Chris Burton discusses the lofty expectations at Middlesbrough with striker Scott McDonald.
Last Updated: 07/08/10 11:42am
The World Cup may have helped to tide football fans over this summer, providing them with a welcome off-season feast of activity, but the resumption of domestic duties really gets the juices flowing.
The 2010/11 campaign is now under way and the hopes and dreams of clubs up and down the country are set to be realised or dashed.
Expectations vary from team to team, with some setting their sights on the top prizes and others just happy to keep their head above water.
One club who will be aiming for the stars this year is Middlesbrough, who are looking to clamber back into the Premier League after two years away from English football's top table.
It is fair to say that last season did not go entirely to plan for the North East outfit, with failure to reach the play-offs representing a massive underachievement for a side that has grown accustomed to the top flight over recent times.
They are, however, determined to right those wrongs this time around and a busy pre-season of transfer activity at the Riverside Stadium has them in tip-top shape.
The rebuilding work started once Gordon Strachan was drafted in to replace Gareth Southgate in October 2009, with the Scot wasting no time in implementing a squad overhaul.
The likes of Scott McDonald and Barry Robson were lured away from SPL giants Celtic in January and the Scottish raid continued in earnest this summer as Kris Boyd and Kevin Thomson were drafted in from Rangers and Stephen McManus bolstered the ex-Celtic ranks.
Nicky Bailey and Tarmo Kink also arrive with glowing reputations and will be expected to hit the ground running during their debut season on Teesside.
All in all, anything less than a sustained promotion push will be deemed an abject failure for Middlesbrough, with an immediate return demanded on the considerable investment pumped into the side.
Skysports.com's Chris Burton recently caught up with Australia international McDonald to gain a greater insight into the mood around the Riverside and discovered that everyone connected with the club is all too aware of the need to fight their way out of the second tier.
"Of course. With the money that has been spent here, we need to be looking at promotion," said McDonald.
"There is an expectation around us now, I don't know if that's a good thing, but we need to take that on board. As players there is always an expectation, it's no different this year, and we just have to try and win every match we go into."
While Boro are tipped to be among the frontrunners, the Championship remains as competitive as ever and McDonald accepts that it is how they cope with the inevitable wobbles that will arise over the course of a long, hard season that will ultimately determine whether they reach their targets or not.
He said: "There are going to be times within the season that you're going to drop points. It would be unbelievable if you could go on a 46-match unbeaten run.
"I don't think anyone has done that before, so it's a test of your endurance how you bounce back from the disappointing times. That can really make your season or break it. You want to get off to a good start and hopefully we can do that."
Much will be expected of McDonald, as he arrived in the New Year boasting an enviable goalscoring record from his time in the SPL.
He feels he is ready to hit the ground running this term, having started to find his feet towards the end of the previous campaign.
"When I came in last year I was carrying a bit of an injury and I wasn't fully fit," he said.
"By the end of the season I was starting to find my form and my fitness and it all finished, unfortunately. I am keen to get back into it and show the Middlesbrough supporters what I can do."
McDonald is aware that some people may be questioning why players like himself and Boyd have opted to drop into the Championship when there was reported to be plenty of Premier League interest in their services.
But he insists that the opportunity to work with former Celtic boss Gordon Strachan at a progressive club like Boro was too good to turn down.
"That's why myself and the others came here," he said.
"It was a big decision to leave Celtic and obviously the gaffer was a major part in that. Middlesbrough are a fantastic football club, with the set-up they have got here, and it has Premiership quality. We are looking to bounce back and that's what we have wanted right from the start. With the gaffer and everything we have great potential."
He added: "Some people might have questioned the likes of Kris Boyd and myself for not going to the Premiership. Some people might think the Championship is a lower standard, but I don't think that's the case.
"We just wanted to work with this manager and he has done a fantastic job getting people to come here. The job now is to go out on the park, do the business for him, and help this football club."
The 26-year-old frontman is also confident that he can strike up a fearsome partnership with former Old Firm rival Boyd.
The pair have arrived at Boro with remarkable SPL records, but there are still a few doubters who fear they are too similar to be deployed alongside each other.
McDonald sees things differently though, saying: "I don't see a problem. There has been a lot of speculation that me and Kris are very similar players, but I don't see that at all.
"We have scored a lot of goals at different clubs - Celtic and Rangers, him at Kilmarnock and me at Motherwell. But I see myself as a little bit different.
"When I was at Celtic I worked with some unbelievable wingers and that took some of the pressure off me and I'm not saying we haven't got those players here, but when you come into a new club there is much more responsibility on you to be a big player. Hopefully I can do that this year."
McDonald will also be looking to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup finals this summer, with the Socceroos having omitted him from a squad which struggled to make an impact in South Africa.
He is refusing to dwell too much on the past, though, and insists he is fully focused on his duties at Middlesbrough.
He is aware that the players have a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities put in front of them and accepts that there can be no margin for error if the club are to reward the ongoing faith of chairman Steve Gibson.
McDonald said: "We have got an unbelievable chairman here, probably the best chairman in football. He backs his club and he backs his manager to the hilt and he has done it once again this year.
"I think we have spent more than pretty much most Premiership clubs, and that just shows the ambition they have here. It's up to us as players now to repay that faith."