LONDON (Reuters) - It might not quite be the last chance saloon for Middlesbrough in their bid to avoid relegation but Saturday’s match against Burnley is certainly in the ‘must win’ category for the Teesside team.
Boro are seven points adrift of safety after Wednesday’s 4-2 loss at relegation rivals Hull City and need a sudden turnaround in form if they are to avoid an instant return to the second tier Championship.
Eight games remain but with their run-in including fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, Steve Agnew’s team can ill-afford to drop points against a Burnley side that have yet to win away from home this season.
Middlesbrough have struggled for goals – no team has scored fewer than their tally of 22 this season – but when they finally found their scoring boots at Hull, their previously solid defence struggled.
“We tried to be more expansive and creative up the pitch, and changed the shape. But ultimately, we didn’t do our jobs defensively and without the ball, and we have to resolve that quickly,” said defender Ben Gibson, who has been one of the true bright spots for Boro this year, recently earning a call-up to the England squad.
“It was far from good enough from all of us, myself included,” he added, while insisting that the club were ready to keep scrapping until the end of the campaign.
”It’s about the team and we won’t stop fighting. There are eight games and 24 points still to fight for.
“It was a big blow at Hull, but we have to get on with it quickly. It’s a massive game against Burnley now. We won’t stop believing and won’t stop fighting,” said the 24-year-old.
In contrast, the Clarets enjoyed a boost in their efforts to stay clear of the bottom three with a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Stoke City at Turf Moor on Tuesday.
Having gone straight back down in both their previous campaigns in the Premier League, Burnley have steered clear of trouble this term but are still in need of points to secure their status for another season.
Sean Dyche’s side are just two points away from the top half but are still only seven points above the ‘drop zone’ in 14th place.
“We’ve got good points on the board, we’re in good shape, but we’ve got to keep taking on the next challenge,” said Dyche, who refuses to view his team as being close to safety.
“No, we’ve got to keep challenging ourselves, every game that comes -- we made a deal with the players, like we do every year, it’s a one game at a time mentality,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Neil Robinson