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Meet the newest Premier League sides - Middlesbrough

Compared to title winners Burnley, it's been a much longer time in Championship exile for Middlesbrough.

It's been seven seasons since they last graced the Premier League and although missing out on Championship glory, they return buoyed by an ultimately successful season.

Four consecutive draws to end their season handed Burnley top spot with Aitor Karanka's Boro only holding on to an automatic promotion spot via superior goal difference to third-placed Brighton & Hove Albion. While their strikers weren't firing quite as freely as Burnley stars Andre Gray and Sam Vokes, Middlesbrough's strength was shown across the pitch this season.

Let's start with goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos who kept a Championship-high 22 clean sheets; a feat that meant Boro conceded the fewest number of goals across the season with a measly 31 from 46 games. Forced into making just 118 saves and 49 catches, Konstantopoulos had his defenders to thank for a few quiet games in goals.

Amongst a very solid backline, it was Spanish centre-half Daniel Ayala who was the standout at the back. Winning 76% of his tackles, a pass accuracy of 70%, managing 224 clearances, 121 interceptions and a very handy three goals, you can see why Middlesbrough fans have taken a liking to the 25-year-old former Liverpool and Norwich City defender.

In the engine room for Boro throughout the season was midfielder Adam Clayton who well and truly pulled his weight after a season consisting of 2,664 passes; 86% of which were accurate. Alongside him was journeyman Stewart Downing who showed he still has a nose for the game by grabbing three goals, five assists and creating 74 chances over the season. An honourable mention in midfield also must go to loanee Gaston Ramirez who managed to find the net seven times over his 18-game loan spell from Southampton.

Leading the line for Middlesbrough was Scottish striker Jordan Rhodes who had a healthy turn around of 16 goals for the season, with six of those coming in 18 outings for the Teessiders after joining from Blackburn Rovers in January.

Pre-season Leicester City signing David Nugent proved he was worth the £4million paid for him, grabbing eight goals and seven assists across 38 games. Cristhian Stuani was also fairly handy up front popping up with seven goals. Not so handy was loanee Kike Sola who joined from Athletic Bilbao in January. The Spanish striker managed just two games and no goals.

Prior to an end-of-season burn out, Middlesbrough had won six in a row and it was only the draw with Burnley with four games to play that seemed to derail them from returning to the EPL with a Championship medal around their necks.

Regardless, the important thing is that Middlesbrough will be returning to the top flight for the first time in seven seasons. With one North East club going down in the form of Newcastle United, Boro can also look forward to a Wear-Tees derby with Sunderland somehow surviving in the Premier League for a tenth successive season.

So just what sort of top flight campaign can Middlesbrough look forward to in 2016/17?

In terms of players, Middlesbrough are at risk of losing star defender Ayala and keeper Konstantopoulos over the off-season with both only having a year left on their current contracts. They have of course already said goodbye to loanee Ramirez who returns to St Mary's.

If their past season is anything to go by, Middlesbrough are a team capable of both extraordinary highs and debilitating lows. Just as they can go 10 games undefeated, they can also find a way to lose two or three in a row that on paper they really should have won. Such a trait makes them a tough team to make assessments for next season but suffice to say, they will surely add some spice to the Premier League.

Joshua Thomas
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Joshua Thomas

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