AFTER a second successive clean sheet on the road at Watford, Wanderers head to Middlesbrough on Saturday looking to make it three-in-a-row for the first time in more than a decade.

Back-to-back shut-outs at Bournemouth and Vicarage Road at the weekend saw the Whites secure consecutive away clean sheets for the first time in five years.

But they have not done it in three successive league matches since the last time they were in the second tier in 2000/01.

In that season, under Sam Allardyce, they went on to win promotion with a play-off final win at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium against Preston with a 22nd clean sheet of the season in a 3-0 win.

They kept the back door closed in 40 per cent of matches in all competitions in the promotion season and put together a string of four on the road, winning them all between December and January at Wimbledon (1-0), Burnley (2-0), Preston (2-0) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-0).

The amount of clean sheets in their 55 matches that campaign proves the worth of defensive solidity, something Dougie Freedman seems to have addressed this season.

The Watford shut-out, in which Matt Mills was again a major influence, was the third of the season and the third in the last four away games, a clean sheet at Blackpool having been the first, as Wanderers stretched their unbeaten Championship run to eight matches.

The key to that has been a settled back four and after Kevin McNaughton shook off a hamstring problem to maintain that against the Hornets, it made sure the backline remained unchanged for a seventh successive game.

During the unbeaten run, that defence has not conceded more than once in a game and kept the club’s only clean sheets of the campaign.

Prior to the run starting with a 1-1 home draw against Yeovil Town on September 28, the Whites had experienced their worst start to a league campaign in more than a century.

In the games prior to the unbeaten run, Wanderers shipped 16 goals in 8 games. That two-per-game ratio has now dropped to a more respectable 1.3.

Most managers will tell you successful sides are built on solid defences and Freedman is no different in his view of the game.

Last season he drafted in Craig Dawson on loan from West Brom and it coincided with a run in the second half of the season which included five successive clean sheets on home soil between the end of February and early April.

In total last season, Wanderers recorded 10 shut-outs in 50 matches in all competitions – including back-to-back away at Sunderland in the FA Cup third round replay and at Crystal Palace, which was their only league clean sheet away from home.

Wanderers have often kept blanks in successive away matches since the turn of the century.

In 2010/11, when they had 10 clean sheets in 46 matches, two came in succession in the FA Cup at Wigan and Fulham – both 1-0 wins.

The last time they reached double figures before that was in 2007/8 when they had 16 in 51 matches.

That also included the last time they kept successive away clean sheets in the league when Gary Megson’s side drew 0-0 at Newcastle and then won 2-0 at Reading on their next trip.

In fact, clean sheets were a regular commodity in the first decade of the millennium under Big Sam.

Only once did they record fewer than 10 in a campaign, in 2001/02. As well as the 22 in 2000/01, they had 21 in all competitions in 2005/06 – including two in their debut European campaign at home to Zenit St Petersburg and Marseille.

That season they had a sequence of five clean sheets in a row, home and away, between October and November, winning all five.

That still fell short of the club record run without conceding which still stands at seven games set way back in the 1899-1900 campaign.

But that is the next step for Freedman’s current crop – to transfer their away stubbornness to home soil.

If they can do that and keep that settled back-line injury free, clean sheets will surely come with even more regularity and may just spark another run towards the play-off places in the coming weeks and months.