Many football matches are considered big games, but tonight’s match-up between Middlesbrough and Bristol City would fall into the season-defining category for Tony Pulis’ side.
Boro’, winless in their last five games — losing their last four in a row, three of which were at home — face a direct rival for the play-offs at the Riverside, knowing that defeat is likely to see them forced to suffer another season in the Championship.
Their awful run has come at the worst possible time, and with so many teams in with a shout of finishing sixth, it would be difficult to see a way back were they to lose again today.
Midfielder, Adam Clayton, was restored to the starting lineup for Saturday’s defeat against league leaders Norwich, having spent the last few weeks on the bench, and he refuses to use bad luck as an excuse for their run of dreadful results.
Speaking to Teesside Live, he said: “I believe you make your own luck.
“Yes, sometimes we haven’t had the breaks in games but it is down to us to change that.
“We’ve got to keep preparing right and keep going and working hard and make sure we are getting on the end of chances.
“We’re creating good chances and playing not bad football, but we need one to go over the line. But we can’t keep talking about luck, we need to make things happen.
“Yes, some times you need that bit of fortune in front of goal, a bit of a break – but you also need a bit of quality. We have to find that bit of quality up front to make sure it goes in the back of the net. It’s down to us.”
What Boro’ need to do is have decent delivery in and around the box, a lack of which, has been one of the reasons they have struggled in recent weeks.
Keeping Stewart Downing on the bench presumably because of contractual issues has not helped, and with the player waiving his automatic extension clause so he can play and help Boro’ through this sticky period, is a good thing, and it should allow Pulis to restore him to the starting lineup for tonight’s game.
It is a level of commitment that other Boro’ players need to emulate.
If he can get the ball into the danger zone consistently for Britt Assombalonga, the goals will come, and with goals, will come wins.
Certainly Middlesbrough can afford no more slip-ups between now and the end of the season, and both manager and players should know they are playing for their futures at the club.
The pressure is own Pulis, particularly, with his future up in the air, and he will almost certainly be the first person out of the door if they miss out on the play-offs.
If Boro’ can find a way to win tonight, they can go to Swansea at the weekend with a renewed spring in their step. The alternative does not bear thinking about.
What do you think of Boro’s play-off hopes? Have they already blown it, or is it still there for the taking? Let us know…Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!