As the race for promotion to the Championship intensifies, it is fair to say that the approach of the two teams that appear to be competing for the second automatic promotion spot take very contrasting approaches.
Middlesbrough’s victory over Sheffield United last Wednesday kept the race alive and it opened last weekend when the Blades lost for the second time against Millwall, allowing Boro to close the gap to four points thanks to their win over QPR.
It’s fair to say that the career will ultimately be determined by matters on the pitch, rather than words spoken off it, but nonetheless the contrasting approaches of the two managers leading the promotion hunters create a fascinating battle of wits.
READ MORE: Paul Heckingbottom not worried about Sheffield United’s form as Middlesbrough continue their chase
Michael Carrick is known for his easy-going demeanor, while at Yorkshire, it’s fair to say that Paul Heckingbottom wears his heart on his sleeve and, perhaps because he’s been on the defensive for two consecutive defeats for his side, has been a bit more optimistic when discussing the promotion race in recent weeks.
The contrasting styles were on display again in recent days as both sides gear up for another big weekend in the battle for second place. As Boro heads to West Brom for a tough test at Hawthorns, Sheffield United host Watford at Bramall Lane.
Heckingbottom told BBC Radio Sheffield: “We always need a win but it doesn’t matter how and when they come as long as we get enough. The more you put on the board now the easier it will be to do in the future.” .
“Ultimately it doesn’t bother me (how we do it). We know what we’re trying to do, we have to get more points than the teams behind us. We know we’re going to have to fight and throw away every game to take as many as we can “.
By contrast, at Teesside, Carrick has gone for a much calmer, more self-centred approach, with that message emanating from many of his players in recent weeks as well, suggesting it’s a message that is shared both across private as in public. For the Manchester United legend, the message is ‘clear and simple’.
“I’m happy with the way we’re playing at the moment,” Carrick said when asked about the promotion run. “We just focus on what we’re doing because that’s all we can control. The players have been fantastic and yet we’re still not satisfied with how it’s gone, we still want to improve, and we’ll try to do that between now and the end of the season.
“We just take the next step and we don’t get carried away. Yes, we take a lot of confidence and energy from how we are playing. The atmosphere at the club right now is really good and you have to use that.” somehow to continue the momentum.
“At this stage, it’s plain and simple: we just look towards the next game and focus on trying to be better than we were last week. But at the same time, when we have to perform and we’re living it every day.” , it requires a mindset where we have to understand from game to game that it’s a fresh new challenge. You have a whole new performance to develop to try and win again, so we won’t get carried away by any stretch. .”
Two very contrasting approaches and mindsets at Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, neither more on point than the other. Ultimately what happens on the pitch will be key, but it’s certainly an added layer of fascination to the race for second place with the engaging battle of wits.