Middlesbrough's Chris Wilder favourite for Burnley job - flagging Teessiders need him to reassure fans

By saying nothing - again - on Monday, Chris Wilder talked himself to the top of the list of bookmakers' favourites for the Burnley job.

Wilder thinks otherwise, but with their season threatening to implode, Middlesbrough could really do with him killing the story dead.

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Huddersfield Town win battle of hearts and minds but Middlesbrough need results ...

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Burnley could beat him to it by appointing someone else, of course, but even that would be damaging. The suspicion now forming in people's minds that Wilder would quite like to work at Turf Moor will linger and if results continue to head in the wrong direction, the accusation will be that his head was turned, and a season packed with potential collapsed as a result.

MUCH TO PONDER: Chris Wilder (foreground) during Middlesbrough's game against Huddersfield Town

It might be completely wrong, but perception can be as damaging as reality.

Boro's downturn in form - or rather as Wilder was keen to stress on Monday, results - has come at the worst possible time and pre-dates Sean Dyche's sacking opening up a Premier League job vacancy.

Boro have taken one point from their last four matches and not scored in any of them. They have lost their last three at home, where they had previously won their last eight in the Championship.

The play-off place that looked theirs for the taking is still very gettable but only if they buck up. Until Riley McGree's shot against the woodwork long after Monday's game against Huddersfield Town was lost, they never looked like scoring. Matt Crooks's suspension for 15 yellow cards this season has two more games to run.

Boro might be ninth but are only three points off the play-off places with a game in hand on Blackburn Rovers, Millwall and Sheffield United.

In trying not to make things worse, Wilder has.

After the Good Friday game at Bournemouth he was asked directly about speculation he could take the Burnley job and gave a very non-committal answer. It only led to more questions.

After Monday's defeat he was asked again.

“Listen, I’m an emotional guy,” he replied. “I’ve just got beaten as manager of Middlesbrough, so I can’t stop any of that stuff, but I’m not so sure it’s the right time to ask anything like that after a really disappointing defeat.”

It, and the stoney expression that went with it, was meant to kill the question dead. Of course it did not.

Before the press conference had ended, he was asked again.

“I just don’t think there’s a way out of talking about it,” was his next, exasperated answer. “I think it’s really unfair. I’m manager of Middlesbrough – nobody knows what’s around the corner for anything, do they? I don’t know what you want me to say or what you want me to do.

“You’re after me dropping my guard and saying something daft. I’m Middlesbrough manager, I’m enjoying working at Middlesbrough, but we’ve just been defeated. Do you want me to come out with a boring one of ‘I’m flattered by whatever because we’re winning games of football?’ Well, we haven’t won today. So, that’s basically where it’s at.”

He ended the day as the bookies' favourite for the job.

You often hear it said that bookmakers seldom get it wrong but their odds are not just set on the basis of the information they gather. When large amounts of money are placed on something, they have to cover their backs - their liabilities - by slashing the odds just in case someone knows something they do not.

So it could be that plenty of people read Wilder's comments, jumped to a not particularly far-fetched conclusion, placed bets and this is the result.

For a football manager to not want to work in the Premier League would seem strange. Most people want to further their careers where they can, and sportspeople tend to enjoy success by being more ambitious than most.

But would Burnley offer a better chance of Premier League football than next season?

Three points from safety and having played a game more than Everton, they are not in a terrible position. But losing to Norwich City was damaging - fatal for Dyche's job prospects - and even with a bit of new (caretaker) manager bounce in their step, they were still not good enough to beat West Ham United, missing a penalty when 1-0 up and conceding an equaliser.

The Clarets have 10 players out of contract, hardly the recipe for the sort of backs-to-the-wall fight that is their trademark.

Having had a manager for such a long time, they are entrenched in Dyche's way of playing, a squad built entirely for 4-4-2. Wilder will tell you he is no one-trick pony when it comes to tactics but all his success of recent years, at Sheffield United and in revitalising Middlesbrough, has been based on variants of 3-5-2. He could do a great job for the Clarets next season, but could he have an instant impact?

When you make a panic sacking as Burnley did, you have to make a panic appointment, and postpone long-term planning until the summer.

The margins in this Championship play-off race are uncomfortably tight. Boro need a fully committed Riverside (and away ends) behind them. It goes without saying, they need the same from players who are trying hard enough now but look short on confidence.

They got it from the fans on Monday, but if they doubt their manager is in it for the long haul - even if those doubts are actually unfounded - it could be damaging.

Wilder is the reason Boro are in play-off contention, having been in mid-table under his predecessor Neil Warnock.

If it is not already too late, he needs everyone to have as much faith in his commitment as his methods.