. I can’t get excited at the moment until I get selected, then I can think about the group and tell you how I feel.
“I feel good that we qualified – that’s the main thing. When we get there, I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan to get past the group stage.
“I think it’s one of the hardest groups, and from what I can see, if we can get four points, then maybe we could sneak through.
“If I do well for Boro, that will help me get a call up. I have to focus on my club first, and then everything second, and time will tell what will happen.”